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25 April 2023

5 Tips For Camping With Kids

My favourite part of the camping day is first thing in the morning. I unzip my tent and step out into the cool morning air. As quietly as I can, I fill my kettle with water and set it to boil on my Coleman stove.

Inevitably, before the water has even started to warm, one little head will pop out of the tent after me. While I pour hot water into my French press, another head will emerge. Soon I’ve got the whole team with me, cuddled under blankets on their little camping chairs and smiling their thanks as I hand them hot cocoa with whipped cream and slices of banana bread (a family camping tradition).

This tiny moment — where my husband and I get to drink a hot cup of coffee and everyone seems content to just watch the world wake up — is my idea of bliss. My children have learned that this is sacred quiet time.

Despite the mess, the hard work of setting up camp, the worry over cooler space and the car tetris it takes to bring everything our family needs, camping has become my favourite family holiday. There is something very satisfying about exploring a place on foot or bicycle, of gathering around a fire to read or listening to the kids giggle while swinging from a hammock. Yes, camping is hard work. But when you have young kids, every vacation is some degree of work.

To make it as enjoyable as possible, I follow these five tips:

  1. Embrace the mess: Camping is dirty business. Camping with kids is on a whole other level — and don’t get me started on camping with kids in the rain! But the secret to having a good time is to just embrace it all. Yes, sand and dirt will find a way into everything. Your tent will get muddy, your pillow will get damp, your salt shaker will somehow end up with sand in it. I keep myself sane by staying organized and keeping my site clean and tidy. The rest of it (the muddy clothes, sandy sheets and sticky kids) get taken care of when we get home.
  2. Say yes: We went on a recent camping adventure and the rain just would not let up. My kids wanted to go for a bike ride in the rain. Of course I said yes. There was mud on their bikes, their clothing, in their hair. But oh the smiles on those kids faces as they raced through the puddles. So I tend to say yes to that extra s’more or one more game of Go Fish. I say yes if they want to go to the beach at sunset or stay up and see the stars, even if it means the littlest one will fall asleep on my lap in the camping chair. These are the moments they will treasure (and, let’s be honest, so will I).
  3. Pack for all weather: No one is happy when they are wet or cold. Bring the Wellies, pack the extra set of warm clothes. We don’t bring a lot of play clothes as my kids spend most of their time in pyjamas or swimsuits, but I always make sure to pack a rain coat at the very least. And after our last adventure where the rain was very heavy and the July air turned chilly, I’ve vowed to also always make room for rain boots and rain pants. It is just easier all around, trust me. Nothing dries fast at camp unless the sun is shining — and that’s never a guarantee.
  4. Make smart food choices: We love food and we eat well when we are at camp, but I certainly don’t stress about junk food. My plan always includes a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables (which I prewash and cut at home) to keep everyone satisfied, but we bring lots of treats too. From the whipped cream in our hot cocoa to marshmallows and bags of chips, having some unusual treats makes camping something the kids look forward to every year. Before each trip, I ask the kids for a few suggestions of food they’d like to eat and make sure to incorporate everyone’s favourites. And, especially for my youngest child, I bring lots of snacks. Little ones tend to get hangry more often so we keep that at bay with dried fruit, crackers and dry cereal doled out in tiny cups throughout the day. Fed kids are happy kids.
  5. Visit places with amenities: Here I am not talking necessarily about showers and laundry rooms (although that might be important to you). For my family, I find we tend to have more fun camping in places that have a few of the amenities we find essential: a sandy beach with shallow water within walking distance, lots of fun hiking trails, and safe areas for the kids to bike. Depending on the age of your kids and how experienced you are as campers, this list will be different for you. While the kids are young, we plan on exploring the many beautiful parks and conservation areas throughout Canada that are easily accessible for children. I’m not quite ready to canoe or hike out into the wilderness with my little wild ones just yet but that is only because it is not a skill set I possess. I. know a few parents who are well versed in backcountry camping (and have all the right gear) that take their little ones on multi-day adventures in the woods. With so many incredible campgrounds to explore across the country, there’s no shortage of great places for all camping skill sets.

One of the best things about getting out into nature with your kids is the ability to teach them about the principles of leave no trace. Click through here to learn more abou these principles.

What are your best tips and tricks for getting into nature with your kids?

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