Tips for Camping with Toddlers and Preschoolers

When I declared that we’d be taking our two young preschool-aged daughters camping this summer, many people’s jaws dropped.

“Really, you’re staying in a tent?” Many friends, relatives, and strangers would inquire, as if my husband and I had pleaded temporary insanity.

With one daughter now four and the other two, we reasoned there was no better time than the now to spend some time as a family in the great outdoors, amidst the mosquitoes, bears, ticks, and whatever wildlife Starved Rock State Park has to offer.

Most visitors come to Starved Rock to hike through the park’s winding sandstone canyons and take photos in front of the park’s seasonal waterfalls, but it is also possible to spend the night. Each of Starved Rock’s 129 campsites has space for two vehicles, a picnic table, a fire pit, and electricity. There are also two shower houses (one of which has flush toilets, a camping luxury!) and a playground for the kids.

Bare in mind that this was our first camping trip since having children. Our most recent camping trip was a boozy weekend with friends, loud music, and very little sleep.

The only thing that’s the same this time was the latter. However, there were no shadows of our former camper selves partying nearby.

But apart from some minor stomach issues, a few bug bites, surprising rain showers, and an overwhelming fear that a bear would enter our tent for a late-night snack, I’d say our first went smoothly. If you’re planning a family camping trip with children, here are a few pointers to help you have a fun and safe outdoor adventure.

Tips for Camping with Toddlers and Preschoolers

1. Pack a potty

A trip to the outhouse is probably going to be difficult to sell to a toddler if you’re in the middle of potty training. Even I wouldn’t want to sit on that stinky throne with flies crashing into your bottom while you do your business. Even if your child has graduated from potty training, a potty will come in handy late at night when you don’t feel like breaking out the flashlight and trying to walk over to the nearest toilet.

2. Keep them occupied

There will be plenty of times when you’ll want to keep your kids entertained, and if you’re not in the reception area, there won’t be a tv, iPad, or smartphone to keep them entertained. I’ve discovered that puzzles, coloring books, board games, and even Play dough can come in handy when you’re setting up a tent, cooking, or simply relaxing with a glass of vino fireside.

3. Have a practice run

Let’s face it: kids, particularly when they’re young, can be unpredictable. Not every child is cut out for camping, but you can always start in your own backyard to see if they’re ready. That way, if they make a big fuss, you can go inside for a good night’s sleep.

4. Keep them safe

If your children are anything like mine, they will have plenty of scrapes, bumps, and bruises to deal with as they play in the uneven campground terrain. Always keep a First Aid kit on hand, even when going to the lake or hiking trails. And if you haven’t already purchased a life jacket for your child, there’s no better time than now. Even if they don’t go into the water, having them frolic on the shoreline gives you a lot of peace of mind. Remember what I said about children earlier – they are unpredictable!

5. Easy-peasy meals

Even if you love cooking, this is not the time to channel your inner Martha Stewart. Simplicity is the best way to go when it comes to cooking utensils, counter space, no running hot water, and no appliances. Plan your meals and snacks beforehand  so you can marinate, chop, and prep ingredients in the comfort of your own kitchen rather than at your tiny camp stove with pesky bugs and wildlife hovering.

And there you have it, your Atlanta mom’s top tips to a fun-filled, stress-free family camping trip.

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