Camping With Toddlers Doesn’t Have To Be Torture
My husband and I have always been active and outdoorsy. We knew before we had our children that we wanted the outdoors to be a big part of our life as a family. We are fortunate that my parents own a home in the Adirondacks and we visit frequently hoping to cultivate that same love of nature in our children. The house obviously makes things easier and more luxurious but of course, just being in these woods is a wonderful thing and our kids have a blast every summer.
That said, my husband and I still like to camp in a tent every now and then so our little ones get the full experience of being in the outdoors and looking at nature up close. They are getting older now at five and six so it isn’t as much of an ordeal as it once was but I recall how it went when we first took them camping. Our son was barely a year old and our daughter was not yet three on our first tent camping adventure as a family. We went a few times that summer and we’ve gone nearly every summer since. Needless to say, we’ve picked up a few helpful hacks along the way to make it go more smoothly. Here are a few little things we’ve done over the years to make life easier when we camp with toddlers and small children:
1. Bring tons of unscented baby wipes
Not only did we need them for diaper changes, they also functioned as a quick way to clean up little hands before eating, after getting dirty in the sand or enjoying a drippy juice box. It’s not always easy to access water and soap to wash up with so these are a great alternative.
2. Take a portable high chair
Of course this makes meal time easier with a young toddler who may not be tall enough to sit at a picnic table but its also nice if you have to do a little work around your camp site and need to keep your child contained for a few minutes. I would scatter some Goldfish crackers from my stash of kiddie snacks and buy myself a good 15 minutes to tidy things up or even just sit and read a book. We would either attach it to the picnic table bench or a sturdy lawn chair.
3. Take the Pack and Play
I didn’t get much use out of my Pack and Play at home but it was a God-send while camping with a toddler. We use a blow-up air mattress under our sleeping bags and I always worried about our son somehow rolling off and getting trapped between the air mattress and the tent wall. Keeping him contained made me feel a lot better and also made it easier for him to get comfortable with his blankie and a few stuffed toys.
4. Keep them busy
Just like at home, giving toddlers and pre-schoolers “jobs” to do keeps them out from under your feet and let’s them have fun. As a way of keeping our little ones occupied and feeling like they were helping we would give them tasks like gathering small twigs for kindling, picking up all the little rocks around our tent, letting them sweep with a dust broom, etc. I would also hand them a paper towel and tell them to clean off the picnic table or wipe down their sand toys. Staying busy is key to all of you not losing your minds in the wilderness!
5. Bring more clothes than you ever think you will need
Because you will need them. There are so many ways to get wet and dirty in the great outdoors and I know there were days where our toddlers would go through 3-4 changes of clothes. Their clothes don’t take up much space so don’t be afraid to really pack it in- you will regret not bringing enough once your child has spilled something on her last set of pajamas.
6. Pick a family-friendly campground
This might seem like a no-brainer but if possible, select a campground that has amenities that are focused on small children. We always like to pick places that have playgrounds, easy hiking trails, a camp store for those little emergency items and clean bathrooms. Of course you can go hardcore outdoorsy and do without all of this but I tend to think the whole tent thing is rough enough- these campground features can make a huge difference for your sanity.
7. Bring enough alcohol
Just kidding. But not really. Being outdoors has always tired our kids out so much that we are typically able to get them to sleep early and then we can enjoy time by ourselves. Every trip we’ve taken has given us several “date nights” once the kids are passed out in the tent. A glass of wine by the fire with my husband is an awesome way to end a long day of camping with small children.