I grew up camping. Over the years it morphed from everyone in one big tent, to the kids’ tent and the parents’ tent, to sleeping in a trailer with a shower and refrigerator, but it was still camping to me. We always roasted hot dogs and marshmallows and went on walks and took lots of pictures.
Then I met Husband. He also grew up camping but his family never faltered from the “everyone in tents” phase. So when we went camping together it was an interesting shift for me at first, having gotten used to the padded beds in my parents’ small trailer. Over the years we’ve camped in the mountains, near the beach and in relatives’ backyards.
This past weekend, we attempted our first camping trip as parents. I was extremely hesitant at first, but the people who had invited us had two kids of their own – one 2 years old and the other 5 ½ weeks – and they were gung-ho about spending some time in nature, so I figured if they could do it and get excited about it, Husband and I could handle our 1-year-old together. So, in spite of my trepidations, we packed and planned overnight to join our friends in the mountains for the weekend.
It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be, honestly, and though it didn’t go perfectly, I had a good time and learned some things in the process. So, as any good friend would do, I’m passing some of my newfound wisdom on to you.
- When given a choice between their bottle and dirt, the child will choose the latter nearly every time. Accept the fact that some dirt is bound to enter the child’s mouth. More than likely, it won’t hurt them.
- Pack N Plays are extremely handy when the adults are trying to prepare a meal, set up the tents or otherwise occupy both hands. The change in scenery will likely keep the child occupied in the playpen longer than usual.
- Designate some toys as “outside toys,” such as large trucks, bouncy balls, wagons, etc. and take a couple of those camping. That way, when (not “if!”) the toys get dirty, it’s not a big deal.
- Pack clothes that are easy to clean. (You may see a theme here…) Kids manage to get dirty even at home where you more than likely clean regularly, so it’s a given than while out in nature things previously white or of bright colour will be brown before an hour is over.
- If you’re in the mountains, pack LAYERS for each person, especially the children. The early mornings, evenings and nights are frigid at higher elevations, even though the temperature may climb into the 80s or higher during the day. Make it easy to keep the kids warm when needed and cool them off when it gets warm.
- Establish right away that the fire pit is not for playing. Even when there’s no fire going, it is confusing to a child that young to be allowed to play with an object sometimes, and not allowed other times. Ask the child to help you gather small sticks for kindling and stack it near the pit so he/she feels included in the fire-building process, but explain that only adults can put things in the pit.
- If you will be near water, bring a life jacket for each child. Even if you don’t intend to let them go swimming, it’s better to be safe than sorry and have them wear the life jackets even while out on the dock, running along the riverbank, etc.
- Think ahead about where you will be going and plan to introduce your child to his new surroundings. If he is walking, take a walk around the campsite with him (if not, carry him) and have him touch the rough tree bark, poky pine needles or feathery shore grasses. Let him dig his fingers into the sand or dirt. Help him climb onto a rock and feel tall, overlooking the area. This will help him be familiar with his new environment and learn some new textures and words, as well.
- Bring a carrying implement if you intend to do any hiking or walking. I’ve heard more positive things about the Ergo baby carrier than any other kind, but baby backpacks and Baby Bjorns and similar products work, as well. Remember that children don’t have nearly the stamina adults do and will likely need to be carried if the walk is longer than a few minutes.
- Plan for naps. If the child usually takes one two-hour nap in the afternoon or two shorter naps, allow for her to do so if needed. A well-rested child will make for a much happier camping experience.
- Always take snacks. Whether you’re going out on a boat, hiking up the mountain or for a drive around the area, make sure there are baby-friendly munchies readily available.
- If possible, on your first camping trip with Baby, go with friends who don’t have children of their own. This gives you some extra hands, eyes and ears during your experimental trip.
- Be flexible. If things don’t seem to be working out, leave yourself open to returning home after the first night rather than forcing everyone to endure the full-length camping trip while miserable. If that afternoon trip to the beach doesn’t seem to be in the cards, opt to play games at the campsite or go berry picking instead. Allow your plans to change at a moment’s notice and remind yourself you can always try again later.