Whether you plan to sleep in a tent or a cabin, leaving the comforts of home can be an adventure in and of itself with your preschooler. But it’s definitely worth it to break free from those activity-packed days or the monotony of the local park circuit, just to bond with the trees, flowers and rivers -- even if only for a day or two.
If the thought of sleeping in a tent outside with your child makes you shiver, here are some tips for a successful first camping trip with your preschooler:
- Make reservations for no more than 2 nights.
- Go when the weather is warm and there’s no chance of rain. Remove the fear of a sleepless night due to cold feet or not bringing enough blankets or dry clothes.
- Choose a campground close to home that has bathroom facilities. Travel no more than an hour away. In the event that something goes wrong, like someone getting sick, you won’t have to load up your gear and face a 3 hour drive.
- Prep your child. Bring him outside after dark and talk about what it will be like to be outside at night. What sounds will you hear? Will it be cold? What types of wildlife might you see? This is a good opportunity to talk about wolves, bears or other creatures that may scare him: ensure him he’ll be safe with you, and remind him that the animals are more afraid of us then we are of them. Walk around and explore - let your child be in charge of the flashlight.
- As the trip nears, set up the tent in the backyard and ‘practice’ camping.
- Once at the campsite, have your child pitch the tent with you and explain the importance of shelter.
- Set up a trash bag and emphasize the importance of keeping a clean campsite – so animals won’t get sick eating food outside their diets, as well as ensuring that the next campers have a clean space.
- If you like to hike and want to cultivate a taste for it in your child, find a campsite with 1-2 mile loop trails nearby. Keep her entertained by having her find a sturdy walking stick along the way, asking her to listen for birds and keep her eyes open for lizards and bugs.
- Although you may never tire of the mountain air, your child may still crave some of the games from home. Bring puzzles, Play-Doh, crayons/paper, cards, books or board games to pass the time.
- Teach your child to respect nature and other campers by keeping the noise down (especially at night), cleaning up after himself, and smelling, not picking, the flowers.
- Make a checklist of the things you absolutely cannot live without – like a favorite blanket or stuffed animal that could send you back home in a hurry if forgotten.
- Know how to make a fire - it may be your only source of heat and light after the sun goes down.
Burger Boats: Lay out a square of foil. Take a handful of ground beef and shape into an oval. Make a well in the middle and spoon in a tablespoon of barbecue sauce. Add in vegetables, salt and pepper, close and cook.
Tacos in a Bag: from Girl Scout Troop #149. Take an individual bag of corn chips and smash them up without opening the bag. Then open it and put in any of these: browned hamburger, shredded cheese, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, sour cream, salsa. Hold the bag closed, shake and mix. Eat right out of the bag.
Beanie Weenie Casserole - a twist on baked beans and hot dogs. Pour beans into a baking pan/iron skillet. Slice hot dogs into 1/4-inch pieces and add to beans. Add diced onions, then add mustard, ketchup, and brown sugar. Stir until mixed and cook about 30 minutes.
Of course, no camping trip is complete without S’mores!
Camping is a great way to explore nature with your child, from observing wildlife and plants to enjoying the simplicity and peace of the natural world. He’ll learn about responsibility and basic needs, like importance of cleaning up after himself and leaving the campsite the way it was when he arrived. He can see what it’s like to be out in the wilderness (okay, so he can see the car), and maybe, just maybe, begin to appreciate all the luxuries of home.