First, let me introduce myself.
I’m a married mum of two beautiful children, a three year old boy and a 20 month old girl. I have been an Outdoor Education Coordinator and Secondary School teacher for too many years, and just love being in the outdoors!
Here are a few of my essential tips for camping with kids in the great outdoors
1. Get organised
Have everything sorted out at least a week before you leave home. I like to have lists for what I need (I have laminated some, one for summer camping, one for winter camping, one for the kids, one for parents, one for essentials etc.), and always have a back up plan for accidents or emergencies. For example, with my toilet training toddler, I pack extra underpants, extra washing powder and big boy wipes (yes, they are different to little girl wipes….well, in his eyes anyway!).
I always forget tea-towels, so they are first on my list! Being organised so early makes me the laughing stock of most of my friends and family, however they usually eat their words when they have to come begging for spare toilet paper in the middle of the night!
2. Be Flexible
Kids routines (of which I am usually crazily strict with!) will almost always fly out the window. Kids might be more or less tired than usual, or decide, like my daughter, that at the ripe old age of 20 months, they no longer need a day sleep when camping. My advice is: go with it, or risk going seriously crazy. Go for a drive after lunch if they are super tired and won’t go down for a nap – I almost guarantee they won’t last long before zeds are heard.
It’s difficult to make sure kids are well fed and hydrated at the best of times, and going camping is no different – but it doesn’t have to be. Kids will be so excited to be camping in the great outdoors, they probably won’t want to stop and eat big meals. I prefer to give them many snacks, often.
We make banana chocs in the campfire: - Slit a banana down the middle, keeping skin on. - Place choc chips in the slit, and cover with banana. - Wrap in foil and place in coals for about 5 minutes. - Open (HOT!), allow to cool and you have yummy (and mostly healthy) banana chocs.
Fruit is always welcome in my house, so we give lots of fruit throughout the day. Cook toasties on the fire for lunch (filled with cheese, ham and tomato, or baked beans – just remember they will be super hot when they come off the coals!), and muesli bars or popcorn for snacks. Dinner is harder, and I usually request some normality with food here (don’t forget the highchair – IKEA ones are great because the legs come off for easy travelling.) Make it warm and nourishing, and easy to digest. A BBQ is a great, easy option. I also like to cook spaghetti bolognaise or similar the week before, and freeze it for camping – usually for the first night, so that I don’t have to be super organized when we first hit camp!
Kids love to move and explore, so let them go! Design a scavenger hunt around the campsite, one where they can be free and independent, but are still within seeing/hearing distance from you. Walkie-talkies are great ideas for older kids, as they can go and explore a bit further, but still be in easy contact with the adults. I make sure this happens in the mornings, where they are full of enthusiasm for the day and not too tired yet.
In the afternoon (hopefully after a nap, but no promises!), it is quiet time around the camp. Whether it’s toasting marshmallows on the fire, playing bocce on the grass, having a kick of the football or casting a rod into the river nearby, the kids are active without going overboard.
5. Pinterest is your friend
There are so many ideas to copy on this site, your days will never be boring!
6. Many parents like their kids neat and clean, and for the most part, I am the same.
Not when I am camping though – kids are meant to get dirty, wet and messy. That is one way they learn – through doing things and being a part of nature. On cold and rainy days, I dress my kids in overalls, beanies and gumboots, and then let them go! Mud pies, muddy puddles (yes, thanks Peppa for that suggestion!), fort making, bug catching, fishing, hide and seek…..the sky is the limit (no pun intended!).
Remember when we were young (oh-oh, I hear my mum’s voice coming out!), we would get revoltingly dirty and have the BEST fun? Let your kids be kids. Even better, grab your own boots and enjoy your trip down memory lane. If its going to be really horrible weather, I often go to the Salvo’s and buy cheap, old clothes for my kids, so that if they damage them, they can be used as rags, rather than using their good clothes.
Over summer, we have heatwaves, even down here in chilly Victoria. Sleeping in those conditions is terrible, but manageable if you are smart. Make sure your kids have a non-spill water bottle next to their bed. Strip them down to the bare essentials (just a nappy is fine!), and lay them in a light weight cover. An old sheet, made into a sleeping bag, is fantastic. They will be warm enough if you are lucky to get a reprieve in the weather, but cool enough if you aren’t.
Winter…..well, although I hate winter and would rather migrate with the birds up North, we have to deal with it…… layer, layer, layer. We lose a massive amount of heat from our feet, genitals and head, so it is essential that we keep these areas particularly warm in winter. A big ‘must be warm’ place for me is my kidneys, so as ugly as it is, tuck in those pajama tops! Thermal underwear has come a long way since our grandma’s were knitting their own, and are relatively cheap to buy. Made of Polypropylene, they are lightweight, warm, and wick moisture away from our bodies. Worn underneath your flannys, with a beanie and socks for good measure, you will be as warm as toast. We are lucky to have a campervan, so the beds are quite good and comfy. They are made much better by the addition of an eggshell mattress protector (about $40 for a queen size, from Big W or similar), which also has the benefit of being an extra thermal layer. No more crying out in the middle of the night by my kids because they are cold! I have a 3.0 Tog rated sleeping bag with arms for my 20 month old daughter, and my son uses either a doona from home or a sleeping bag. If they are cold overnight, I also put a spare blanket over them.
8. Make friends with your camping neighbours
They may have kids of their own, or have amazing tales to tell of their adventures! Camping people tend to be like minded, so invite them over for happy hour, and enjoy the company!
9. Relax the rules
Unless it’s dangerous or rude, let it go. You can turn yourself into knots making sure your kids are everything you have been teaching them to be, or you can let them go and see how well they have been listening. Chances are, they will surprise you.
10. Get some mummy-only time
It’s very hard to be a parent, but being a stay-at-home mummy myself, I really value and appreciate an hour here or there of my own quiet time. Go for a run, walk or bike ride – whatever you need to do to relax and unwind. The camping trip is for you too, so don’t forget to let your hair down and stop being ‘on call’ for an hour. A relaxed and recharged mummy is a happy mummy.
11. Explore the area with your kids
Go for a bushwalk with them (if they can walk, let them. If they can’t, put them in a carrier). We have taken our kids many different places, and allow them to really immerse themselves in the surrounding bush. Show them different bark or leaves. Play hopscotch on boulders sticking out from the ground. Listen to frogs and cicadas in the scrub. Skip flat rocks on the water. One of my favourite memories with my kids was going for a day walk to Wallace’s Hut on the Bogong highplains (near Falls Creek). We had a picnic lunch, and explored the hut and surrounding area. The walk, whilst not far, was far enough for little legs, and the squeals of excitement from little lungs was enough to melt my heart. I can’t wait to do the 9 week hike from Canberra to Walhalla with them now…. Although I may have to wait a few more years for that one! Ha-ha.
12. See the camp from their eyes
What is exciting? What is dangerous for them? What can be done to minimise the risks of them hurting themselves? Take five minutes out to really look at the camp you have made. Have you camped under trees? Have you camped in a hollow? Is there a ledge nearby that they could fall down? As adults, we often forget to look at what we see as normal parts of the bush, as potentially dangerous areas. How will you stop them from burning themselves on the fire?
13. And lastly (although I hate to end on number 13) have fun with them!
Take lots of photos, but don’t forget to be in some of those photos too. Kids are only young for a small amount of time, and they will be adults with their own kids before your very eyes. Instill in them a sense of love for the bush, so that they too nurture it for the future. I honestly believe that camping kids have something that non-camping kids don’t. I can’t quite put my finger on it yet, but from my vast experience with the youth of today (now I really am starting to sound like my mum!), camping brings a certain quality to their lives. Don’t forget to be a part of it all.