Were you an avid camper back in the B.C. (before children) years of your life? Have you given up your love of the great outdoors since your kids have come along? Do you long for the days when you could pitch a tent, pull fish from the river for dinner, and enjoy a fun evening by the campfire with your pals or significant other?

No need to pine over lost camping opportunities, say the experts, even when children are in the picture. As a matter of fact, they point out, kids love the freedom of the great outdoors; the opportunity to explore nature and discover new and wonderful things they’ve never experienced before. Kids will slow your pace; give you time to smell the roses, so to speak. You may even return to civilization with a whole new outlook on nature, courtesy of your imaginative, inquisitive child.

All it takes is a little extra planning. When kids enter the camping realm, it isn’’t quite as easy to plan an impromptu night-in-the-woods, but with some extra thought, family camping trips even with children as young as 3 or 4 years old can produce memories that will last a lifetime.

Preparing Your Child for the Experience

Okay, so your child has never gone camping before. How do you get them used to the idea of sleeping someplace other than their comfy bed?

Many parents who’’ve become successful family campers began by setting up a mini-campsite in their own backyard. Doing a ‘“trial run’” is often a great idea and if it goes well, you can progress to perhaps an overnight or weekend trip just a short distance from home.

You’’ll also want to talk to your child about what to expect. If you’’re considering bare-bones camping with few amenities, you’’ll need to talk about basic needs, like toileting. This can be a little frightening for a child the first time out. You’’ll also want to chat about respect for nature, staying close to the campsite, and other issues necessary for their safety and the safety of others.

There are tons of excellent books about family camping adventures. Take time to read a few with your children. Many stress excellent points about conservation, safety, and fears children might have about the outdoors. They include Stella and Roy Go Camping by Ashley Wolff, Henry and Mudge and the Starry Night by Cynthia Rylant, and H.A. Rey’’s Curious George Goes Camping, great for pre-schoolers.

What Kind of Campsite is Best?

When you’’re ready to take the plunge and dive back into nature with your family kids included you’’ll need to think about where to go and what kind of camping facility will be best for your children. It’’s probably not wise to start with just a tent in the woods. You can work your way up to total immersion in nature. With kids, especially small ones, starting out slowly is the key to a successful camping holiday.

A full campsite with toilet and shower facilities is often the best first outing for new campers and their parents. Once you pitch your tent, it’’s just a short walk to an inside shower and a real commode. That can be quite comforting for children who aren’’t accustomed to showers taken with buckets of cold water or digging a latrine. At such a site, you’’re likely to find lots of other families, which means that, as an added bonus, your children can make new friends and have others with whom they can play.

Even more ‘“upscale’” is the kind of facility where family tents are already pitched. Many of these offer the ultimate in camping luxury, including tents that are partitioned to provide separate rooms for each member of the family. Some of these ready-made camping facilities also include organized children’’s activities, certified baby-sitters, and other amenities that are ideal for the young camping family.

Indeed, it’’s important to check out available amenities when searching for a camping location for you and your kids. Is there a game room for rainy days? How about a pool for particular steamy ones? Are there laundry facilities? Is there a general store on site in case you need emergency supplies or food? How close is the nearest town? Consideration should be given to making your young children as comfortable as possible during their camping excursions. Once they’’re as enamored as you are with living outdoors, you can slowly begin to introduce them to ‘“roughing it’” in a more rustic manner.

What to Bring on your Camping Vacation

Many parents who are camping with their kids for the first time often overdo it when it comes to packing for the excursion. The more you pack, the more you’’ll have to carry from the car to the tent and vice versa. It can be quite a daunting task.

Instead, pack the essentials. They should include :

Items to keep your kids busy while driving to the campsite. These should include books, puzzle books, writing paper, coloring books, crayons, and other non-electronic items. Use this camping experience to create space between your kids and the TV or video games. Besides, they can also enjoy the above-mentioned items once they get to the campsite as well.

A flashlight for each member of the family. Kids love playing with them (watch battery consumption, bring extras) and they may be necessary for getting around the campsite safely. Whistles are also a smart idea, especially when you’’re out in the woods. A tooting whistle can help you find a lost kid.

A few familiar toys. Children who are dealing with camping as a new experience and even those who’’ve been camping a few times before take comfort in a stuffed animal, doll, or other toy that reminds them of home. Avoid bringing lots of bulky toys as they present a space problem.

A few surprises. Often, a new toy, game, or other object can keep a somewhat apprehensive child busy for hours. Buy a few inexpensive toys and wrap them up for use when your child is bored or uncomfortable with his surroundings. Everyone loves surprises!

Bring plenty of clothing. Campsites are ripe with mud puddles and other things that naturally attract kids so you’’ll probably need extras. Pack each day’’s clothes in a gallon-sized zippered bag. When the clothes are dirty, they can go back in the same bag, which will keep them away from the clean clothes. Keep your kids dressed in layers so that it’’s easy to accommodate all kinds of weather.

After you Arrive

Once you’’ve reached the campsite or camping facility, let your child join in the fun of readying the site for your stay. This is a great opportunity to teach him/her how to pitch a tent, spread out sleeping bags, prepare simple meals, and for older kids build fires.

If you’’re child is old enough to take photos, arm him with a disposable camera and encourage him to snap pictures of his surroundings. Older children should also bring along a journal and keep track of their camping activities.

Bear in mind that your child just may not enjoy camping as much as you do or it may take a while to warm them to the idea of spending time outside in an unfamiliar and often dark place. Don’’t get frustrated. Share with them the stories of past camping trips no ghost stories, please and tell them why you enjoy camping. Chances are that with repeated exposure, they’’ll come to love camping holidays as much as you do.

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