Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More camping with small kids

I first posted on this a year ago, after our last trip to Joshua Tree National Park. A lot of people are surprised that we tent camp with three small children, and now it's been a year and a few more camping trips, so I thought I'd share new things we've learned and encourage you again to try it with your kids. You'll make memories you'll never forget and the kids will treasure forever!

I won't say it's easy...camping never is. But if you have low expectations of what you're going to get done on the camping trip, and do a little planning in advance, you can have a fun family adventure that you'll remember forever. If you haven't seen pictures of our trip last week to Joshua Tree, or Tom's artistic pictures of our trip or his funny story from last year, check them out and see how much fun we had!

Here are new tips we've developed after camping with small children over the past five years (see last year's post for the old tips...ok, well, I left the first two tips from last year and edited them because they're the most important):

Food. I always cook from scratch at home, but I've learned to sacrifice gourmet cooking for simplicity while camping with young kids. The key to camping with young kids is speed and simplicity. This means I use Hamburger Helper.

Ok, don't fall over in shock. The only time I use Hamburger Helper is while camping. I also cook as many things as possible at home before we go. So I fried the hamburger at home with an onion, put it in a ziploc bag, and froze it so it would stay colder longer in the cooler. For breakfast, I had undercooked the bacon and made pancakes at home, so I just warmed up the bacon (made eggs in the little bit of grease that came out of the bacon as it became crisp) and warmed up the pancakes at the camp site.

For lunch, I bring bread, meat and cheese to make sandwiches, and we have Pringles (in a can means the chips don't get crushed). This year I brought more fruit than usual, and I think that helped us all stay more "regular" than we normally do: a serving of fruit at each meal, instead of just one or two meals a day. I brought canteloupe, apples, oranges and bananas. And lots of water, of course.

Bedding. No matter what time of year or what elevation you're camping, it's going to be colder at night than your child's bedroom, so it's important to make sure you have bedding for the kids that will keep them warm. Trust me: you'll sleep better, and so will they if you make certain of this in advance! Tom and I love the child-sized Nebo Zero-Degree Bags and you can't beat the price at $20. We bought our first one for Lukas, the second one for Natalie, and now Konrad uses Lukas' old one since Lukas has graduated to a larger bag. It's important to bring hats and mittens since sometimes they don't stay in the bag as well as you'd like or it might be colder than you expect. The kids are always (except one time!) warm, they don't wake up at night, and we don't worry.

The first night is the worst night. At least that's the way it is with our kids, whether they're camping in a tent or sleeping in a hotel room or a guest room at relatives. So I suggest you plan to camp at least two nights so you'll have one good night to remember and want to do it again! After the first night, our kids usually sleep without waking up at night at all.

Toys for the campsite. Our typical schedule while camping is breakfast, hike, lunch, hike, drive for naps, come back to the campsite and play, dinner, S'mores, bed for the kids, talk around the campfire, bed for us. Great toys to bring are ones that get more than one person participating together...this year's hit was the radio-controlled car that Lukas received for his birthday. Everyone loved chasing it while Tom drove it on the asphalt. Another hit was squirt guns that Tom and Lukas used to chase each other around the mesquite bushes. We also bring shovels and trucks (the desert is basically one big sandbox) and mega blocks (like legos) for the play tent. The kids also loved chasing bubbles that I blew...I need to bring more bubble juice next year.

Medicines. Bring every medicine for children in your medicine cabinet (and maybe one or two for the adults). Two of the kids were recovering from colds, and one was healthy before we went on the trip. During the first night, one of them had a fever (the one that was previously healthy) and another one decided to do some more teething all of the sudden. When I was packing the medicines, I didn't anticipate needing any of them, but, boy, was I glad I had every one of them with me, because I used them! Ok, I didn't use all of them, but it gives me peace of mind to know I don't have to drive an hour to get Children's Tylenol.

Make a list. We save the list in Word on our computer and add to it after every camping trip. Tom gets the credit for this one, because I'm more of a "put things in the bag as I think about them" kind of person. But I will agree that having a list the last few trips has made packing easier, and we haven't forgotten things.

Clip your fingernails. Ok, I'm adding this to a list of rules for me (it may not work for you). I usually wear my fingernails a little bit long (but they're not going to win any nail polish modeling contracts) and I always chip, break or tear several nails on camping trips, and then I end up clipping all my nails short anyway. It would be nicer if I just started with short nails for the trip. On the subject of clipping nails, I did remember to clip all the kids' nails before we cuts down on the dirt under the nails and torn nails for them too.

Mistakes will happen. No matter how much you plan, something will go "wrong"! But it's the silly things we do that help us to remember some camping trips. This year, we're bulging at the seams when we pack the minivan to go camping...repacking the van when we left was a little bit funny (Tom might not agree on the "funny" part).

I hope these points encourage you to try camping with your young family. This year we were surprised to see so many families with young children at our campground. Some of them used campers, but several of them also camped in tents...and some of them had more kids than we do! You can do it, and your kids will love it so much, they'll ask, "How long until the next camping trip?" like our kids do.

You can see more of our Works for Me Wednesday, see more of our camping trips, and visit We Are THAT Family for more great ideas across the planet.


Zimms Zoo said...

We enjoy tent camping too. We have 6 now. We haven't gone camping yet with the new baby, but as soon as it warms up more we will.

We just graduated to a suburban, but you should have seen our van. Packed to the gills inside, a cargo carrier on top and one on the hitch too.

We follow many of the same tips that you recommended. We would love to bring their bikes too. Just not enough room. One time we did because it was close and dad just brought the truck too. They loved it.

Tom said...

I love lists! I have too many memories of forgetting something and being miles from any inhabitable place with a store.

It Feels Like Chaos said...

We just did a tent camping trip with our 3 kids ages 6,3, and 1 yr.! Your tips are all so true!!! I've blogged a little about our camping trip but plan to do a post about lessons learned and I will link to you as an additional resource!

Eden said...

Thanks for this post! We're currently planning a camping trip for June with a 6 y/o (who's been once) and a 2 y/o who hasn't been at all. This was perfect timing and great tips!

Anonymous said...

Great tips! I grew up camping. I think my parents first took me when I was just a few months old. I desperately need to get my city boy husband to agree to it though.

Raise Them Up said...

Great tips! We have tent camped with little ones since forever. It is definitely not for whimps! LOL!

You are right, doing whatever cooking ahead of time that you can is a big help. Simple is best for food. And for clothes just bring them all. :)

Love your blog!

I have a couple posts on camping too that might be of interest to some of you.

One is on home-made camp cots (for we old and creeky moms) and another I'm thinking about is on portable sand boxes. Both are life savors for camping with families.

~Sara said...

Great tips! We love camping. We are hoping to get lots of camping done this Summer. We have 4 boys 13,11,3 and 2!