Introducing Family Camping To Little Explorers
Have tent, will travel
Where will you pitch your tent?
Redefine your version of roughing it in the woods.

When warm nights beckon kids to brave the wilds of the back yard and beyond, you’ll need some recommendations and resources about family camping to get them ready.

Family camping is one of my childhood’s great pleasures. But in this day and age, when horror movies and environmental disasters can make a vacation in the great outdoors seem frightening and unpredictable, parents need to prepare young children for the adventure. Camping with toddlers is great fun, especially if you follow these great How-To’s by Gwynne Spencer for introducing the fine art of camping-out to kids.

Spencer Family Camping Tips

  • Before the family heads off to camp, do a “test run” in a nearby campground to make sure equipment performs properly. There’s nothing worse than finding out that zippers on sleeping bags jam or that kids don’t know how to close the tent!
  • Give kids lots of practice with new gear and nature skills and a chance to learn something for themselves about camping skills. Some kids are totally surprised that they are ready for sleep by eight and up at five.
  • Kids often become voracious eaters when camping, so planning extra meals and snacks is not a bad idea. Many a camping child who would never think of eating a vegetable at home will eagerly ask for seconds if it was cooked in a fire.
  • Leave electronics at home; camping is supposed to be different! If the thought of “No Wii” is too abhorrent to contemplate, you might put old batteries in it before they leave.
  • Once they get out in the wild, most kids are thrilled with the new and dangerous world of knives, hatchets, fire, sticks, skunk visits, and forget about the music and video games.
  • When packing, be sure to include extra pairs of glasses or contacts for your kid, too; it’s always a mystery how glasses disappear on camping trips and how contact lenses get attacked by dust devils and tumbleweed fragments at inopportune moments.

Camping is often the first adventure for kids learning independence. Give them the role models they need and they’ll do just fine! And of course a good book and a bedtime story never hurt either.

Great Books About Camping for Kids

There are lots of great online resources to help families plan their first camping adventure, as author Mary Kearl notes in her Virtual Guide to Family Camping.

Yet in my opinion, there’s nothing like curling up in sleeping bags, in front of a cozy fire, on the hard ground… of the living room floor… and preparing together for the big sleep out. These long time classic camping books should get your kids ready to roll.

Of course there are dozens of newer kids’ books too, but here are some of my favorite books to introduce the fine art of camping-out to kids and, since many are available used, they’re a bargain you won’t worry about if it rains.

The Kids Campfire Book
by Jane Drake and Ann Love, illustrated by Heather Collins
(Kids Can Press) Ages 8+
It covers everything a kid (or grownup) needs to know about camping with How-to’s on choosing a site, making a fire safely, cooking on a fire, beating the bugs, games, campfire songs, and a sprinkling of ghost stories that are sure to keep kids awake for awhile. The illustrations make it particularly kid-friendly; even the index is fun!

Sleeping in a Sack–Camping Activities for Kids
Cooking on a Stick– Campfire Recipes for Kids
by Linda White, illustrated by Fran Lee
(Gibbs Smith Publisher) Ages 6+
These are two of the most kid-oriented books you can find about camping with kids. Wrapped around concise and thorough information, readers will enjoy hundreds of nifty illustrations that show essential camp skills for children about how to sing favorite camp songs, identify constellations, throw hand shadows on the tent wall, and lots more.

The companion cooking volume, “Cooking on a Stick,” has 24 recipes to cook on a stick, in an aluminum pouch or on a grill. All recipes are kid-tested with great names (my favorite is Snails on a Limb) and tasty results. Included are details on making a fire, cooking on a fire, and putting out the fire, with tips from Rikki Raccoon.

Kids Camp! Activities for the Backyard or Wilderness
By Laurie Carlson, illustrated by Judith Dammel
(Chicago Review Press) Ages 4-12
This activity guide offers inexpensive, worthwhile projects with diagrams and safety notes. Kids will learn how to make their own camping equipment, games for outdoor entertainment, and snacks and meals for breaks on the trail. A great option for crafty children!

Curious George Goes Camping
by Margaret Rey and H.A. Rey
(Mulberry BooksHMH Books) Ages 3+
With original charcoal and watercolor drawings, all ages will be charmed by the little monkey who wants to help set up camp but just gets into trouble along the way. Many teachable moments!

Bailey Goes Camping
by Kevin Henkes
(Mulberry Books) Ages 3+
In this book, little Bailey gets left at home, and shows little ones how to enjoy living in a tent (a sheet over the clothesline), going fishing (in the tub), listening to ghost stories (in pj’s on the couch) and sleeping under the stars (in his bed by the window).

Enjoy your great adventure and let us know what the kids taught you!

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