As the parent of a 4-year old, you might be thinking twice about taking that camping trip. After all, everything seems that much more complicated when you do it with young children in tow.
But there’s no reason to pass up on the adventure. You’ll be able to create great memories with your kids and start them down the path of a lifetime of outdoor experiences that they will thank you for later.
What To Consider When Camping with a 4-Year-Old
- Get Used to Tent Camping
It’s never too early to start taking your kids with you on outdoor adventures. If they have already experienced camping as a baby or toddler, then a trip with them when they’re 4 years old will be a breeze.
For kids who have never camped before, start familiarizing them with the process by camping at home in the backyard. Set up a tent and let them play in it during the day to get comfortable. Then see how they do with daytime naps in the tent before graduating to full-on overnight camping outdoors.
- Go Local the First Time
When it’s time to plan the actual trip, look for campgrounds that are close to home or not far from a town. Sites that have a lot of amenities like flushing toilets are ideal because you don’t want to complicate your life by going too rustic or remote.
Being close to a town means you can run to local restaurants for an instant dinner instead of cooking over the campfire. There will also be convenience stores in case you forgot to pack something or need to pick up emergency supplies.
And, in a worst-case scenario, you won’t have far to drive if the trip gets cut short due to bad weather, grumpy kids, or someone getting injured.
- Be Mindful of the Weather
For any camping trip, it’s better to go in the spring and summer when the weather will be warm and mild. This means you won’t have as much to pack to keep the kids warm and they will feel comfortable because there won’t be any extreme temperatures.
Plus they can spend the majority of the day outside of the tent running around and exploring their surroundings. Being cooped up in the tent because it’s raining outside is no fun and will also result in restless kids with too much pent up energy.
Although you can check the weather forecast and camp during the warmer months, it’s impossible to predict what will happen. So make sure to plan for rain by bringing the necessary gear and having activities or a back-up plan for a place to go that is indoors.
- Prepare for a Mess
Try to release your expectations in advance of what the camping trip will look like and how everything will go. Embrace the fact that the kids are going to get really messy and dirty playing outside.
If it rains overnight, there will be plenty of mud in the morning. Bring extra clothes and plenty of wipes or towels to clean up the kids before they get back into the tent.
Know that things will get dirtier when camping with kids than they would if you were on your own or with a group of adult friends. If you mentally prepare yourself, then the camping trip won’t be stressful because you’ll be ready for the worst.
- Keep Them Safe
Educate your kids about the possible dangers they may encounter while camping. Teach them not to approach wildlife and point out any plants like poison ivy so they know to avoid them.
Make sure they are protected from the elements by using sunscreen and insect repellent. Add a sunhat too for extra protection.
Take advantage of the camping trip to teach them about fire safety so they don’t get burned. You may also want to give them a whistle so they can make noise if they get lost or wander away from the campsite.
- Get Them Involved
As much as possible, have your kids help you and get them interested in camping by involving them in the process. Tell them where you will be camping, show them pictures in advance, and ask their opinion on what foods they would like.
Children can also pack their own bags and choose the toys they want to bring. When you get to the campsite, give them some tasks so they can contribute to setting things up. They can help collect firewood or bring gear into the tent.
- Get Plenty of Sleep
One of the most challenging aspects of camping with young children is getting them to sleep and making sure they are rested. If they are familiar with the tent, they should feel comfortable spending the night there with you.
Try to stick to a familiar bedtime routine by having them wind down in the evening and participate in calmer activities. Tuck them into their sleeping bag and read a bedtime story or watch a movie on your tablet.
Also, make sure they have plenty of activity during the day so they are tired by the time night comes. Take them on short hikes or play games around the campsite so they can exert all their energy.
Food and Snacks For 4 Year Olds While Camping
Spending a lot of time outside in the fresh air and sunshine is sure to result in an appetite for young kids while camping. Preparing meals on a campfire or portable camping stove can be time-consuming so it’s best to pack meals that are fast and easy.
Bring along a lot of snacks that you know your kids love so they can ward off hunger during the day and have something to eat while you make the main meal. Plan dishes that are kid-friendly or include familiar favorites.
One-pot dishes that include rice or pasta are easy to cook because you just dump all the ingredients into the pot and wait for it to cook. Make sure to let things cool off though because it’s hard to control the temperature when cooking over a fire and you don’t want to burn any tongues.
Bringing pre-made meals that just have to be reheated is another simple way to keep everyone fed. Leftovers are also ideal when camping and many things can be even eaten cold.
Don’t forget to pack drinks either. It’s important to stay hydrated and make sure the kids have their own water bottle so they can drink whenever they get thirsty. You can also bring along juice boxes and other canned beverages that don’t need to be refrigerated
What to Pack For Camping With A 4 Year Old
In addition to the gear for your campsite such as the tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and camp chairs, you can also bring other things to make sleeping enjoyable for kids. Add in some extra pillows and bring their favorite blankets too.
Don’t forget stuffed animals or any other items that will give your child comfort and help them sleep at night. Toys, books, and other activities will prevent boredom and make sure young campers have an enjoyable experience.
First aid is absolutely essential and should include disinfectant, bandages, as well as sunscreen, bug spray, and tweezers for removing splinters.
For clothing, bring plenty of extras because the kids will get dirty. When the weather is cooler, pack layers so kids can be warm in the morning but can peel off warmer clothes as the day wears on.
Rainwear and boots should always be packed too in case of unpredictable weather. Having some extra socks on hand is always a good idea because they are small and won’t take up much room but get dirty fast and make a huge difference when it comes to comfort.
To keep kids clean, bring some wipes and hand sanitizer. Extra kitchen towels will also come in handy for things that require more cleaning than a wipe can provide.
When it comes to meals, pack mugs, cups, plates, and bowls that won’t break if they are dropped. Give your child their own mug and utensils that they are responsible for and will use for every meal.
Don’t forget to bring lots of plastic or trash bags for keeping the campsite clean but also for tossing in wet and dirty clothes. And pack some toilet paper just in case because you never know what the campground will provide or how the quality will be.
Lastly, get a lantern or other device that can double as a nightlight so kids aren’t scared of the dark. Bring flashlights for evening or if you need to take a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
As you can see, there are some additional challenges when camping with a 4-year-old but it is still possible to have a great trip. Do some advanced planning to prepare your child and pack all the essentials and you are sure to have a great time. Your kids will love the opportunity to spend time in nature and learn valuable skills that they can use for the rest of their lives.