If your kids are young, you probably want to make sure you pack some things that they can do independently! This is critical for when you first arrive at your site, afterall there is a lot to set up. If your kids are too young to help much, then you will want to keep them occupied so that you can work efficiently to set up the site. If your kids are older then put them to work! With camping, pretty much anything goes, so let them gather firewood, or have them help with the tent (mine still love hammering in the pegs), or let them set up their own sleeping bags! Give them learning opportunities! Tell them to work TOGETHER and toss a tarp their way so they can put it up somewhere (you can keep gear or wood under it to help it stay dry if it rains! Give them ropes and tell them to tie up a clothesline (even if it’s a little low!). There are lots of ways to keep kids of many ages occupied at camp.
Another time to have some downtime activities to pick from is in the mid afternoon. If you are camping in the summer then you know the middle of the day can get pretty darn hot, and everyone can get a little bit…let’s say cranky, to be nice…
If everyone is kind of cranky at the same time, then lots of fighting can occur, which can basically kill some of the great memory making time, hopefully not all! It’s easy when you are car camping to pack a bit of “extras” to pass the time. Things like books, a journal, some colouring pages (don’t forget the markers!), some string for making bracelets, or rope for practicing knots, even some games like playing cards, or some dice for simple dice games. These are also especially great if you catch a rainy weekend! If you have a back up battery pack for your phone, you can even download a couple episodes of a favourite show, so that if you do get rained out, at least you can create a bit of cozy screen time! (make sure to make some jiffy pop first!!)
Another great idea is to use the time to teach your kids some bushcraft activities. Try gathering up some natural debris or berries and crush them up with some water to make your own natural paint! Tell them to get some logs and make some shelters. Have them hunt for animal tracks, or even poop!
Don’t forget to set up a couple hammocks or a beach shelter to create some private spaces on the site. Sometimes, especially if camping for a while, everyone just needs their own space!
There are some other easy ways to pass the time when you are camping, like hiking, fishing, swimming, or time just exploring nature. Give the kids bug kits, or adventure kits with compasses and use the time to teach them some survival skills. Once they get familiar with the site use sound signals to let them explore a bit beyond the site, knowing they have to respect the “come back” sound. You could even give them a map of the area and tell them to pick out some places to explore. If they’re old enough (and skilled enough) have them estimate their exploration time and send them on an adventure (after they tell you where they’re going and in what direction they plan to go of course – hey, may as well practice safety!)
I am totally not suggesting that it is up to you to entertain your kids the whole time while camping, but if you plan for them to be bored, everyone has a WAY better time (in my experience anyway).
If you have kids that truly relish in the outdoors all should go pretty smoothly…BUT what if your kids hate bugs? The heat? The cold? The rain? Or just really don’t like being outside? Bring some comfort stuff! Show them that despite all those discomforts, they may still be able to enjoy parts of it. Maybe set up an extra tent to be a playing tent. Sure it’s not the same as being outdoors, but it’s a way to bridge the gap. You could bring a few stuffies, or a favourite blanket to make it really comfortable. Don’t forget bug spray or even some citronella candles or scents for the evening or morning. Even look into some battery operated bug repellent canisters as an option (I can’t comment if they work, I have yet to try one).
Because I love camping so much, I am a little biased about everyone trying it from time to time. I am positive there will be at least a couple moments they will look back fondly on. And hey, if not, at least they will know what they don’t like!!
Good luck booking a site! If you can’t get one find a backyard to camp in! It can be just as fun!!