two peninsulas. one big playground.

How to survive the weekend camping with a toddler

cousins_8_2012We did it. We survived tent camping with our one-and-a-half year old last summer, and we’re ready for round two: camping with a two-and-a-half-year-old this year.

Truth be told, it wasn’t easy. Is anything with a two-something? But it wasn’t that bad, either. Fortunately, prior to camping, I did a little online digging in search of some tips for taking a toddler camping and found a few that came in pretty handy.

The biggest advice I can give as a result of our experience is this: take it all in stride. It kind of goes without saying with this age group, but it is extra important to remember when embarking on such an adventure. Your toddler WILL get dirty. It WILL take you a bit of time not to mention ALL of your toddler entertainment tricks to set up camp. And you WILL wish that you had ten arms plus eyes in the back of your head. But don’t lose site of the prize: a precious collection of memories for your children to carry with them the rest of their lives. You too.

Here are some tricks that worked for us – two adults with a one-and-a-half year old and a four-year-old in a four-person tent – as well as some tips from other camping parents:

Safety Oriented

  • Invest in glow sticks. Lots of them. Not only do kids love them, but they double as a tracking device because you can see where your kids are as the night falls.
  • Get some SafetyTats temporary tattoos and put your cell phone and camp space numbers on your child in case you get separated. They’re inexpensive and take baby oil to remove, so they won’t accidentally wash off.
  • When first exploring the campground, ensure your child learns the way back to camp. Teach them to look for landmarks and observe where your site is.
  • Place a portable play yard around the campfire to prevent Speedy Gonzales from approaching the fire during that split-second your back is turned.
  • When ready, teach campfire safety and how to start and properly extinguish a fire.
  • Assign the same color t-shirt each day for your lot. For example, on day one, everyone wears read. Day two, it’s green. Day three, orange, etc. This way you can easily see the kids in the woods. Dark or earth-tone colored shirts pretty much means they’re going to blend in.
  • Ensure your kids always use the buddy system whenever they want to explore on their own. A whistle for each child is not a bad idea, either – in case they get lost or hurt.
  • Take a picture of each child when you arrive. In the event they do go missing, you’ll have the most current photo of them available.

 Making Bedtime Easier

  • Speaking of glow sticks, put some in your tent’s mesh pockets as your mittenkidz doze off – they make a great nightlight.
  • Prior to camping, set up the tent in your backyard and let your child play and eventually sleep in it. That way he will get used to sleeping outside and some of the sounds he will hear.
  • Bring a battery-operated sound machine or iPod speakers to help drown out the camp noises while settling down for the night.

 Pure Ol’ mittenkidz Fun

  • We found some inexpensive kid-size headlamps at our local sporting goods store. The boys thought it was so cool to have their own – and they doubled as safety lights for Halloween a few months later.
  • Do a nature scavenger hunt. Keeps your kids entertained for hours. One parent saved this for last, as the adults were packing up camp, so the kids remained occupied. She even involved a prize.
  • Fill the dish tub with warm water, add a couple bath toys and even suds and your toddler, if she’s like my water-loving son, will be entertained for a long time.
  • Bring the bikes and/or trikes and ensure you have flashing lights and reflectors on them.
  • Walkie talkie’s are always a hit. Give everyone code names.
  • Invest in special camping toys that stay in the camping box all winter and only come out come camping time. This is also a good place to stash toys from kids’ meals, birthday party favors, etc. Several parents recommended toy dump trucks and plastic shovels, noting that they were especially helpful for keeping a child entertained while camp was set up.

Other Tricks of the Trade

  • Color code your kids from the get-go. That way, everyone knows which cup, towel, plate, chair, etc. is his or hers trip after trip, year after year.
  • Bring along some solar powered patio lights with stakes (we found some on sale for $3 at Target) to mark out your campsite for night time – where the tent entrance is, where the guy wires are, the cooler, etc. The lights recharge during the day and are ready for the next night’s adventures.
  • Buy a water jug that has a spout that opens/closes. Leave it at the end of the picnic table for washing hands, filling water bottles, etc. Bonus tip: Place a bar of soap in a plastic mesh bags (such as one that oranges or onions come in) and tie it on the handle of the jug. It’s an instant hand scrubber that will even help rub off tree sap.
  • Pack items in a large plastic bin that can double as a bathtub for kids. Other bathing tips: Bathe your wee ones close to the campfire to keep them warm – and if you have to bathe multiple children just remember to do the cleanest one first and the dirtiest one last so you don’t have to change the water constantly.
  • An automatic bubble machine is a great way to entertain kids while you set up or break down camp.
  • Like to take walks or hike? Have each child carry a kid-size backpack (good for them to learn to carry their own gear – plus they have a place to stash any treasures found along the trail). Pack with a water bottle and snacks. Other items could include some inexpensive kids binoculars, a magnifying glass, a journal, or a bug catcher kit.
  • For the younger set, bring a travel highchair (the ones that strap onto a chair). Fasten it to the picnic table bench, place a few snacks on it and voila! It’s a convenient place to place your toddler while you prepare dinner, set up or tear down camp, or play some cards.

Last, but not least…Remember to have fun yourself! If you are happy and excited about the whole experience, they will be too.

What about you – any tried and true camping tips you’d like to share?