A longtime camper, Dan has experience with tents, pop-up trailers, camp trailers, and motorhomes.
When You Go Camping With Kids...
Camping with kids can be a lot of fun for the entire family, but only if the needs of the children are kept in mind. Mom and Dad can enjoy the trip, but not if the kids are bored, scared, or just want to go home.
Camping trips with kids can be a trial the first few times but really can develop into something the entire family looks forward to. There is little to compare it with when it comes to quality family time; there is just the family without all the interruptions and friends of home.
From a long-time camper (30 years of camping with kids and grandkids) here are some tips and ideas on how to have family fun when camping with kids.
Camping Styles and Kids
There are many, many styles of camping ranging from a tent (or just a sleeping bag) in the wilderness to a mini-house on wheels in an expensive private "campground" with more amenities than most people have at home.
Most smaller children seem to enjoy simple tent camping the most; it is very different than sleeping in a bed and therefore exciting. Of course, they don't have to worry about cooking or cleaning the sand out of the beds - Mom and Dad do that. This is fortunate as most young families with small children won't own a large motorhome in any case. This is not to say that even small children won't enjoy a weekend out of doors while sleeping in a camping trailer or motorhome, however, and Mom and Dad may well be much more comfortable with such camping gear. About the only thing not recommended for families with small children is a camping adventure under the stars with no shelter at all.
Whatever your home away from home is, make every effort to keep children comfortable and safe. It is one thing to have a 5-year-old exploring a trailer in the middle of the night and quite another to have him sneak out of the tent and wander off through the woods. Some sleeping arrangements must be made to prevent this; don't let small children have their own tent! Make sure that adequate sleeping arrangements are made; while children will sleep well on little more than a thick blanket or sleeping bag, they need to be warm and feel safe.
It's Time to Eat!
Meals are important when camping, and perhaps doubly so when camping with kids. Meals must be found that your children will like but can be produced outside the home. A very good option here is a portable gas grill; even if you have a trailer with a stove and microwave it is still nice to cook outdoors, and the kids have probably never seen bacon and eggs cooked on a gas grill!
Simple sandwiches can make a good lunch, and even smaller children can help out here making sandwiches; when camping everyone pitches in and helps, even the kids. They will often enjoy helping out and it improves the experience for them.
Snacks are a necessity; running and playing all day long can build quite an appetite. Again, find something that the kids will enjoy - Mom and Dad can have something else if they wish. High energy snacks are probably best as there is a lot of exploring to do!
Dinnertime is perhaps another chance for something new. Little Susie will be thrilled to cook her own hot dog (with a little help) on a stick over the fire. New and different = exciting and fun! Fancy meals are certainly not necessary when camping, but enough to eat is - take extra just in case.
Later on, of course, marshmallows or s'mores (a sandwich of toasted marshmallow, chocolate square and graham cracker "bread") are a necessity around the campfire. Camping kids will love it! A little care here, though, kids have a fascination with fire and can easily get hurt or cause a major forest fire.
Camping Activities for Kids
Activities are important for kids when camping. Mom and Dad can't expect to sit in the camping chairs all day and watch the kids play - it is family time and all will be happier when the family plays together at least some of the time.
Leave the gameboys, the TVs, and the cell phones at home - you won't need them. The object is not to have Dad read a book, the teenager text on the phone and the youngster play their electronic games. The object is to do something different; something that you can't or don't do at home.
Take the kids on a hike, perhaps with some binoculars. Look for animal tracks. Collect pine cones or tree leaves for pressing. Carry a bird-watching guide with the binoculars; older children may be interested in the avian wildlife. Look for funny twisted trees. Watch the fish swim in the creek. There is much to do on a hike for all ages, just be careful not to overdo it. A 3-year-old can't walk far, but she can certainly enjoy the opportunity to walk with Mom and is interested in everything.
A board game might be the ticket later in the day - parents can "rest" while playing with the kids. A game of Laddergolf might be in order; easy to make and play, this game is just the ticket for a family camping trip.
Fishing is always a favorite when camping; teach the kids to fish for trout or bass. They may not have the patience necessary at first, but also may learn to love the sport.
If camping in a campground, check out the activities. Even state and federal campgrounds often have a ranger show that kids often find interesting and some go far beyond that. Bruneau Dunes campground in Idaho contains an astronomical observatory that is available to the public on weekends.
If a large group is camping together, a game of baseball or volleyball is a great activity that all but the very youngest can participate in.
There are a thousand things to do when camping with kids; don't let the opportunity for some true quality time with your kids pass by.
As Night Falls
As night falls camping takes on a different tone. Camping with kids in the daytime can be a frenzy of activity as kids want to be busy and entertained constantly, but night brings a more peaceful period.
More family games may be in order, but gathering around a campfire is always a favorite. Perhaps a parent can read from a book that the children enjoy. Quiet conversation will occupy older children while younger ones simply rest and listen. It has been a busy day and the little ones are generally quiet now.
Another snack is likely in order and the toasted marshmallows and s'mores mentioned above will always please the kids. Don't overdo it here; marshmallows are nearly pure sugar and bedtime is fast approaching for the smallest ones.
One word of caution; ghost stories are a stereotype for campfires, but don't! Younger children will likely not sleep and such tales can bother even older teens (although they would never admit such a thing). A good night's sleep is necessary for tomorrow's activities, not lying awake all night listening for the crack of a branch or the hoot of an owl.
Make sure that all use the bathroom before retiring for the night; traipsing through cold dark woods to find the potty is not much fun at midnight!
Worth the Work!
Camping is enjoyable to many millions of people, and the quality family time that camping with kids can provide is incomparable. Parents can learn from their children as they explore and learn themselves. They can teach the kids both about nature and valuable lifelong lessons on a camping trip. Not every trip will be wonderful - it may rain an entire weekend. A bee sting or a fall into a cold creek may ruin the experience for a day. Overall, though, camping is great fun and a wonderful way to be a family rather than a group of individuals.
It is an activity that all ages, from toddlers barely able to walk to grandparents, can enjoy. If you have never taken your kids camping, give it a try.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Dan Harmon
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on October 21, 2011:
We don't have kids any more (at least at home) - they are now grown and we take the grandkids instead. It's great fun for everyone, and we never lack for things to do.
robyna from Michigan, USA on October 20, 2011:
Great Hub! Camping is such a great memory to make with kids. My sister in law takes her kids every weekend except during the coldest months (we're in Michigan so there are a LOT of those!)
I've added this hub my link list on my Hub "Best Tents for Camping" for my readers. Thanks!
GA Andereson (Gus) from Maryland, USA on June 29, 2011:
I agree that the evening campfire can be an extra special family time. One campfire game we always liked, we called - The Round-and-round Story. (probably has other names). Some one starts a story with one sentence, then the next person in line adds a sentence, then the next person, and so on. Makes for some really wild campfire stories that gets everyone laughing.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on February 05, 2011:
@scubadoggy: I spent my childhood years camping with the family, and you're right - the memories are great. Now it is with my grandchildren and I want them to have the same kind of memories one day.
@wavecritter: It can be such a great family time, but only everyone is having fun. Being prepared, as you point out, can make a world of difference.
Wavecritter from Cocoa Beach, Florida on February 05, 2011:
"Camping with kids can be a lot of fun for the entire family, but only if the needs of the children are kept in mind." The boy scouts have it right ... always be prepared =) Outstanding read, thanks. Planning ahead creates a want to return with great eagerness.
scubadoggy on February 05, 2011:
I camped as a kid with my family every year while growing up in upstate NY, and later in the Boy Scouts, and I have many fond memories of that time! Great hub!
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on February 02, 2011:
I love camping with children - their wonder never fades as they discover new things to investigate in the outdoors. It is always a special time for us.
salt from australia on February 01, 2011:
How wonderful there really is nothing like taking children camping!!! They are memories that will last their lifetime and if you really love the bush, they can see how it is now and then in years to come ...:) Respect and love of nature!!
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 23, 2011:
I completely agree. Children, particularly younger kids, can get into a great deal of trouble if left alone. They just don't understand the dangers inherent in the forest away from home and civilization.
And yes, it is important to keep them fed - it is generally a high energy time for them.
Thanks for the comment.
Family Camping Guide on January 23, 2011:
Camping with kids is a great way to spend some time outside and together as a family. It is important to always keep an eye on them and give them many healthy snacks.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 23, 2011:
Kids and camping just seem to go together so well. The kids always seem to have a great time as long as they get enough to eat and can stay reasonably comfortable. As you point out they also leave the couch and computers at home - usually a very good thing.
Kindacrazy from Tennessee on January 23, 2011:
What a GREAT way to get the kids off the couch, away from the computers and get back to nature. I have very fond memories of camping when I was small. They are some of the best memories, too!
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 21, 2011:
As you say, I grew up camping. Each year saw a trip down the Oregon and California cost, camping all the way.
I now take my grandkids camping with me - it's a great way to interact with them.
Rabid Puma from Illinois on January 21, 2011:
I have a lot of fond memories of camping as a kid. It's a great way to learn lots of skills and to get a new perspective on the world.
Getting yourself and your son involved with a Boy Scout troop is a great way to go if you're not much for woodcraft yourself.