Camping with Toddlers

A few weeks ago, I camped with my two year old son alone for the first time.  It was a very special trip for us.

I think  raising your children to love nature is one of the most important lessons we can give them.  Which leads me to camping.  Camping is so important – to fully immerse yourself in it is the best way to learn anything.  So we went camping together, just the two of us, for 5 days at Devil’s Lake State Park.

My two year old son, Liam, and me

I have many years of camping experience.  I have been camping with my family in Tennessee and all around Michigan, where I grew up.  Some of my best memories are in these trips, so I feel it’s wonderful to share these experiences with my son and teach him how to get dirty, how to play in a river, the fun of finding fish and swimming, throwing rocks and making big splashes, going on long hikes and cuddling up around a fire afterwards…

The following is a list and menu of what we will be making together in our five days.  I want to keep meals simple so we can play and/or be prepared for any 2 year old moments that may require more attention.  ;)  We are also lactose intolerant and eat mostly vegan.  I have also learned from experience that cooking with children can be tricky, so keep it simple.  The easier cooking can be when you have children and are camping, the better (and saner) you will be.  And I have limited space.  So meals are easy and there are some repeats in ingredients.

::::::::Menu for camping with a small child::::::

Sun dinner: premade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and oranges

Mon: breakfast: granola and soymilk lunch: premade macaroni salad with “confetti” diced yellow, green, and red peppers, corn, and broccoli with olive oil/vinegar dressing snack: trail mix and raspberries  dinner: marinating tofu “steaks”, potatoes roasted on campfire, roasted asparagus dessert: smores!

Tues: breakfast: cereal with soymilk and grapes lunch: peanut butter and banana sandwiches, pretzels, sliced peppers snack: blueberries and almonds dinner: precooked spaghetti noodles with homemade vegan marinara sauce with garlic bread cooked over campfire (purchased vegan baguette from store, stuffed with garlic and earth balance vegan butter and parsley)

Wed: breakfast: granola and soymilk with blueberries lunch: leftover pasta salad snack: cliff bars and orangesdinner: tofu dogs roasted over fire, pickles, chips, and homemade potato salad dessert: smores!

Thurs: breakfast: cereal with soymilk and raspberries lunch: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, pickles, and leftover fruit before hitting the road

:::::::::::checklist of things to bring camping with a toddler::::::::::::

The “Duh” Essential Camping Items:

Tent

Tarp

Extra Stakes

Mallot

Cooler

Sleeping bags

Mattress if you want

Pillow

Stuffed Animals that child is fond of, it will ease any transition of falling asleep in a new place

Bedtime items to make it “special” and not scary

Books for bedtime

Broom to clear tent

Flashlights

Bungee Cords

Rope for hanging wet towels/clothes

Lantern

Matches

Newspapers

Pots/Pans (buy them from a second hand store)

Utencils

Dish soap/Sponge/Kitchen Towels

Toilet Paper

Paper plates, cups and plastic silverware (I am one of the greenest Moms you’ll find, but I am totally for paper plates with camping.  Time saver = sanity saver)

Paper Towels (see above comment)

Beach Towels and regular towels

Beach blanket(s)

Blanket for picnic table

Can opener

Bottle opener

Knives (wrapped in newspaper to keep them safe)

Cutting Board

Aluminum Foil for cooking

Garbage Bags for dirty laundry and trash

Plastic Bags

Water Jug for brushing teeth and clean drinking water

Water canteen for hiking and walking around

Bug spray

Adult and kid sized camping chairs

Mechanical Things

Cell Phone/Charger

Camera/Charger

Stereo with batteries

The Toddler Clothes: Pack a little extra because toddlers love mud puddles

sweat shirts/pants

Hat

Raincoat

Umbrella

Shoes with good traction

Extra pair of shoes

Sandals for showering

2 Swimsuits

Diapers/Wipes (if you’re still in them)

Swim diapers (if you need them)

Underwear

Jeans

Shorts

Short Sleeved Shirts (at least one for every day)

Socks!!!!

The Adult Clothes List

Sweat shirt/pants

Pjs

Jeans

Short Sleeved Shirts/tank tops

Shorts

Swimsuit

Shoes

Sandals (for shower)

Umbrella

Raincoat

Socks!!!

Hat

Bathroom Essentials

Washcloth

Shampoo/Conditioner

Biodegradable soap in container

Deodorant

Brush

Sunscreen for Adults

Sunscreen for children

Sunburn/aloe

First aid kit with bandaids, tweezers, etc

Asprin/Pain Meds

Hand Sanitizer

Plastic Grocery bags for Diapers or accidents

Special Items/Activities for child:

Bring books about camping to ease them into the idea: Curious George Goes Camping is a good one

Bring a backpack for the kids when hiking or going on walks to collect special items around you – take the time to look at them, identify them, and say why they are special and essential in nature

EXPLORE!

Bring coloring books or activity books for your child to play with when you are doing things (like cursing under your breath when you’re trying to set up the tent!)

Give them jobs, not just as things to “help” with, but things to really help with.  They are an equal and valued member of the family – they can and should help.  Let them clear the table, collect sticks, set up the tee-pee for the fire, let them unroll the tent, set up their own sleeping bag and pillow.  Or give them their own sized items, like a flashlight and magnifying glass perfect size for their smaller hands so they can explore the area around them

Mason jars to catch fireflies or caterpillars

Bubbles

Kites

Bikes!

Simple maps to teach them directions and what a map looks like

Walkie talkies are fun and it can be a fun activity when you are doing something and they are “hiding” in the tent.

Flashlights are also good for shadow play and late night walks to the bathroom

Play I Spy

Find Footprints

Play a camping ABC game – find things that begin with the letter (S is for sleeping bag, U is for Under the Stars)

Connect the dots with constellations

Thoughts before you go:

Liam pretending to camp in the living room

Reeeaaaallllly talk up camping.  Set up the tent in the backyard and sleep in it!  Read books!  Talk about all the fun you’ll have before you go!  Smores, finding bugs and mud puddles, – make it something that they look forward to!

For your first few trips, select a campsite that has activities that match their interests.  Many state parks have lakes, playgrounds, or trails that make it fun and easy.  Also, select a site at the campground that is smart – not too close to the store with busy traffic day and night, not too close to the river so you don’t have panic attacks while you’re setting up the tent by yourself and wondering where your toddler  might be, not too far away from the bathroom because you will be walking with them every time you or they need to go.

Avoid bringing toys or activities that are hard to clean up… a puzzle would be silly.  Also, try to avoid things that distract them from the beauty around them.  I don’t believe in bringing mini-dvd players when you are camping – there is FAR too much to explore!

Give them time to be bored – they will discover more!

Yes, I just said let them be bored, but don’t be an idiot.  When you have to be busy setting up the tent or doing something where you are occupied and more importantly can’t keep the best eye on them have things that they can do.   Coloring books, new game, etc.

Use your trip as a time to get closer with each other… there’s no tv, computer, bills to pay, house to clean, or video games so you have to talk and play games with each other.  You can connect.  Pay attention to the little moments.  Feel lucky for this time.

Make it a teaching trip – one that teaches responsibility, helps the family, and is magical.  There are so many beautiful and amazing experiences you can share as a family.  It’s also a trip where you have to do a lot, but they can also help .  Let them pack a backpack before you leave for a hike.  My son could pack more than Diana Ross… Help your kids understand that whatever they pack (snack, animals, books, toys, rocks, dolls, flashlights, maps, etc) they are responsible for…Because Lord knows we do not need to bring every horse and ball that we own.  You will not carry it, no matter how tired or heavy it is.  They will learn a lot faster that way.  They will also learn what is helpful to bring.

Remember, sometimes camping is hard.  If it’s raining the whole time or your baby is screaming and waking up the whole campground…whatever…don’t let it get you down.  Finish your trip (even if that means packing up in a thunderstorm at 3am), and go home.  Build up and remember the truly amazing moments.  Try again. It’s worth it.

Pump it Up

When you get home, print out any pictures you took during the trip and make a little book of your adventure together that you can read before bedtime or before your next camping trip.  You can make it together with the pictures that you took, the leaves that you found, maybe even a few samples of sand or dirt!  Don’t forget to write stories.  You could write about your process of camping – first we get to the campsite (wow, how nice!), then we set up the tent, etc.  or you can write about what you did (caught fireflies, swam, smores, etc) This will keep the “fun” of camping in their heads.  It will also be a great keepsake :)

The Result:

We stayed for all five days!

We went horseback riding, had picnics, made campfires every night, heard raindrops on the tent as we fell asleep, built sandcastles and smores, swam at the beach, and left with beautiful memories.

Liam's first hike!

Building sandcastles

Liam didn’t stop running the whole time, and it was great!  He learned how to build a fire, collect the right sticks for roasting marshmallows,  how to climb and hike, and perfected his technique of getting completely soaked in the mud.  He helped me make sandwiches for our picnic, clear the table and trash, and kept our site clean.  I am so proud of him and so happy that we could go!  I can’t wait for our trip later this summer when we go to the Point Beach State Park in beautiful Door County!

*Pictures by Mallory, Fitzgerald Photography*

About these ads

22 thoughts on “Camping with Toddlers

  1. Pingback: This Week on Tot Thoughts (July 4 – 8) | Tot Thoughts

  2. love it, thank you so much. we are going backpacking with our 1.5 yo this week and it will definitely be an experience, i feel a little more prepared with your tips!

  3. Oh yes, THANK YOU! We are taking our 4 year old and 2, yes 2, 2 year olds for their first camping trip this weekend. Your article was so helpful and reminded me to just ‘be’….dirt and all!

  4. Pingback: Things To Bring Camping With You That You Might Not Think About « Can You Be Sure….

  5. I’m planning a camping trip with my soon-to-be 4 year old, and was starting to wonder if it might not be such a good idea. Knowing that another mom has pulled off mother-son camping with a little one is a huge relief. I’m excited about my own trip once again! :)

  6. WOW! Thank you SO much for taking the time to post this and share! My little man will be 2 this spring and I have been on the fence about taking him on our annual summer camping trips. You helped me decide that we can do it and it will be awesome. Thanks again!

  7. I just stumbled upon this post as we’re taking our almost 2-year-old to Devil’s Lake in a couple months. I love it. Thank you so much!
    Could you please let me know where to get information on the horseback riding? Would you recommend it?

  8. My son and I are going to the Great Smoky Mountains for his second birthday. I am so excited. I knew it would be a challenge as a single mom, but that’s not going to stop me from enjoying life with my son!

  9. We are about to take 19 mos old Jane camping for the 4th time. We began when she was 8 mos old. We decided to just not be scared of it-to embrace what was ahead. She loved it and slept like a baby. Thank you for your narrative. Your son is a lucky boy!

    I’ve heard Devil’s Lake is a lot of fun. I may try it out with some gfriends this summer.

  10. i camped a lot when i was younger. Simple camping. Tent, sleeping back matches for fire!! Who cares about a toothbrush when you are a teenager in the woods having fun!
    I have been wanting to take my toddler for a while now. One of my concerns was that we are vegetarian and what to cook! Thank you sooo much for posting your menu! Now i am going to go for sure with your menu in hand.
    Thank you for taking the time to post. I can not wait to make awesome memories with my son.

  11. Pingback: Camping with a toddler – What I learned. | With Love From Detroit

  12. Thinking of taking our 2.5 year old camping… But worried bout bed times and what to put him in… Thinking June, in England…. Hmmm good idea??

  13. Great post! We are taking our 22 month old tent camping for the first time this weekend and this gave me lots of ideas of what to bring and things to do. Great pictures too!

  14. Break your 3 normal main meals into 5 smaller portion sizes – morning, snack,
    lunch, snack, dinner. Cucumber contains sterols which can help to lower cholesterol and prevent carbohydrates from converting to
    body fat. When you’re about to start on your weight loss plan, it’s a good
    idea to think about your end goal and chunk it
    down into smaller goals.

  15. Camping is easy if you are well planned. I have been camping with my kids as of 8 months old. They love it! I find the stackable cups and sand trucks to be essential in keeping them amused, as well as some crayons, paper and a coloring book each. All items used for camping are ONLY for camping so they don’t get to play with these “special toys” until then.

  16. Even though your goal is just to lose 5 pounds in a week, you should be strict
    with what you do so as not to inadvertently undo all your hard work for vegetarian
    weight loss. In fact, I always suggest to those overweight vegetarians to keep to
    a max of 4 pounds a week so you won’t suffer loose skin
    post weight loss. When you’re about to start on your weight loss plan, it’s a good idea to think about your end goal and chunk it down
    into smaller goals.

  17. Pingback: toddler camping tips | ruggedthugruggedthug

  18. In reality the odds are very good that you will
    save money just on tips that you learn. Malware such
    as viruses, adware and spyware can slow down your computer significantly.
    Monitor until your SIM is activated then transfer your SIM in your China
    Phone.

  19. I do consider all of the ideas you’ve introduced on your post.
    They’re really convincing and can definitely work. Still, the posts are very quick for starters.
    Could you please extend them a bit from subsequent time?
    Thank you for the post.

  20. Beautiful! I really enjoyed reading this post. It helped me in preparation of my trip this weekend. We are taking our 2 year old and 4 year old.

  21. Hi, I just wanted to say that you write beautifully! Informational text, while worth the read, usually are a drag. I enjoyed reading the entire article and I will certainly take some of your suggestions to our camping experience. Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s