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How to Start Camping with Your Child

by Liz Childers

Have you seen the Nissan Car commercial entitled “Baby”? A young husband is told that he’s going to be a father. He immediately goes out to his tiny sports car and, after some thoughtful staring, begins stretching the car into a larger model. One that is more child-friendly.

Parents know that kids inevitably change your life. For that new dad, it was time for his sports car to be retired. For the camper and hiker, your tent is going to see less use. Camping with a newborn just doesn’t seem like a good idea, does it? However, camping can be great for young kids because it gives you the chance to teach life skills and spend time together as a family. You just have to know when it’s time to start.

Ease the kids into the idea
Do not expect to your child to simply dive into an overnight trip and have it go well. Ease him into the experience. Start with a day trip to a park or pretty campground. Choose a place where he can explore and play and get accustomed to the wilderness. A short hike will also help. Car camping should be the next step, because your child will not have to carry anything or hike – plus, the car is nearby if you need a quick escape. When you graduate to other camping, go slowly.

Be realistic
The key to a successful trip is being realistic. Your young one cannot hike as far as you. The entire timing of your trip will also change, as your child’s natural curiosity will slow you down on the trail or while setting up the camp. If your child does not like to be outside for a long time, wait. Let the daytrips you take to ease him into camping act as a gauge for when he is ready to spend the night outside.

Be excited and exciting
If you went camping as a kid, were a Scout, or went to camp, you know how important a great counselor or trip leader is! An incredibly enthusiastic adult figure can keep kids excited to be outdoors even if they are scared or uncertain. Have games and activities planned for the whole family and include your child in the entire camping process so he is truly learning.

Go with a guide
If you are not totally comfortable bringing your kid camping but think he is ready, go with a guide. This could be a more experienced camper or an actual guide. A really great idea is to join the Scouts. Kids can join Brownies or Cub Scouts at 6 years old and, often, you can join on the camping trips.