I started taking my daughter camping when she was about three years old. I had actually never been camping before but finding myself as a single parent and low on funds convinced me that it was something I should give a try. I talked to my own mother about going along because my mom is a trooper and she has always known how to make any situation work. Even though it was hard traveling to our destination and setting up camp and taking it down for a couple of nights, once we made it to our destination we enjoyed our camping experience. It was bonding to say the least.
Three years later I re-married and a while later I had my son. My husband was not a camper; he said that camping for him was going to a hotel. So, when my son was a toddler, again off I went with my daughter, mom, and my little son. This time it was not for a lack of funds as much as it was because I was at a loss as to what to do with my son on a vacation. My girl was calm and you always knew she would be on her best behavior no matter where you went. My son on the other hand, not that he was a bad boy, had tons of energy and loved to run and be free. Playing outside was his favorite past time so we decided a camping vacation would be perfect for him and enjoyable for us. It was important for me to find something that both of my children enjoyed. My daughter was a reader, loved shopping for antiques, etc. but my son made it hard for us to do these things. He could not sit still. But my daughter also liked to be outdoors, hiking and looking at nature, fishing, or just outside on a blanket reading a book. Since my son loved nothing more than playing in the dirt/mud, fishing, running/speed hiking, chasing squirrels, etc. we decided camping was our best bet.
As predicted he totally loved sleeping outdoors and being close to a fishing lake. Before we ever set out on a camping trip we did some experimental camping. We decided to do some practice camping trips in the back yard. I think this is the key for any camping trip with multiple children. We set the tent up in the back yard and spent the night out there just to see how things were going to go. I was pretty sure my son was going to love it and as predicted, he did. Even if someone seems brave and bold their tune sometimes changes when sleeping out of doors. We were set to go.
Even though he was three or four he was gung ho on wanting to help set up camp when we got there. I believe it is important to give children a job when you are setting up or taking down camp. It keeps them busy and within your eye sight and makes them feel that they are an intricate part of the camping experience. My son tried to help us set up the tent but of course he was too small but we gave him the important job of hammering in the stakes with his personal hammer we had purchased for someone his size. He was also in charge of gathering kindling wood for the fire which was right up his alley. There needs to be a job for every child to keep the campsite working smoothly. We had to be especially cautious at night around the fire because my son loved playing with the fire. He kept on getting kindling trying to make the fire even bigger! He loved roasting marshmallows, especially when they would catch on fire!
My older brother has four children and they go camping all the time. He too is an advocate of handing out tasks for each child. They each have a job and the two older ones have a younger child assigned to them to watch out for. It is important on a camping trip to give everyone a sense of accountability, especially when you have multiple children. The bigger the family and the more accountability you give to each child the better things work. Do not suppose for a minute that your child is not able, even the little ones can have a responsibility.
We all went camping together one fall, my older brother’s family and mine, along with mom of course. It seemed like there were kids everywhere. It all worked out really well because we put the older children in charge of the younger ones and that way everyone’s safety was taken care of. Not that we let them out of our sight as well but it gave us opportunity to get some work done without stopping for every little thing. The thing you need to remember about camping with multiple children is to make sure that the responsible ones are in charge and can handle the responsibility. If that is not possible then it is a good idea to make sure you camp in an area that does not have many dangers like water or cliffs, etc. Minimizing the harm factor that the children can get into is a great way of making sure everyone has a fun, safe time.
For example, the first camping trip we had with my son was near a lake and the lake had alligators! We were going to camp right next to the lake so that we could just let him fish while we sat at the campsite and watched but when we found out about the alligators we changed our location and opted for walking over to the lake as a group. Safety is key and when everyone is safe and happy the camping trip is a success!
Take a chance on camping, you may be pleasantly surprised. It is a bit more work but being out of doors with your family and “roughing” it can be a very bonding experience. I can not really think of a better bonding experience that my family has had. We still tell stories about things that happened during camping trips, they may not have always been the easiest of times but they certainly will bring your family closer together. Going back to the basics and working together as a family, playing together as a family, without all the modern technology is a great time to get closer to each member of your family. The more the merrier!
Ken holds a master’s in business leadership from Upper Iowa University and multiple bachelor degrees from Grand View College. As president of morningsidenannies.com, Ken’s focus is helping Houston-based parents find the right childcare provider for their family. When he isn’t working, he enjoys spending time with his three children and his wife.
Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want to go camping.
Image courtesy of kellec via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.