Making Camping Fun for Kids (Part I)

Not every child was raised in the outdoors, but it’s a natural place for kids to be. First impressions are important, but even if you’ve ventured out with them in the past and it hasn’t gone so well, there are always ways to improve their next time outdoors. With time and with creative ways to ease them into spurts of tent life, you can help them associate camping with freedom, exploration, and autonomy.

Set up the tent in the yard

Get them ready for the real thing by putting up a tent in familiar surroundings. This will help them feel safe with sleeping outdoors, but be novel for those who haven’t done it before (and even more exciting for young ones if you sleep out there with them, while older kids might like trying it with friends or siblings). Make it as realistic to the real version of camping as you can; pack food, a camp stove, set up a little outdoor obstacle course, etc.; anything to get them excited about a full-fledged experience.

Compromise

If your kids don’t seem too stoked on camping, let them know you’re willing to cut the experiment short if they don’t end up having a great time after one night. If they give it a try, and it’s just not their thing yet, you can pack up for a night at a hotel instead (or head home).

Plan ahead

Reserve your campground before-hand if possible, or leave early to get your site if it’s a first-come-first-serve area. Kids can get very impatient when they are sitting in the back of the car and, if after a long drive to a campsite you end up finding it’s full, it can be a rough start to a camping weekend.

Empower them

Before the trip, give each child a small Ziplock bag. Let them know that whatever they can fit in the bag, they can bring with them. This helps them learn to prioritize and make their own decisions, while reducing their dependence on toys to fill their time.

Let them roam: When kids are at home, they may be restricted to playing in yards or in a playground with tight adult supervision – or more likely, they are hunched over a screen with a video game. If you are at a campground, ease up on the boundaries and let them roam a bit. Letting them loose will get them out in real life, countering the digital world give them a chance to meet other kids and socialize face-to-face (rather than over headphones with their video game compadres)

Make food fun

Relax a little on the food rules; food is one of those things that can be a luxury and help us celebrate special occasions; if you let your kids choose their treats during camping, they’ll view camping as one of those special occasions where they get to have food they love.

Have a rule that whoever doesn’t cook, cleans. This usually will get kids excited about meal prep (since not very many kids look forward to doing dishes). Make it easy for them by prepping food at home if needed, so that they can put things together at camp. This is a great way to get them to pitch in, spend time with each other, and learn life skills.

Get on their level of fun

Understand that their version of fun might not be walking straight up the mountain to reach a lake (or whatever the destination might be), so remember to incorporate things that they enjoy. For example, make a game out of whatever you are doing to keep their minds occupied: Run up ahead and hide things in by a rock for a scavenger hunt, have them keep count of the number of birds they see, play “I Spy”, etc.

Help them sleep

Choosing the right campsite (or right weekend) can make a great difference in securing a quiet campground. During holidays and events (e.g. high school graduations, when teens might be out celebrating late into the night), camp further from city centers to avoid the noise and keep your little ones’ sleep uninterrupted.

If you can’t avoid a noisy spot, or your children are light sleepers, bring a battery operated radio with headphones. Put the station to an off-the-air channel (AM stations are usually good for this). This tactic provides white noise that will help mask loud noises from neighboring campers.

More ideas?

Are you a parent that has successfully instilled a love of camping and the outdoors in your children? Share your tips with the rest of us by leaving a comment!

See Making Camping Fun for Kids (Part II)

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Although she’s a Florida girl, exploration called her away after the final bell of her high school career. Leaving home to journey westward alone, she chased the sun to Utah. Over the years, she was consumed with skiing, climbing, kayaking, mountain biking and getting lost on back roads. But exploration continued to call. After closing her bakery — which funded college courses and adventure — she stored her possessions and hit the road again, on a quest to reach the distant places of North America. For three years she lived in her little Mazda 3 and skied the backcountry of Alaska, slept under the northern lights in the Yukon Territory, ice climbed Colorado's frozen canyons and rock climbed across the continent, photographed Nova Scotia’s coves, backpacked in southern US wildernesses and munched on sugared tamarindo in the jungles of Mexico. But living in a car started to feel limiting, so after seeing the many glories this continent had to offer, she chose the only place fitting for an explorer to spend a lifetime of wild wonder: British Columbia. Dual citizenship in hand, she settled along the Powder Highway in the Selkirks and is now making her home between four walls and deeply wooded mountains. When she's not playing the part of a photojournalist, Gina can be found collaborating with women worldwide through her nonprofit, Outdoor Women's Alliance, and working to improve her outdoor skills and wilderness safety certifications.

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