No, you are not crazy.
Tent camping with kids can be amazing and create memories that last a lifetime. I know, because I grew up tent camping with my family. It may seem daunting if you have never been an outdoorsy type or if your kids already give you wildlife before you ever set foot outdoors. But, it’s worth it and it gets easier every time you go. Here are some things that can make life easier when planning a tent camping trip this summer.
The Perfect Spot
Camping trips with kids require some finesse. The first thing to consider is the venue.
Car camping where you can drive up to your campsite is the way to go for our family. Save rustic camping for scouts or when kids are older or you stop enjoying showers.
Indiana is full of wonderful state park campgrounds. Take advantage of them! You will thank yourself. There are also commercial and private campgrounds, but I suggest starting with a state park if you’ve never been tent camping before as the DNR staff at parks are wonderful resources for first-time campers. And, there is a camp store on-site for any last minute needs. You can research campgrounds online, look at sitemaps and even see pictures of the available sites! We always try to choose a site that is partly shaded (afternoon shade is best) and close to both a bathroom and a playground. You can also choose between electric and non-electric sites, so if you can’t live without the Keurig, you don’t have to.
When you are making non-camping visits to state parks you can ask to drive through the campgrounds and see the sites first hand. Make note of site numbers that you think will work well for your family. Taking the time to find the perfect spot can make the difference between a wonderful experience and wishing you had stayed home!
Know Before You Go
You picked your site, now see what else is happening! Summer in state parks has lots of activities and they often have a calendar you can pick up at the park office or find online. Activities can include anything from night hikes to making cattail jewelry! (One of our favorite memories!) Is there a nature center? a pool? horseback rides? Hayrides? Lakes for fishing? Hiking trail? How much does it cost? Can you rent equipment?
Google nearby towns, too. There are always interesting little restaurants and shops to explore and you might get lucky and find a festival! Sketching out a potential schedule and having some fun things to look forward to can help tame restless children and preempt meltdowns of both children and adults!
Stake Your Claim
Speaking of meltdowns, don’t wait to put together a brand new tent until you get to the campground. This is especially true if you are like us and inevitably arrive at dusk and end up putting our tent together in the dark. Practice at home. It will save you the frustration of trying to figure out complicated instructions, counting stakes and chasing toddlers around a campsite all at the same time! (Don’t ask how I know!!!)
Kids will have a blast trying out the tent at home and getting excited about the trip. A practice run will also give you a chance to talk about camping with your little people and set up some ground rules. We don’t let shoes in the tent or kids in the tent without a grown-up, for example. You could also take a moment to talk campsite safety , like not playing with matches or leaving the campsite without permission. Taking a little time to share expectations before your trip can help everybody relax when you get there.
And don’t just set up the tent! A trial run at home can also be a fun time to try out some grilling recipes or practice the perfect S’more. FYI, my husband’s favorite S’more recipe is using a peanut butter cup instead of a chocolate bar. Nom Nom!
Fair warning: kids wake up early and stay up late at campgrounds. Circadian rhythms are in full swing so take advantage of that. Get out early while it is cool and attitudes are at their best! Go fishing or hiking, play on the playground, and cook over the fire. Save the nature centers, pool, water play and car rides for the afternoon when keeping cool (or taking naps) is a priority.
All great camping evenings begin with dinner around the campfire, but evenings are also a great time to run kids through the shower, do a “night hike” around the campground with flashlights, listen for owls or get out some glowsticks. Most people are at their sites in the evening so it is also a good time to be neighborly or just walk around and see how other people set up their sites and file away notes for next time.
Wet ‘n Wild
Don’t forget rain plans. Storms are a reality of summer, but most pass quickly and with today’s technology you can check the daily weather and watch for storm warnings. Don’t be afraid to take refuge in the car if the thunder is rattling your tent. The car can be a safe and familiar place for little people. If there isn’t thunder, packing rain boots for puddle jumping, water guns, buckets and beach toys – all can make a rainy afternoon at the campground go a little faster.
(Not so) Wild Life
Setting up expectations for camp chores is really important when camping with children. It will help adults and kids relax if things are cleaned up and easy to find. There is nothing worse on a camping trip than a midnight potty run with no flashlight or waking up to find someone has dined on your breakfast overnight. Raccoons and toddlers are experts at getting into tents and coolers. Keeping food and supplies in your car and schedule clean up times throughout the day can help control the chaos. Make your “beds” in the morning and after rest times. Put away your clothes. Hang up towels and swimsuits. Wash the dishes right away. Little things can make a big difference in camp life with the kids.
Adventures in Food
Menu planning is a biggie and it can wear a person out. Taking turns with the adults in your party can take the pressure off. I make a menu plan and buy groceries before we leave. Daddy is always the breakfast chef and I coordinate a picnic lunch and campfire dinner. Keep kids out of your groceries (and S’more supplies) by keeping a “snack bag” for in-between meals and if you are camping with another family – you can swap cooking and clean-up.
You can involve children in meal prep, setting the table and washing the dishes. If you are camping with a baby or young toddler, a travel high chair or play yard can help keep them safe while you are busy with cooking, cleaning up or other children.
Enjoy Your Time in the Great Outdoors!
Take lots of pictures, soak up lots of nature, and plan to eat out at least once, even if it’s just ice cream sandwiches from the camp store. It will improve everyone’s mood! We also bring air mattresses for the same reason. It’s okay not to “rough it” the whole time, but when you do, tent camping can truly bring out the unique gifts and talents of family members as you work together and depend on each other for “survival.” Kids especially can benefit from the responsibility and independence that a camping vacation can foster and parents will benefit from time spent “unplugged” with their children.