Camping with Kids - Tips and Tricks for Families

A picture of a lake, trees, and blue skies, where one may go campingCamping.  It's so much fun!  The fresh air, the crackling sound of the fire, the crisp lake water, the sound of birds chirping and kids laughing.  It can really be quite relaxing and rejuvenating.  It can also be a TON of work, disorganized, dirty and tiring.  So how do families (especially with young children) get through it, and want to do it again?  Keep reading to find out!


Each year my family and friends embark on an annual camping trip.  There are about 20 of us in our group, and a lot of us are kids.  We camp in a VERY hot area, (thank goodness for the cold lake), and have a limited amount of time.  We have been doing this for a number of years, so have learned a few tips and tricks over the years to make things run smooth while still having lots of fun.

PLAN AHEAD
  • Make a master grocery list and divide up the supplies (if you are traveling with multiple families). Email everyone a copy of the list, so that everyone has easy access to it and won't duplicate items.
  • Don't over-pack clothes.  More than likely, you will spend most of the time in your bathing suit if you are near water anyway.  Furthermore, you will be limited on space.  Rolling clothes and packing them in your suitcase saves space.  
  • Bring lots of baby wipes!  You will be DIRTY and may not be near a sink.  It is always handy to have lots of baby wipes to clean your hands, your face, your kids, and your supplies.
  • There are plenty of camping essentials needed when camping.  Make sure to research what you need and keep in mind what can fit in your car.
 Now for the entertainment...

HAVE FUN WITH LIGHTS AND SHADOWS

A little girl holding a glow in the dark necklace at night while camping
 Bring lots of glow in the dark toys for kids, (glow sticks, light up balls, etc.)


A boy holding a flashlight to light up his face in a fun way, at night while camping
 Don't underestimate the power of a flashlight!  Kids LOVE their own personal flashlight/lantern.  You may even want to write their name on theirs to avoid confusion.


A boy having fun standing outside of a tent at night, while his shadow is visable
 Have fun playing with your shadow!  Tents, lights, and shadows make for great play time with little kids.


HAVE FUN WITH DIRT!

Let's face it, most kids LOVE to play in the dirt!  Bring a pail, shovel, and a few water/beach toys and you will be set.  These toys not only can be played with near the water, but they will add hours of entertainment at your campsite too.  Our kids LOVE playing with these toys in the dust and dirt.  And yes, it does get VERY messy!!!
A boy playing in the dirt/sand with toys while camping


A little girl blowing bubbles while campingPACK A BACKPACK FULL OF SMALL TOYS

A boy coloring while camping
 Toys may include:
  • small cars and action figures
  • coloring books, crayons and markers
  • a loved stuffed animal or blanket (that you will need to launder after the trip)
  • kid magnifying glasses or binoculars
  • bug catching containers/supplies
  • bubbles
  • play swords 
  • make-up for makeovers


Two little girls playing make-up makeover while camping
These kiddos got a make-up makeover by their older cousin!

Two boys dueling with play swords while camping
Sword fighting!
It's also helpful to designate a kids' table where the toys can be used.  This table may double as the kids' eating area when necessary.  We covered our table with a canopy to add shade and help keep the flies out.  This worked really well for us since it allowed for the adults to eat their meals away from the kids (but still within site) aiding in a little peace and quiet.

Designated kids' table covered in an outdoor screen to be used while camping

 
Tall trees and blue skies
 Peace and quiet, and beautiful nature is what we want!

BRING WATER TOYS AND RENT A BOAT

Many times, people will leave water toys behind that you and your kids will be able to enjoy.  It's also nice for you to leave water toys behind for others as well.  This helps in saving space in your car as well as doing a good deed.  I wouldn't however,  count on water toys being available.  Pack a few, (not inflated of course) just to be on the safe side.       

A boat in a lake surrounded by trees, to be enjoyed in during camping

Boating, tubing, and going out for a relaxing ride on the lake are SUPER enjoyable!  If you don't own a boat, make sure to reserve one ahead of time, and remember to bring life jackets for the kiddos if you don't want to use the life jackets provided.

GO ON A HIKE

Find a kid friendly, flat trail and go for a hike.  Look for animals/insects on your path, stop for a quick swim (if your path is near water), or pack a sandwich and have lunch in the woods.


A hidden butterfly camouflaged among leaves, found on a walk while camping
Can you spot me?  I am hidden!

MAKE S'MORES!

What camping trip is complete without making s'mores?  The kids LOVE making them and we all LOVE eating them!

Three children standing around a fire, roasting marshmallows for smores


A boy looking in amusement and surprise at burnt marshmallows that have been roasted for smores


Popping popcorn on a camping stove
Why stop with s'mores when you can have popcorn too?

USE TENT SPACE TO THE FULLEST

We are a family of five squeezing into a tent.  Things can get cramped pretty quickly and easily!  If there is any sort of mess on top of it, tempers can rise, and things just aren't really pretty!  This trip, we had two queen sized air mattresses on each side of a twin sized air mattress. This tight fit worked surprisingly well.  Having the air mattresses squished into the tent, helped to keep things in their place.  This meant our small walking path (near our feet and not pictured) remained a path, and wasn't taken over by moving beds.  Yippee!  Please don't misunderstand me, a large spacious tent with lots of room to move around in, is ideal.  But, if that is not an option, squeezing beds together, can help to keep things put!

A tent set up with five sleeping places in it to be used for camping
Inside View

Outside view of tent surrounded by trees when camping
Outside View

MOST SURPRISING KID ENTERTAINMENT

What kept the kids entertained for quite some time this trip, was unplanned and not something I would have ever guessed.   Homemade tattoos!  The kids found some pens (from games we brought to play with the adults), and made a Tattoo Parlor!  They hung up a sign on their canopy covering the kid table, and got to work.  Their amazing teenage cousin was their customer and she "purchased" tattoos from them quite often.  They would simply draw on her skin with the pen and give her a tattoo.  I guess she figured that she was already dirty anyway, why not add some ink to the mix?  Who would have guessed?!

Pretend hand drawn tattoos


Happy Camping!

 

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    1. My camping experiences have mostly been with multiple families, so large meals are usually made together, and there is a variety of food to choose from for the kids to eat. Typical dinners for us include hot dogs, hamburgers or chicken. Sides are generally corn, salads, fruit, garlic bread, or beans. The larger breakfasts are generally eggs, bacon, fruit, and pancakes or sweet rolls. Lunches are sandwiches, fruit and chips. In general most items can be prepped ahead of time and stored in a cooler, then heated on a grill or portable gas stove. Sandwiches are assembled during camping, (and not ahead of time), with all the fixings ready to go. My recommendations would be to purchase things in single serve packages, (i.e. individual chip bags verses a large bag, etc.), and to prepare as much as you can ahead of time. Some kid friendly food to keep on hand include: string cheese, gogurt, grapes, cut up watermelon, individual water bottles, individual fruit juice boxes, small chip bags or crackers, granola bars, and popcorn. Hope that helps and have fun camping!

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