Camping with kids is a perfect activity for your summer camp at home! You can keep it on a smaller scale by setting up the tent in your own backyard and just dragging out your sleeping bags, pillows, and flashlights. You'll have all the benefits of sleeping under the stars and a clean and familiar bathroom nearby! Easy-peasy…
But if you are feeling a bit more daring, a tad more adventurous, if you like to “live on the edge” throwing both care and caution to the wind (getting a little over dramatic here, huh?) then it's time to load up the family car and head off on a “real” family camping trip! Now I can't claim to be any sort of expert on the matter here- as we Rowleys just took our first-ever family camping trip… but I can share with you our experience, and a few tips that I have picked up from this first camping adventure!
Pick a Cool Destination
I decided from the beginning to think of camping in a tent as an alternative to staying in a hotel while visiting a cool attraction that my kids wanted to see. I know that some families feel that the campground and the experience of sleeping in a tent, cooking and eating outdoors, IS the whole point of camping- but I wasn't willing to rely on campground activities to entertain my kids for the weekend. So I focused on choosing a destination that was already on our family wish list, and then planned the camping part around it, the same way that I would choose a vacation destination for our family and then pick the hotel.
So where did we go on this first ever camping adventure? Herkimer, NY home to the “famous” Herkimer Diamond Mines“. My older boys have been obsessed with visiting this place ever since I showed them a YouTube video of families digging out diamonds from the rock pits using only hammers and chisels. Herkimer diamonds are actually multi-faceted clear quartz crystals- with a hardness of 7.5 vs a true diamond's hardness rating of 10. So while not actual diamonds- they certainly look like the real deal, and excavating your own is kind of fun.
Steve and the older boys were really into it and at one point received some advice from a “professional miner” who showed them what type of rocks to look for…. ones that had these black holes:
And then you bang away at the rock, carefully of course, to hopefully open the rock at just the right point to expose the flawless diamond inside! (These here…. not so flawless!)
Buy or borrow lots of equipment
As I've mentioned here before, one of my husband's favorite sayings is “It's all about the tools, baby….. you need to have the right tools for the job!” Camping is an excuse to acquire all kinds of new tools and equipment. First on the list of course, is the tent- preferably a big one so that you can all sleep comfortably without having someone else's feet in your face! Next on the list are sleeping bags- and for the adults an air mattress is a non-negotiable must-have! Little people can sleep on the ground and call it an adventure… big people sleep on the ground and then call the chiropractor!
You'll also need a kitchen set up- either a camping stove or grill to cook on, perhaps a canopy to cover your dining area in case of rain (more on that below!), a cooler, and all of the food items, plates, cups, and utensils that you will need to share a meal in the great outdoors.
Plan ahead, plan ahead, plan ahead
Our camping weekend called for 2 dinners, 2 breakfasts, and 1 lunch…. so not only do you need to menu plan for these meals and shop for ingredients, but you really need to mentally review all of the cooking and serving steps so that you can be sure to pack all of the pots, pans, condiments, spices, and cooking and serving utensils that you'll need. Don't forget can openers, cooking oil, and salt & pepper too!
We packed both warm weather clothing for our kids as well as sweatshirts and sweatpants for cooler evenings. We brought along rain gear, swimsuits, beach towels, hats and sunglasses, sneakers, and crocs.
We hauled along a table to use while cooking, fishing poles and tackle box so that we could fish in the creek, 8 camp chairs to sit in while we roasted marshmallows, and our own gloves, safety glasses, and chisels for the diamond mines…. I will tell you that our car has never been so packed before! And it was only for 2 nights people!
Check the weather forecast…. and then choose to ignore it!
We checked weather.com obsessively in the days leading up to the trip- hoping against hope that the forecast would miraculously change…. but unfortunately the prediction was for a rainy weekend filled with showers with the occasional heavy thunderstorm and flash flood warning thrown in! So we gathered the kids together the night before our departure and had a little family meeting about the weather situation:
Me: “Kids, the weather is calling for rain, pretty much all weekend. Which means we could be sleeping in a wet tent, and our sleeping bags and pillows could get wet, and the clothes that you put on the next day might be damp and sticky, and your shoes will be wet ALL OF THE TIME. I am telling you that we might be wet all day and night from the time we arrive until we get back home again.”
Kids: “That's okay Mom… we really want to go. It will be fun! We don't care if we get wet…”
Me: “And if it is raining that might mean that we can't go to the mines or hike or fish, and that we will just spend time sitting in our wet tent playing with our wet cards.”
Kids: “Please, please, Mom- can we go? We don't mind… we really want to go camping!”
Me: “I want everyone to promise…. no whining or complaining about being wet.”
Kids: “We promise, WE PROMISE!”
Now let's be clear… I was only trying to set some expectations here. Steve and I had no intentions of sitting around with a bunch of miserable kids in a wet tent playing Crazy 8's all weekend…. but we wanted the kids to understand that camping might involve some lack of comforts- like access to dry clothing and shoes!
So what happened? On Friday night when we arrived- the sky was cloudy and ominous- with lots of thunder rumbling. So we allowed the kids to skip rocks in the creek while Steve and I set up the tent (placing a big ground tarp underneath), and unloaded all of the sleeping bags and pillows into the tent. Then we kind of stood around waiting to see what the weather was going to do before deciding whether or not to unload all of the rest of the gear from the car and set up our kitchen. Checking the forecast using my IPhone, and seeing we were under a severe thunderstorm and flash flood warning, we opted to forgo the BBQ chicken dinner that I had planned, and head back into town to dine at Applebee's (with the kids grumbling… “This isn't camping!)
So glad that we made this decision- because the storm that unleashed was crazy- tons of lightening and torrential rain. When we returned, the creek had risen several feet- you couldn't even see any of these rocks that the kids were standing on in this picture! But inside our tent? Nice and dry! It was really fun to all climb into our sleeping bags and play some guessing games and just chat while everyone became sleepy.
The rest of the weekend we were met with occasional spotty showers- but nothing like what happened on Friday night, and nothing that interrupted our plans.
Lower your personal hygiene standards
Let's just say there will be a lot less showering going on than you are used to…. and certainly a lack of “good hair days” while you are enjoying the great outdoors. It is a hike to get to the bathrooms- which may or may not always be stocked with toilet paper, so make sure that you bring along some of your own as a backup! We found it easier to brush our teeth at our campsite using our drinking cup for rinsing and spitting near a tree. The kids felt that all of this was part of the adventure- but I for one was certainly happy to take a hot shower on Sunday when we returned home!
The bottom line…
Our family had a fantastic weekend! Camping is a chance to get unplugged from your normal life- and spend a lot of fun time together as a family. We have our second camping trip planned in a few weeks- one that is designed around hiking a state park known for its beautiful waterfalls. We can't wait!
If you enjoyed this idea for a field trip for your summer camp at home… here are a few more ideas: