Summer is almost here which means it's time to dig out the sleeping bags and dust off the tent or RV.
What's that you say? Camping with your toddler is the stuff of nightmares?
It doesn't have to be.
Whether you’re an experienced camper or a first-time newbie, camping with your toddler is a great way to create memories and build a love of the outdoors. There are many benefits to getting outdoors with your family. According to studies in the National Institute of Health, outdoor play holds an important role in healthy development in young children. Among many other benefits, playing outdoors “promotes cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being” in children.
What better way to embrace the outdoors than going camping?
Camping with young children can bring up a wide range of emotions - from excitement and joy to "oh my gosh, what have I done!" However, I promise if you step outside your comfort zone you will reap the benefits. But first, let's start with the basics.
Campsites go fast and you'll want to start booking early, as in, booking when there's still snow on the ground.
Most larger campgrounds have websites with maps and pictures to guide you. If you’re camping in a tent or you don’t have a toilet in your camper, book a site that is a short walk to bathroom facilities (or outhouse). You want to be close enough to not put your weak bladder to the test or ask your newly potty-trained toddler to “hold it just a little longer.” However, you also don’t want to choose the site right beside the toilet because there will be more foot traffic and potential for that outhouse aroma. No thanks.
Next, you need to consider location, location, location. Having a campsite right on the lake is lovely and serene, however, don’t plan on actually sitting down to enjoy it. Kids are drawn to the lake and you’re going to have a tough time keeping them out of the water. For first-time campers, book a forested site instead, or at least the ones away from bodies of water. This will be easier, safer, as well as less windy.
When I am unfamiliar with a campground, I call them and ask which site would be best for my family. I tell them I have two busy toddlers, and looking for a safe site that isn’t on the water, isn't on the main road, or at least set further back off the road, and a short walk to facilities (water taps and toilets). I find that most campgrounds give good recommendations for sites that check off all of your boxes.
If you're an inexperienced camper, or uncertain how your young children are going to react once out in the natural elements for the night now is the time to have a test run.
For tent campers, set up your tent in the backyard for a night or two. Not only does this prep your toddler for sleeping in a sleeping bag and tent, but it's also great practice for setting up and taking down your tent, and seeing if you’re missing anything or needing replacement parts.
If you're going the camper van or trailer route, park it in the driveway for a sleepover or take it on a short one day trip close to home so you can work out the kinks before attempting a longer voiage.
Lists are your new BFF. Create lists for what clothes to pack, what toys to bring, and to plan your meals and buy groceries accordingly. Pro Tip: Bring more snacks than you think you'll need.
Remember to prepare for the unexpected and bring a first aid kit for injuries, tarps for rain, and extra propane for the camp stove.
It is important to plan for the weather appropriately. Sunny skies ahead? Don’t forget hats and sunscreen. Rain in the forecast? Pack those boots and raincoats. However, regardless of the weather, pack extra pairs of clothes for the kids. Pro Tip: Car vents don’t dry pants well.
Don't forget to bring a few toys or activities for the kids– our go-to is small shovels with dump trucks or bubbles.
When you’re doing your camping practice runs, keep a pen and paper nearby for jotting down things you might have forgotten. This is particularly handy for exhausted parents with poor memory recall trying to plan the next trip.
Regardless of how well you pack and prepare, camping with toddlers will still be chaotic. By embracing it and lowering your expectations, you are setting yourself up for camping success.
Yes, there will be tears and challenging moments, but there will be good ones too which make it all worth it. The sooner you accept that things won’t always go according to plan (does it ever with toddlers anyway?), the sooner you will start having fun and enjoying yourself.
Now that you have the steps to motivate you to walk out of the house and into the tent, I encourage you to make it happen this camping season. You might surprise yourself with what you are capable of, and if all else fails, I can assure you that at least your toddler will have fun.