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Camping with Kids — 5 Practical Tips for Camping with Little Ones

Say you were an avid camper pre-procreating, and you haven’t mustered the courage to take your little ones out with you. Or, maybe sleeping in a tent isn’t exactly your style, but you’ve been wanting to expose your kids to a night or two of the great outdoors to experience some of these awesome benefits. It’s time to break the seal—and we’ve got a series of posts lined up to help you figure out how to plan a great trip, what you need to bring, and where to go around Nashville.

Camping with Kids Practical Tips NashvilleMomsBlog

1. Pick your campsite well.

Opt for a site near the bathhouse and the playground... the sites circled above are perfect because they have an added bonus of no roads to cross! Image source: https://tnstateparks.itinio.com/reelfoot-lake

Opt for a site near the bathhouse and the playground…the sites circled above are perfect because they have an added bonus of no roads to cross! Image source: https://tnstateparks.itinio.com/reelfoot-lake

If you’re reserving campsites ahead of time, consider picking a site close to the bathhouse and to a playground. Proximity to a bathhouse for little ones is probably a no-brainer (especially for those middle of the night trips!) and, while the great outdoors are a marvelous playground for your kids to explore, there’s something amazing about having a playground within sight of your campfire.

Consider water features while selecting a campsite. I'd rather not have water too close for my 4 and 3 year olds so I'd choose the sites across the street (a natural boundary and closer to the bathhouse), but for older kids, a site on the water would be ideal! Image source: https://tnstateparks.itinio.com/montgomery-bell

Consider water features while selecting a campsite. I’d rather not have water too close for my little guys, so I’d choose the sites across the street (a natural boundary and closer to the bathhouse), but for older kids, a site on the water would be ideal! Image source: https://tnstateparks.itinio.com/montgomery-bell

It’s a little early for my four- and three-year-old to go off romping in the woods on their own, so having a playground with ‘natural’ boundaries gives them freedom to explore and meet new friends while we set up, prep food, tear down, or just relax. If your kids are a little older, you could also opt for a campsite near a water feature, but that calls for a little more vigilance than I’m currently comfortable providing while trying to get camp things done.

2. Let them use your (old) camera.

Photo courtesy of Franklin (age 3)

Photo courtesy of Franklin (age 3)

We have a Canon point and shoot that predates our kids. We hardly ever take pictures with it anymore because our phones are handy and make it so easy to share precious moments with friends and family. When camping, however, we rarely have service (and I make a point to disconnect while we’re out), so bringing along the Canon is a necessity. My kids love to take the camera around and take pictures. It’s a risk. They might very well break it, but—for the most part—we have worked together to learn to treat it with care. They love the responsibility of handling the equipment, and their ability to frame a shot gets better every time they get a chance to practice. Maybe only one out of every six or seven shots is of anything (so many pictures of fingers covering the lens or accidental videos!), but seeing the trip from their point of view is priceless. (In fact, every snapshot in this post was captured by a child on one of our trips!)

3. Bring lights for each kid.

Photo credit: Olivia, age 4

Photo credit: Olivia (age 4)

It gets dark when the sun goes down… I’m always surprised by how fast and by how blind I seem to get. Even if you have a lantern and a fire going, if your kid goes outside the circle of light, it’s easy to lose him in the darkness. At some point, we might upgrade to headlamps for each kid, but for the most part, they aren’t up too long after the sun goes down, and the expense doesn’t seem justified. You could do flashlights, but my favorite is glow sticks—which is really the only thing on my packing list that has changed since we added kids to our camping trips (besides the number of blankets, pillows, plates, etc). Your kids will love playing with them, and they glow in all directions (instead of pointing like a flashlight) so you can see them whether or not they are pointing at you. You can slip one around a neck or arm and hand them another for play.

4. Be prepared for nighttime accidents.

Even if your kid(s) are way past potty training, there is a strong chance that they will need to go in the middle of the night and will either get confused about where they are and what to do, or—if you’ve been swimming—they might just be so exhausted and waterlogged that they have an accident. I always get a light source (headlamp or flashlight) and an extra pair or two of underwear and pajama pants for each kid and keep them in one of our tent’s built in pockets. That way, I’m not rummaging through a bag or the car looking for clean clothes in the moonlight. You might also consider throwing an extra blanket in your tent.

5. Set your sleep expectations low. Very low.

Photo courtesy of Franklin (age 3)

Regardless of how tuckered out they get on our adventures, my boys seem synced with the sun while camping. Early to bed and (waaaaaay too) early to rise. I’ve learned (only a little begrudgingly) to embrace the sunrises and time spent with my kids. Photo courtesy of Franklin (age 3)

My kids have consistently gone to sleep soon after the sun has set and woken up soon after the sun has risen. Unfortunately, my husband and I aren’t always ready to take advantage of the early-ish bedtime, and we’re definitely not always ready for the early rise. This, combined with inevitable middle of the night bathroom trip (or two), and I’ve come to embrace the fact that I’m just not going to get much good sleep while we’re camping. You can try taking turns with your partner on the middle of the night duties and early rises, or you can enforce an early bedtime for yourself…or you can just go with it and look forward to a fantastic night’s sleep in your own bed when you get home!

**Bonus tip: A few of my friends recently suggested that if you have a crawler/toddler camping you, you might consider bringing a pack n play for in the tent… or you might find that someone is obsessed with opening tent zippers in the least opportune times!

What tips would you add to enjoy camping with little ones?

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