You’ve seen the packing lists, the tips for choosing a campground, suggestions for ways to keep kids occupied while setting up, etc. But how do you get kids ready for camping before you even plan a trip? You know, getting them used to the idea of sleeping in a tent with the sounds of nature right outside the thin piece of fabric that separates you from the wild.
For some kids, this will seem super exciting. For others, they may be anxious and worried about the adventure. Regardless of which camp your kids fall into (pun intended), a little practice and forward-thinking can help make the camping experience fun for everyone. Here are some tips to get your kids ready and excited for your next camping adventure.
Read Books About Camping
Reading books about camping, especially ones with their favorite characters, can help ease kids into the idea of sleeping outside. Here are five great options to incorporate into your bedtime routine or your library book basket as you gear up for camping season:
- C is for Camping By: Greg Paprocki - This gorgeously illustrated board book goes through the ABCs of camping. From campfires to hammocks, each page is so detailed that your little one will notice something new with each reading, and get excited to have their own camping adventure.
- Curious George Goes Camping By: Margret and H.A. Rey - Follow the shenanigans of the beloved curious little monkey, George, as he goes camping with the man in the yellow hat. Curious George has a way of showing kids that even when things go awry, they tend to work out in the end.
- A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee By: Chris Van Dusen - This book is a family favorite for us! The colorful illustrations, silly rhyming text, and fun storyline keep kids engaged as it tells the tale of how Mr. Magee (and his little dog Dee) hilariously overcome obstacles on their camping trip.
- Llama Llama Loves Camping By: Anna Dewdney -Fans of the Llama Llama books and TV shows know that it’s wonderful at teaching life lessons and helping kids overcome big emotions. This book follows that same pattern, when one of little llama’s friends has a hard time roughing it and learning to enjoy the outdoors without fancy technology.
- Pete the Cat Goes Camping By: James Dean - Follow along with Pete the Cat on another of his wild adventures: his very first camping trip! He’ll go on a hike, fish with his Dad, and hear some spooky campfire stories that just might be true. This is a great option for early readers since it’s part of the “I Can Read!” collection (it’s a level 1).
Let Your Little Ones Help You Plan the Trip
Most children love to have their voices heard when making family decisions. Ask your kids what supplies they think should be added to the camping list, and let them add a few fun items like glowsticks, bubbles, a coloring book, etc. You can also provide options for places to camp and let them help you choose. For example, offering a campground choice that has a playground onsite vs. one with beach access. This will help amp up the excitement for the trip and alleviate some of the stress of the unknown.
Have Your Kids Try Out Their Gear
This is especially important for babies and toddlers who may be trying out a sleeping bag for the first time. Let them pull out their sleeping bags and lounge around at home. You could even have them sleep in them in their bed! Just remove the comforter and have them sleep in their bag instead. Other gear you may have them try out include headlamps (great for looking at picture books in the dark!), sleeping pads, camp sporks, etc.
Set the Tent Up in Your Yard and Let the Kiddos Play in it
Seeing the tent set up in a familiar space can help kids become more comfortable with the idea of being in the tent. This also helps young ones get used to the “tent rules” such as no shoes in the tent, no pulling on the mesh pockets, keeping the doors closed to avoid bugs entering the tent, etc.
For parents, setting up the tent at home helps you get used to the set-up process with little ones running around underfoot. This is especially important with new tents. You’ll want to be familiarized with the process ahead of time, so you can quickly set up the tent at your site before the kids decide to explore the wilderness or the fire pit a little too closely.
“Camp” in the Living Room
You may not be able to set up the tent in your living room, but you can create a couch fort and set up “camp” right in your house. Lay out the mats, sleeping bags, lanterns, etc. that you will use while camping. If possible, set up in a spot that can be covered with a blanket to give it a more camp-like feel, and settle in for a night of camping inside. You can make it feel even more authentic by playing nature sounds, turning off all the lights, excluding electronics, etc.
Camp in the Backyard
This is the ultimate test that will help kids get used to the idea of camping. This is also a great way to get used to setting up your camp with kiddos around. I recommend going all in, setting up your tent (complete with ground tarp and rain fly), your sleeping pads and bags, your stove and cooking utensils, etc. This helps you work out any kinks BEFORE heading out to the campground. If it doesn’t go well, simply head back inside and try again another night, but leave the tent set up if possible.
Start Your Camping Season Strong
If you’re worried about how your baby, toddler, or even big kid will handle camping, these suggestions are a great way to get them used to the idea and excited for the adventure. You can try them in the order listed above or skip right to backyard camping if you prefer. Either way, we hope your family camping trips this season ignite a love of the outdoors in your family (even if you experience some hiccups along the way).
Rebecca is a transplant Coloradoan living in Virginia with her husband (Derek) and their two boys. She’s a teacher turned freelance writer/ homeschool mom working towards exploring as much of the east coast as possible before the next move takes her family elsewhere. You can follow her family hiking, kayaking, SUPing, geocaching, camping, and all things outdoor adventuring on Instagram @frazzlednaturemom .