I’m enjoying summer break with my family this week, but fear not, faithful readers! Some fabulous guest posters are filling in for me while I refresh my body, mind, and spirit. Today’s post is from Lauren, a mom, avid camper, and blogger at Toddlerado. Enjoy!
Refusing to hold my hand, demanding a cupcake for dinner, insisting on the undies with Elmo not the undies with ponies… I could go on and on and then go on some more. And so is life with a toddler. I know, as my mother reminds me, she is simply exercising her independence while testing the boundaries, and her frustrating behavior is a natural expression of her developmental progress…
But. Do I seriously want to take her camping?
The odds are higher- more risk of bodily harm with mountains to tumble down, wildlife to encounter and rivers or lakes to fall in. Luckily for my family camping is not an option, it is just something we do so no matter what developmental stage we find ourselves in, you will also find us camping.
Despite new challenges each year we will continue to accommodate all the little things that make for happy pint-sized campers until she is at the age when she refuses to accompany her lame parents anywhere. And hopefully before that day comes, we’ll make tons of memories and instill a love for nature along the way. Below are some general tips I feel have helped our family have successful adventures so far…
1. Start ’Em Young.
Since my kiddo was born in October, we didn’t have an opportunity to camp with an infant, but I’d like to think we would have. As a six month old camper she could sit up on her own and her favorite camping activity was playing with sticks and rocks on a blanket. She only had a couple outbursts in the middle of the night but I figure that just helped keep the bears away.
2. Go In With a Way Out.
This whole camping with a kid thing is new. Failure is an option. Know when you leave the driveway, packed to the gills, it may be the shortest trip ever and may just provide a hilarious ‘ remember when we didn’t even make it through the first night’ story later.
3. Start Close- Maybe even the backyard. (See #2)
What better way to accustom a little one with camping in the wilderness than camping in the backyard. Set up the tent, roast hotdogs and marshmallows, the whole bit. If they love it in the backyard, chances are they’ll love it three hours up the Poudre Canyon too.
4. Over Pack the Clothes.
It’s 90 degrees, your doing laundry for the big trip, you’ve got your duffle open on the bed and it’s time to decide what to throw in. It is hard at this crucial moment to imagine just a couple hours away it is going to get so cold you’ll wear two sets of pajamas to bed. But it might, so you must pack accordingly. Not only the layers, but the ‘in cases‘. How many pairs of pants will get wet? Will there be accidents? Pack what you think will suffice and then pack two more.
5. Under Pack the Toys.
Last year I packed a bag full of favorite toys. What a waste. Rocks! Sticks! Bugs! Dancing in the rain! Sure, pack a couple toys and favorite books, but save the precious cargo space for all the extra clothes you just packed. We usually get away with three favorite stories (kid and parent favorites- you may be reading them multiple times- maybe even some adventure themed books like Going On a Bear Hunt) and one favorite ’friend’ (a stuffed animal, a baby doll, someone he or she can share the experiences with.) If there is a long car ride to go camping or anywhere, I always pack a surprise- in the case of my toddler, a couple new sheets of shiny stickers and a piece of paper. This kid LOVES stickers.
6. Talk About It.
Of course you‘ll want to talk about it with your kiddo, building up excitement and talking about sleeping in a tent etc. but it’s a good idea to talk to your significant other about expectations and the division of duties before you go too. I’m just saying, you might avoid arguments if it is clear who will set up a tent while the other wrangles a toddler. Or who is going fishing or who is cooking dinner etc. Don’t let petty arguing ruin a good time and voices really do carry in the thin mountainous air- you’d hate to be the grumpy couple.
7. Create a Camping Master Packing List. And Use It.
It may seem anal retentive but it can make for a much more pleasant experience if you get to sleep with your head on a pillow instead of a balled up sweatshirt. This is helpful with or without kids, but could you imagine getting to your destination and realizing no one packed the diapers? It’s bad enough to forget pillows, which we have done, twice, but you don’t have to turn around for pillows. This year we got to add a new item to our list, the potty chair. I wasn’t sure if my toddler who has just recently been trained could handle the squat, so we just threw the chair in and thank goodness we did- it worked well.
8. Set Boundaries.
You’ve made it. The tent is up, the chairs are set around the fire pit and your home away from home has taken shape. The dog is tethered with a rope and the thought crosses your mind to do the same with the toddler. But instead I scanned the campsite and made a mental boundary where I felt was far enough for the little one to roam. We walked the perimeter together and I told her she couldn’t go father than this tree or this boulder etc. I don’t think she understood exactly, but as she explored on her own, we told her every time she had gone too far and it was nice to already have the boundary set in mind. Only had to chase after her twice, so I think it helped.
9. Assign Special Jobs.
One of my very least favorite camping jobs? Gathering kindling. What’s a perfect job for a toddler? Picking up tiny sticks. Win and win. This year the little one wanted to help with everything so assigning little tasks was a great way to keep her happy and occupied while we got other tasks done. Picking up sticks, holding the tent stakes for dad as we hammered them in, spreading out the sleeping bags and blankets, etc.
10. Be Flexible.
Schedules rule in the life of toddler. Go camping and all schedules are off. There’s so much going on, who has time to nap? Attempts were made to lay down in the tent, read some stories, but naptime didn’t happen at all or ended in an exhausted cat nap on my lap. But making time for ‘down time’ helped and bedtime was easy enough with such a tired kid.
11. Most Important of All – Know Your Kid.
We are lucky and we know it. Our kid- despite the random outbursts and streaks of naughtiness- is pretty darn easy. She loves getting dirty, sleeping in the ‘little house’ and riding on mommy’s back for hikes. Is it because we started early or is it just her disposition? Who knows. But you do know your kid and what he/she can handle. It’s fun to try new things but in the end, it’s supposed to be fun not traumatizing. So hopefully these little tips from an avid camper/novice mother helped, but in the end you’ll know if camping is right for you and your family and if the fun outweighs the challenges.
What would you add to the Survival Guide?
Lauren, in her free time, blogs about life in Colorado with a two-year-old in tow. These are one family’s adventures (big and small), documenting and embracing their time together outside of work and daycare, in search of as many ‘perfect days’ as possible. To read more, visit her blog, Toddlerado!