Plan a fun family camp-out
Kelli Connell was seven months pregnant in Aug. 2006 when she and husband Mike loaded up their three children — plus a niece and nephew — and set out for a weekend in the woods.
Friends called them crazy.
Leaving town after work, the Connells didn’t arrive at their north Idaho campsite until 1 a.m. Quietly setting up camp in the dark, then waking the kids and getting them back to sleep in the tent made for a long and miserable night.
It was crazy, Kelli concedes. And worth it.
“I’d probably do it again,” she says. “The kids like it that much.”
Actually, Kelli and Mike already have plans for two trips this summer — now with three older kids and baby Eli in tow.
“It’s inexpensive, and the kids love getting dirty,” Kelli says. “I don’t know that there’s any other vacation we’ve taken that they’ve enjoyed more than camping.”
Planning is key — and Kelli, an experienced family camper, knows she wasn’t as prepared as she should have been last summer.
“To get there at 1 in the morning was really bad.” But, she adds. “We have 100 good stories for every bad story.”
You’ll have fewer bad stories with better planning. Here are a few of Kelli’s tricks to keep her little campers happy:
• Location, location, location: Take care when choosing a campsite. Select a site near the restrooms, but not too close. Avoid sites near streams and ponds where children might be harmed.
• Stay two nights: Kids probably will sleep less while camping, so a two-night excursion is enough to have fun without causing a major disruption to sleep schedules.
• Stagger bedtimes: The youngest child heads to bed first, followed by the next youngest and so on. A two-room tent may help stop the kids from waking each other.
• Keep an eye to the fire: “You can’t have a crawler around a fire,” Kelli says. Bring a playpen and stroller if camping with babies or toddlers.
• Keep ‘em busy: Simple tasks such as rolling out sleeping bags will give children something to do. Plan to bike, swim, fish or invite friends along for more fun.
• Get everyone involved: “We make a big deal out the food,” Kelli says. Kids love to roast their own hot dogs and marshmallows. As they get older, children can help prepare foil and Dutch oven dinners.
• Set reasonable expectations: “We keep the hikes pretty short, like across the campground to the pond,” Kelli says.
• Let ‘em wander (a little bit): Establish boundaries, then allow kids the space to explore camp on their own. To buy a few minutes of peace, wrap a piece of tape — sticky side up — around each child’s wrist and send them off to decorate it with found items, such as flowers, acorns and pebbles.
• Let ‘em get dirty: “I think that’s part of the fun of it for the kids,” says Kelli, who selects campgrounds with restrooms and showers but knows the kids won’t stay clean for long.
“They’re very dirty,” she says. “If you’re a neat freak, it’s not for you.”
— Sara Bristol
Filed under Camping, From the Mag