10 Tips for the Kids First Campout

Like most grandparents, we love spending time with our grandkids. We play outdoors, craft, cook, and play the ukes together (they each have a pink uke courtesy of Beach Nana!). So it was no surprise that, when we purchased our small RV, their continual request was to have a campout. We loved the idea, but our unit is small and provides riding and sleeping accommodations for just two people. How could we manage camping with the kids? 

  First day in camp, the kids inspected their new hiking bags

First day in camp, the kids inspected their new hiking bags

My son came up with the idea of a driveway camp out. That way, there was no concern about passenger seats. It would give his girls the reassurance of the house close by and the adventure of sleeping in the RV. We agreed and came up with a plan to have a driveway camp out the following weekend. We prepared the unit by creating a second sleeping berth across the driver's cab, cushioning the two seats with a lounge chair cushion and supporting the gap between the seats with a small cooler. That gave us sleeping quarters for the little girls.  

We had a lovely time but, as we were getting ready to leave, my younger granddaughter, Addy, remarked, "it was fun but the driveway isn't really camping". We would have to up our game. After some discussion, we decided on a weekend in August at a local lake for a 'real' camp out. 

This time, my son would drop off the girls at our campsite and take my husband, Jim, back to their home so the girls and I could have a 'girls camp out'. I started planning immediately. Hosting two little girls at a camp out away from home is a little different than a sleepover in the driveway. First, the food. I shopped for their favorite snacks and dinners, simple lunches and, of course, the fixings for s'mores. 

  When it rains, painting always saves the day!

When it rains, painting always saves the day!

Then it was on to the camping agenda. The morning of arrival we would hike and make nature bracelets with items we found along the trail. Then some coloring pages themed on the outdoors, lunch, and an afternoon on the beach should bring us to dinner time. They could help me prepare dinner and get the campfire ready for the s'mores. After that, we would have popcorn with a movie and get ready for bed. Day two we would take another hike and visit the nature center, and ... well, that was the plan. 

smores-kids-first-campout.jpg

Things were going well through the morning until the sky began to darken... uh oh, looks like rain. The campfire was a bust with wet wood and too much smoke. The nature walk bracelets came apart when the girls tried to wear them, the DVD player stopped working, so no movie after dinner. I was crestfallen, but I had two little girls to entertain and it was their first camp out so I put my plans aside and rallied. We made s'mores in the RV microwave. Instead of a movie, we told stories, played the pink ukes, made camping critters, and painted pictures of our hike. We fixed the nature hike bracelets with twist ties to keep them closed, and we decorated white trash bags to use as rain ponchos for our beach walk the next morning. I forgot how much fun it is to splash in the rain puddles! It was a good lesson. No matter what I plan, having fun is dependent on only one thing - enjoying the time together. 

No amount of planning can guarantee success, but it helps to have a few things ironed out in advance. Here's my go-to list for taking the kids on their first campout.

  We put these critters together because of the rainy weather in camp, and it became a highlight of the trip!

We put these critters together because of the rainy weather in camp, and it became a highlight of the trip!

  Kids like the beach even if it is rainy and cool. The sun made a brief appearance for us!

Kids like the beach even if it is rainy and cool. The sun made a brief appearance for us!

  1. If at all possible, do a 'trial run' in the driveway or backyard. Children can be apprehensive when it comes to sleeping in a new place or sleeping outdoors for the first time. Give kids a sense of security by camping at home before venturing to a campground.

  2. Choose a campground close to home for the first trip. If things go sour, at least you don't have a long drive back!

  3. Check the campground's website for information. Many state park campgrounds have event calendars for ranger-led activities for the kids, policies on lake use, trail maps, a list of amenities, and open and close times for campground arrivals. Oh, and check with the campground about their firewood policy. If you are planning a campfire, some campgrounds don't allow any wood to be brought in (This is to limit the spread of insects that damage trees). Find out where you can purchase firewood and stay within the park's policy.

  4. Don't forget to make a reservation! Campgrounds in popular places fill up fast so make a reservation early. Plan to arrive in daylight even if you've been to the campground a dozen times. Setting up in the dark is a drag and can be dangerous. Plan to arrive and set-up during daylight hours. If you can be settled-in by late afternoon, you can enjoy a relaxed dinner and campfire. Now that's the way to start a good trip!

  5. Inspect your camping equipment. Kayaks, paddles, life vests, hiking boots, backpacks, camp chairs, lanterns, propane stove, or whatever you take with you to camp. Make sure everything is in good repair and good working order. Nothing is more frustrating than going kayaking with a broken paddle!

  6. Limit the number of activities you are going to attempt with the kids. You may be surprised that they really enjoy just running through the woods or playing on the beach or puddling around in the lake. Don't make the agenda too full. Leave room for play time. Count on them using their imaginations to play and join them in the fun. I typically bring along an arts and crafts kit filled with paintbrushes, paints, paper, glue, glitter, felt, yarn, beads, sissors, needle and thread. It all fits in a shoebox and is a great 'go-to' if the weather doesn't cooperate.

  7. Safety equipment for everybody! If you are going on the water, make sure you bring along an approved PFD (personal flotation device) for each person in the boat. This applies to kayaks, canoes, sailboats as well as motorboats. It's a good idea to bring along a first aid kit too.

  8. Make a detailed packing list for yourself and for the kids. Talk with them about what they want to bring along, and consider what activities you would like to do with the kids. We have found using a master packing list is a big help when it comes time to load up the vehicle. Include clothes, bedding, towels, toiletries, toys, crafting kit, sports equipment, camping equipment, cooking equipment, eating utensils, and food.

  9. Keep food easy on the first trip. Make foods that kids actually like and bring along some of their favorite snacks as a way to make the outing a little more special. Finger foods are probably the easiest and clean up is minimal. Consider preparing a meal or two in advance and freezing them. You can keep them cold in an RV fridge or a cooler and just thaw them a few hours before heating them up. Plan a simple menu and then create a shopping list at the same time.

  10. Your attitude sets the tone for the whole trip. Manage your own expectations and don't worry about perfection - the kids won't. They just want to have fun outdoors with you. Everything that happens becomes part of the 'story' of their first camp out, so let go of the 'fails' and embrace the experience through their eyes.

Enjoying that first camp out with the kids was really about having enough flexibility to let the experience happen. Talk about your plans with your kids and listen to what they think camping is all about. Then plan to have a great time enjoying the outdoors creating your own "first" camping adventure story. Remember to take lots of photos!