There is a plethora of things you can do before taking your kids camping to maximize your chances of a successful trip. You can choose a campsite that’s relatively close to home, invite other families (read: other kids to entertain your own kids), and bring a solid supply of junk food, to name a few strategies.
But the key to ensuring a successful camping experience is right in your own backyard. Seriously, the best way to see if your crew is ready for real camping is a backyard test run (or two or three). Why? If your child starts crying, the only ones losing sleep are you (and perhaps your neighbors). At a campground, on the other hand, your kid’s wailing multiplies your stress by however many campsites are within earshot (multiply that number by about a million if any of your fellow campers are drunk and belligerent).
It may be annoying to bring a miserable kid back into the house just when you’ve finally found a comfortable sleeping position, but it’s harrowing to flee your tent in the middle of the night with only your crying baby, your wallet, and your headlamp as the rowdy people at the adjacent campsite rapidly and loudly lose patience with your crying kiddo (trust me, I’ve been there).
Backyard camping means reveling in the pleasures of camping, without the stress of packing. If someone’s teething, the Tylenol (or Ibuprofen, homeopathic tablets, whiskey - no judgment) is in easy grabbing distance. Too cold? No problem! Just run to the linen closet and grab a blanket, or 10. Forgot to charge your Kindle? Don’t worry, the pile of magazines you’ve been meaning to read since the birth of your first child is just a few steps from your tent. Bonus: You’re not shoving your partner awake to bug them about where they stashed the teething remedy/ extra blanket/emergency reading material, or whisper- yelling at them because they forgot to pack it.
Pro tips for the ultimate backyard camping adventure
1. Include at least one adult who is thrilled about camping. I’m talking Birthday/Christmas/Hanukkah/ Last Day of School/Going to a Store Alone levels of excitement. Though the effectiveness of trickle-down- economics is sketchy at best, trickle-down excitement is totally a thing (until your kids hit puberty). Additionally, if one adult in the family is trying really hard to enjoy camping but can’t help occasionally dropping a snarky comment about how little sense it makes to sleep in a tent when beds are so comfortable, the excitement level of the adult who loves camping will result in a positive net excitement factor. (My husband and I may or may not demonstrate such a dynamic.)
2. Let the anticipation build. As soon as it is reasonable, tell them about the backyard camping adventure so they can start getting excited and count down the days, ask you if the family is camping out today, ask you if the family is camping out tomorrow, and ask you, “How much longer ‘til we go camping?” Just how much notice you give will be a function of how well your children understand the concept of time and how much pestering your nerves can withstand. Whether you give them a week or an hour to wrap their minds around the idea is up to you - what matters is there’s time for their excitement to build.
3. Get your kids invested in the process. Let them pack their own backpacks. How much supervision they’ll need doing so will depend on their age and will vary from kid to kid. By doing this, you’re giving them agency in a situation where the negative consequences of a mistake are practically non-existent. Let them pack whatever jammies they want, a favorite stuffed animal or two, and a few books to read.
If your kids are old enough, give them a flashlight or a headlamp of their own. Speaking of flashlights, do not give your toddler a Maglite - even if that’s the only available flashlight in the house, even if your child is generally a gentle, loving child, and even if you haven’t let your toddler haven any sugar (my husband may or may not have inspired this tip).
4. Enjoy delicious outdoor eats. Sure, you can practically see your kitchen table from your tent, but the kitchen table is so boring. Half of the fun of a backyard campout is the novelty. Roast marshmallows or make s’mores together over your fire pit or your grill. If you have the strength to bring your kids to the grocery store, let them pick out their favorite treat and let them eat it sitting on a picnic blanket or a camp chair under the stars. Yes, giving kids sugar right before bedtime is ridiculous, but some might argue that sleeping on the ground when you could be snuggled into your very own bed, just 20 feet away, is ridiculous, too.
Most of parenting is reacting to random, unexpected situations. Sleeping in a tent may not be luxurious but having the opportunity to prepare for it is nothing short of decadent.
Pam uses her experience as an occupational therapist, Ironman triathlete, and marathoner to help women push through fear to become their best selves. To get her free guide to crushing Impostor Syndrome, visit pam-moore.com. This article was originally published on Motherly.
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