Camping with children can be brilliant fun, but needs a bit of thought to make it go really well. If you are feeling daunted about taking your kids camping, here are a few family camping tips and tricks I've learned from experience with my kids which will help you all be warm, cosy, safe and happy.
1. Staying safe on a campsite Its brilliant for children to be able to run wild and free in nature, however you need to keep a check on where they are. Do a quick circuit of the campsite when you arrive and identify any potential hazards. Is there a lake they could tumble into? A large woodland they could get lost in? Barbed wire, stinging nettles... set a few ground rules with them to keep them safe.
When ours were toddlers I worried they would sneak out of the tent in the night and wander off while we were sleeping. The simple fix for this is to zip the inner doors from bottom to top, so the zips are too high for them to reach.
2. Choose a destination which has good places to visit nearby. Rather than staying at the campsite all day we find its best for everyone to get out and about to explore a local town, castle, beach, museum… We love camping in the Purbecks, West Dorset as we can visit Corfe Castle, take the steam train to Swanage, visit some lovely sandy beaches or go rockpooling at Kimmeridge. After a leisurely breakfast on the campsite and giving the kids time for some wild play, grab a small backpack with a few simple supplies (water, snacks, waterpoofs, cash) and off you go to explore the surrounding area. Ask the campsite staff to recommend some great places to visit nearby. If the weather is really wet you could do somewhere indoors to dry off while the rain passes, or get everyone's wellies on and go jumping in puddles, just remember its hard to dry clothes in a tent.
3. Go camping with another family, ideally with children of a similar age to yours. Our children are so much happier when they have friends to play with and can pass hours happily playing outdoors. Without other company they are less easily amused. Also, to be quite honest, I am much happier with friends too! Finding a compatible family where all of you get on is what you are aiming for. Sometimes you may find you get on brilliantly with the parents but the kids don’t, this can get pretty stressful and ultimately won’t be enjoyable for your children. I feel their experience counts as much as mine, so I try to chose our camping friends carefully.
4. Avoid arriving at the campsite hungry or tired This applies to all of you! If you can’t get there in plenty of time for get the fire going and cook tea then eat on the way and arrive with full stomachs. If you can, also try and arrive before bedtime. Pitching in the dark on an empty stomach is not alot of fun. However, if you are Mini Camping set up will be much quicker and easier. Mini Campers don’t bring alot of food with them, but its a good idea to bring the first meal.
5. Plan ahead If you are camping at the weekend campsites may be busy so either book in advance or send one of you on ahead if its possible to bag a pitch in the afternoon. We tried this once and it worked brilliantly, by the time the kids were brought over after school all the set up was done, the fire was perfect for cooking on and we all felt calm and relaxed.
6. Get the kids involved with practical tasks at the campsite They love to help and although it may take a little longer, what’s the rush? Making the fire, cooking, putting up the tent, filling up water bottles or rolling out sleeping bags are great skills to learn and makes their experience more exciting. One day they’ll be able to pitch the tent on their own!
7. Accept that the first night in your tent may be the worst for sleeping Our children are so excited the first night in the tent it can be hard for them to fall asleep. Don’t worry, by night two they will be so exhausted from fresh air, exercise and sleep deprivation they should crash out (and the adults too!) The first night in the tent can feel a bit strange but the second night usually feels more comfortable.
8. Keep the kids warm and well fed If children’s basic needs are met they will be alot less grumpy (like the rest of us). So pack a hat and thermal layer for everyone, hand out snacks bars have cuddles round the campfire.
9. Keeping quiet on a campsite Noise travels far in an open field or campsite and as evening draws on the site will get quieter, with many sites having noise curfews from 10 or 11pm to 7am. While these work in your favour when trying to sleep you may feel awkward if your child is up crying (or singing!) in the middle of the night or early morning. Try not to worry, any other parents should be sympathetic and will snuggle down in their sleeping bags silently grateful it isn't their own child.
I know from experience there is only so much you can do to quiet a rowdy child so if shushing /distraction isn’t working I sometimes have to bite the bullet and get up early with them. Taking them for a shower, just to get them away from other sleeping campers keeps us busy for while.
10. Don’t pitch too far from the campsite toilet block Or take a potty (a folding one to save space of course) or bucket, you choose.