Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Travel Studies: Camping With Kids

I wrote a story about our family reunion
as a souvenir for the grandkids.
This is an edited version.

If you sat around our campfire you'd hear some wild tales. One year Opa set a lantern on fire, tripped over a stump, and rolled down the hill with a flaming duffel bag. The next year we were pelleted with hail stones while the ground beneath us shuddered in a thunder storm. The annual Gathering of Heroes has become a cherished tradition.

Some babes in the woods.

Our family camp-out is sponsored each year by Heidi and Jac. This summer their four little girls were 5, 4, and the twins barely 2. In an interview for Marta's blog Heidi gave these expert tips:


My advice for camping with kids is that you can never be too prepared.

I believe in outfitting little ones in rugged jeans or pants that I don't care about, so that I don't care if they sit on the ground and get completely filthy. I like to bring a place for them to sit, like a highchair or saucer, even the car seat carrier is handy for the tiniest ones. A highchair (the ones from IKEA are cheap, and perfect for hosing down afterwards) makes it is easier for them to eat, be up out of the way and it was great to let them sit and color for awhile.

Watered down cocoa is great in a sippy cup. I prefer uncooked s'mores for 2 year olds! I bring books and all of their nighttime paraphernalia for tent sleeping. I bring their winter jammies with feeties, and make a bed out of an unzipped sleeping bag and blankets. The twins are still in cribs at home, so I wasn't sure what they'd be like sleeping. (I discovered the first night that they didn't like to be inside the sleeping bag, so I did it different the next night. Creativity is key!)

Getting them to bed is always an adventure. I make sure every kid has a flashlight and then turn them all off at the same time to listen to tent-time Dora Adventures by mom. Once they are all settled and snoozing, I don't freak out to leave them in the tent alone. The adults are always very close, the campfire is just a few steps away and I check on them often. It's great for us to enjoy some fun time around the fire sans kids. I try to have everything ready before dark so I can get right in my sleeping bag after zipping down the tents for the night.

Another tip: Kids noses get stuffy while camping... maybe campfire smoke or something. This year I brought those cool Triaminic Vaporized Patches. We cut them in half and stuck them on their jammies and they slept soundly.

I look back on pictures and realize my kids get really dirty. We try to brush teeth, but we don't do hair too cute. The clothes they wear are grungy and I always bring washable shoes. This year since I knew it would rain we brought galoshes to roam in. They were perfect! With their pants tucked inside, the pants are clean enough to wear another day.

We scout out perfect campsites and reserve them early. Even if we're booking our site in winter, we try to get a feel for what it's going to be like by driving to where we're going. We know just what we like about the sites we want; shade only, no one wants to bake while making lunch! It's lousy being hot and kids get grumpy. (The typical group sites are great, but are usually cement without tons of shade.) We like to invite others, because it's just easier that way.

My husband is awesome enough to set everything up and take it down as long as I take care of scrubbing down the kids. It's a perfect trade off. We only camp 15 minutes away from home, so it's easy to pack our whole house! We make it worth it by staying a few nights (it is definitely not worth all the packing when you go for just one dinner and one night). May as well make a whole vacation out of it! My kids remember the fun times with their cousins and have come to love our family camp outs.

We always have yummy food, because the best part of camping is the meals and snacks for me. Opa & Oma introduced Jac and I to their GINORMOUS sleeping pads, not so easy for lugging along but they are soft and cushy and make sleeping in a tent totally do-able. I like to take a stroller for walks around the campground, or you can always drive the canyon to get kids to take naps. Most of all, you and your husband can't have huge expectations. Jac gives me breaks so I can enjoy and read my book and I try to give him time to sleep and unwind too. We can't wait for the years when the kids are old enough to do long hikes and we can all sleep in, etc. But until then, we'll just deal with it. Plus we have to make the most of it! We can make them go now while they're little. What happens when they're all saying, "Camping?!! Gross mom... can't we just go to Disneyland?"

We only do this once or twice a year. But, every time we come home we say, "We gotta go again." I feel anxious to just set up the tent to sleep in the backyard this week!

Aunt Marta and her followers

Marta had tips, too. She said:

camping with kids checklist.

i've received a few emails inquiring about camping w/ kids, so here goes. i am a novice about camping with small ones, but i've learned a thing or two from my older sister. heidi and her husband have camped with their - oh so darling - 4 kids (in tents, mind you) every year since their family began. this year included her two year old twins. if they can do it, so can you. here are some ideas i picked up.

details. let loose and be flexible. give the kids each a place to sit. heidi brought her itty bitty princess camp chairs; perfect for the girls to roast marshmallows and minimized quarrels over where to sit. i brought up our small portable high chair for benji (it was perfect for keeping him from swallowing sticks). use off wipes to keep bugs away from li'l ones. bring sunscreen and lots of it. set up your tent in daylight and put the rainfly on, just in case. put a port-a-crib inside your tent for the baby (keeping him off the ground means he feels warmer and is lot more like home). pack all the baby food / spoons / bibs together in a separate ziplock gallon size baggie, it will be no nonsense to fix up when he gets hungry and anxious. oh and there are even coleman battery-operated fans available to attach inside your tent, perfect for hot afternoon naps. what will they think of next.

Visit my Gathering of Heroes post for some Oma Tent suggestions. Oh, there's the bell.

No homework today! Instead we're having a Meet and Greet. Get yourself a snack and meet back in the comments section to share tips or experiences you've had in the great outdoors. Do you go to the beach? The mountains? The backyard? Sit down and chat.

*If you do any part of this assignment on your blog, please link it back to TravelinOma and provide proper attribution. Leave a comment here (with a link to your homework if you want to share it) and/or a link to your blog (so we can get to know you.) School Days has open enrollment so join anytime. No make-up work required! If you're new, click here for an orientation.


Diane Linford said...

Getting ready for, and cleaning up from camping take work. Camping itself is the fun part! But you have some great tips - I think making sleeping as comfy as possible for kids makes everyone happier.

I also have camping gear stored together so it's easy to grab when getting ready.

And I have figured out food - some easy things to have ready to go that everyone likes. That makes a big difference too - comfy tummies!

kenju said...

I am not a camper. My husband says that my idea of camping is a hotel without room service. But permit me to observe that you and your family are a model for all others.

~Kristina said...

I'm a cabin kind of girl. We've had one my whole life. While I visit less now, it still holds magic in the wood boards. It sparks memories of bonfires and good times. The wind whispers lost secrets as it kisses your cheeks. Everything is different in that cabin.

Audra said...

From way before I can remember my family went camping every other weekend during the summer. How my mom did it with all us little kids I don't know as I'm sure we weren't very helpful. This year I took my 2 little ones camping for the first time. Boy what fun!! My 3 year old could get as dirty as she wanted & run around the outdoors. My 4 month old loved it too. Probably because I kept him in the front pack most of the time. LOL

Things I found helped a lot with my kids was a lightstick for my 3 year old. She thought that was the coolest "flashlight" ever! And it helped her go to sleep. I just stuck my baby in my sleeping bag with me & he was so cozy & warm he slept the whole night. I did ok too. :)
Snacks are a big thing!! With so much exercise all of us were hungry much more than at home & my dinners almost always took longer to cook than I planned. We dived into the plethora of snacks whenever we felt like it without feeling guilty.
Always expect it to rain while you're camping. It's just a fact of life & if it doesn't rain you're witnessing a miracle. LOL
Last come very prepared. I'm talking electrical tape for the tent poles to a good first aid kit to lots of warm clothing & rain gear. nothings worse than being cold & wet.

crissy said...

Oh, I love camping! Growing up we camped frequently. I'm sure it must have been difficult for my parents. The last trip I remember was when there were 7 of us kids, we never went after 8 came around.
Then there were young women camp-outs. I know some people would choose places with cabins, but for all of the years that I went my stake went cabin-free. I love sleeping in a tent, it doesn't feel like camping if I'm not in one!

I went camping with my husband and his family a month or so before we were married. We went again the next year, when I was 8 months pregnant, but we skipped last year. I was feeling anxious about taking a small child. We made up for it this year, we went twice, with two small children.

I love it. I love the peace and calm and quiet that comes with the mountains. I love seeing the bajillions of stars that you just can't see in the city.

...Well, jeez. Now I'm ready to go camping again!

dalene said...

love the oregon coast. love that when we go we can hardly drag my kids away--even though it's freezing!

best tip came from my bil and applies to the backyard as well as to any given campground:

if they're not dirty, they're not having fun.

so let dirt/sand/mud etc. happen.

Mrs. Organic said...

We love going to the beach, especially in southern California. We also camp and think cots with a layer of foam on top are the comfiest for sleeping (for adults).

I'm wondering if anyone has tried those personal mosquito repellent gadgets that you clip on your clothes (rather than the spray) and do they work?

Heffalump said...

We used to camp out a lot more frequently when we had fewer kiddies. Then we ran out of tent room. Last summer we bought a bigger tent that could sleep all 8 of us and we have set it up in the back yard a couple of times.
One thing we always tried to do was to have an indoor family campout every winter. Usually in January. When there were only a few kids we would set up our tent in the living room, now though, I think our tent is bigger than the living room! Camping indoors is fun too. We would turn off all the lights and not use the TV or any technology other than flashlights and glow sticks, and cook our breakfast on the camp stove outside the next morning. Sometimes we would have foil dinners the night before too. The kids always loved it.

Alana said...

Loved your bears story!

I must be psychic because all night last night I had camping nightmares. There were ants everywhere and I had to find bug spray.

I love camping and backpacking but all that changed when I had my little girl. We have been a few times and it is a major undertaking. This last time we had to leave early because she screamed all night in the campground and we had to sleep in the car. Ugggh. Oh well, it's a work in progress. All those tips are great. I guess it's just a matter of adjusting to this new kind of camping and hopefully I'll be good at it one day!

brandy said...

When I think of camping I think of smores. They are one of my fav treats. A yummy alternative to the plain chocolate bar is using a peanut butter cup instead. It is delicious.

Beck said...

We always camp where its cold and when our Mimi was a baby, we used a sleep sack because she was such a wiggler when she slept. We also make sure we have a stocking cap with chin strap for her, too. Its always worked like a champ for keeping her warm, and thus, asleep.

Michelle said...

We're going camping at Zion's Nat'l Park next week. We only camp for 2-3 nights; that keeps daddy happy!

crissy said...

Two trips with 2 under 2 was pretty brave. Because they are young I didn't want to spray them with repellant, I didn't want them licking it off or anything. I found these patches at the store, I wish I could remember what they were called. You put them right on your skin and it helps to repel the bugs for up to 36 hours. It's kid safe, and it worked great, the kids didn't have a single bite on either trip. And it works on adults, too.

When we camp we go with a group. Usually it is with a large number of my husbands extended family, like our first this year. Although we slept in our own campsite the first night because we couldn't find our group.
It was a cloudy day, we went on a weekend in June (which you salt lakers may recall was quite the soggy month.) It was cloudy and cool all day, we set up out little tent and hubby built a fire. We roasted hot dogs for dinner and retired early, because it started to rain.
The next morning we found our group and moved camp. I like camping with hubbys fam, they take care of us, help with the kids and share their food and fire.
Our second campout was smaller, we went with my fil, some of hubbys siblings andf spouses (one of my sisters included) the kids and one of hubbys uncles. Again, we shared food and the kids all playewd together.
The other great part about going in these groups is that they take port-a-potty's. No squatting in the woods and freezing parts off.

audrey said...

Some of my very fondest memories growing up are of camping in Yosemite National Park. I loved it! I still love going there, but I must say that it is much less overwhelming to think of doing it in a cabin than in tents with little children. How did my grandma and then my aunts do it? Most of the time the men didn't come.

We have ventured forth camping with our little brood once and it was difficult. Mostly the sleeping part and the keeping the kids out of the fire part.

When I read Marta's blog entry awhile ago, I was so grateful the for the many suggestions and it made me feel like I could maybe attempt it again. I would like to provide some of those wonderful memories for my own children.

diane said...

I like cabin camping. It's a shame that I don't enjoy the outdoorsy life because we have plenty of beautiful spots around here. Even the beach is out for me. Too sandy.

In our family, camping is bonding time for dad and the kids. I enjoy sleeping in my own bed.

We could have our class reunion at a resort.

brooke said...

Though I am not doing the writing assignments, I have been enjoying your posts. I loved the one about telling kids about sex. It is so strange to be the parent now and realize that it is just as mortifying to the parent as the child.

Your surprise birthday dinner looked like a blast. You have such a darling family--I bet you have the best conversations at dinner. My dad turned 60 this year and we didn't do anything nearly that nice!

Audra said...

Crissy we loved those patches too! They worked fantastic! I only remember them as Vitamin B patches, but they probably have a different name.

Allison said...

Growing up, I was never much of a camper--my parents don't do it at all. But that's been changing since I met my boyfriend. Now that I've learned how surprisingly comfortable sleeping pads can be and the wide variety of food options you have, I love it. Have not gone with little kids yet (although in terms of helpfulness around the campsite, some of my friends qualify).

~j. said...

I do so love to hike the Y.

(thanks for the compliments and comments! You're welcomed to link to my stuff anytime!)