Does your family go camping together? I grew up tent camping with my family and Girl Scout troop, so it was a tradition I wanted to start with my own boys. My husband and I debated about what age to start and took both boys on an overnight trip to Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Camp Resort in Elmer, NJ. They are 3 and 15 months. Since this was our first experience camping with the kids, and it had been a few years since we camped ourselves, we decided to stick close to home and only stay 1 night.
Overall the kids did better than expected. We made a few rookie mistakes, like underestimating how cold it really is at 6am when they wake up, and not bringing bedtime stories or really any sort of toys or entertainment for the kids (duh!). However, we were able to entertain them by exploring the campground, involving them in setting up camp, cooking hot dogs on sticks, and playing in the tent, so we were ok.
Although if our stay had been any longer we would have been in trouble. We also assumed we could find sticks for roasting marshmallows, but they were in surprisingly short supply and we ended up purchasing some at the camp store.
So, based on that trip, here are a few tips to make your first trip enjoyable for everyone.
10 Tips for Camping with Your Kids
1. Check the Campground’s Website Ahead of time to find out:
- If you can bring your own firewood. Sometimes campgrounds don’t allow it or restrict the amount.
- To look at the campground map and choose a site near the bathroom facilities.
- Find out what activities or themes are planned for during your visit so that you can participate fully. (For example, by decorating your site for Christmas in July)
- Determine if there are any minimum night requirements for stays during holiday weekends or peak times.
- Any rules or restrictions, like quiet hours, check-in/check-out times, or other helpful information.
2. Stay close to home incase you forget to pack any essentials or your kids (or you) hate it.
3. Don’t count on the activities and amenities at the campground to provide ALL your entertainment for the kids. Below are some ideas of things to bring, but keep it to 1 or 2 things you only plan to pull out in a jam. For example, when you’ve already set up camp, took a walk to explore the campground, played on the playground equipment, got ice cream in the camp store, took another walk to look for fish in the pond, and it’s only been 3 hours and the kids don’t want to take a nap.
- a deck of cards (Check out my post 21 Card Games Kids Love)
- a kid powered ride-on toy to drive around the campsite (rope off an area to keep kids away from the campfire
- a bike
- balls and/or gloves for a game of catch
- fishing poles
- a small bag of action figures to play with in a new setting (I’m talking about 1 or 2, not anything with a lot of small parts that can get easily lost)
- coloring or activity books if your kids are into those (We love these Melissa and Doug Water WOW! Books for traveling.)
- A few favorite story books for bedtime
- Various containers for dumping and pouring water or playing in the dirt
- Or another favorite toy that keeps them occupied for hours
4. When you arrive, walk the kids around the perimeter of your campsite so you can teach them their boundaries and remind them when they try to wander off that they need to stay within them.
5.Let the kids help with everything you do while setting up camp. It will take longer, but they will love being big helpers and be occupied.
Related: Fun Jobs for Kids at the Campsite
6. Look at the campground map ahead of time and request a site as close to the bathroom facilities as possible, especially if you are with a newly trained toddler. Bring along a small potty you can use for emergencies and then empty in the nearby facilities.
7. If you can’t bring your own firewood make sure you have cash to purchase small bundles at the camp store or from nearby homes where it’s usually $5 per bundle.
8. Instead of buying a large jug of milk, we purchased small 16oz bottles of shelf stable chocolate milk so we didn’t have to do any mixing at the camp site. Is it really that hard to dirty a spoon? No, but the convenience was appreciated.
9. Explain your camp rules for safety so everyone is clear. For example, no running in the campsite and keeping a safe distance from the fire.
10. Relax and enjoy your time in the woods!