“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” — Henry David Thoreau
Dinner’s done and your fire is crackling while all of you rest in camp chairs, tired but warm and satisfied — all except the toddler. That wonderful moment that makes camping worth all the trouble has arrived, only Murphy’s Law dictates that your 2-year-old wails, “Mama, I want to go home!” Scoop her onto your lap, fix your eyes on the stars overhead and don’t give into wondering why you did this. See? Your older two are loving this. Soon they’ll move into the tent to play cards by flashlight. And you WANT your kids to love nature. You know deep inside that your little one CAN survive this (so can you!) and be better off for it later. Herewith: take-’em-with-you lists for camping with kids.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
• Do a practice run first! A child’s first camping trip (or an adult’s first camping trip with kids) is an exciting and sometimes overwhelming thing. Don’t drive for hours to find out that your little one has a hard time sleeping in a tent and is up all night. Do a few practice runs in the backyard so that your kids know a little of what to expect.
• When you’re ready, reserve a campsite at one of Tennessee’s State Parks and make use of handy their mobile app.
• When you arrive at your site, walk the boundaries with the kids so they won’t wander out of site. Give them landmarks to look for, as in, “You can go from that group of rocks to this tree, and stay away from the road.” If they know their boundaries from the beginning, you can go about preparing your campsite.
RESERVE A SITE
In 2012, Tennessee State Parks celebrated 75 years and implemented an online reservation system for camping, cabins and lodges. Go online to find your spot. Camping rates are standardized according to the facilities available. The standardized rates range from $8 (four people) per night for primitive sites up to $25 (four people) for premium sites. Typical campsites with water and electric are $20 per night for four people; $1 each additional person.
Some Tennessee State Parks have self-registration procedures where the campers register themselves upon entry to the campground. Rates for self-registration camping may be slightly higher than the above rates but they all have base rates that include up to four people.
• Think “simple.” One or two things a day will suffice. Trying to do too much can easily overwhelm everyone.
• Just let them play. Plan lots of downtime in your day so that your kids can just enjoy being outside. Kids require very few things to make them happy. Usually rocks, sticks and dirt suffice and if there’s water, even better. A few toys that are great to have in the camping arsenal are buckets, shovels, Frisbees and balls.
• Don’t stress. Camping with kids almost never goes exactly as planned – relax. Your attitude will rub off on the kids.
• Keep everyone warm. No one’s going to enjoy camping if they’re freezing.
• Go for a nature walks. Children can have fun pointing out the different leaves, insects, tracks on the ground, vegetation, etc.
• Use a sling and a pack-n-play for infants. Use a sheet or blanket on the ground as a place for all toys.
• Stuff all of your family’s dirty laundry into one large bag, so you can just toss it in your laundry room when you get home.
• Consider bringing a potty seat for toddlers.
• Pack fun food items, too — (kids love those mini boxes of cereal).
WHAT TO PACK
Tent, Sleeping Bags
Sleeping Pads, Pillows
First Aid kit
COOKING & EATING
Cooler, ice, food
Drinks and water
Stove, fuel, funnel
Barbecue and propane
Lighter and fluid
Pots and lids
Knives, forks, spoons
Plates, bowls, cups
Serving spoons Spatula
Tongs, can opener
Tablecloth & weights
Dishpan, dish soap
Dish cloths, scrubber
Dustpan and whisk
Sun hats, sun glasses
Swim suits (if warm enough)
Clothesline and pins
Roll of duct tape
Playing cards, games
Camera & batteries
Directions to site