Taking your toddler camping can be a wonderful experience! A camping trip is beneficial to a small child’s understanding of the world; it can be educational, a lesson in appreciating and observing nature. However, none of those lessons can be learned if the class is interrupted by cranky complaints and wails. This article will give you all the ammunition you need to fight toddler temper tantrums and ensure that both you and your child have the best vacation possible.
How to take a toddler camping? First be prepared with the right equipment, including activities to keep a toddler engaged. Next, be informed on things like food and how to get the little one to sleep.
Don’t Worry, we will walk you through the most important information to get you and your toddler out there.
What are the benefits of taking a toddler camping?
Exploration and discovery are an important part of human development. This starts in early childhood. The earlier you expose your children to the wonders of the world, the better off they will be for it. There is actually scientific evidence to back this up.
There are two neurological systems that are exercised when taking your child on an adventure. These are commonly referred to as the “play” system and the “seeking” system. The “play” part of development comes in when you interact with your child in an environment, and the “seeking” part is activated when you discover new places together. The bond that sharing these experiences creates between you releases good chemicals in the brain and sparks a healthy sense of interest in exploration. It also develops the frontal lobe of the brain, the section that controls cognitive function and social behaviors.
Camping with your toddler only brings benefits that will last a lifetime, both psychologically and emotionally.
How do you make camping with toddlers fun?
As a parent or guardian, you may enjoy activities that toddlers find strenuous or boring, like hiking and bird watching. The most important thing is to compromise and find ways to make your child happy while still getting the most out of your own experience. There are several family-friendly activities to plan, such as:
- Arts and crafts. The natural resources around you offer as much potential as anything else! Just bring a few extra materials (string, googly eyes, markers), and you have everything you need to take home a free souvenir. Use googly eyes and markers to create a rock pet, create little stick dolls out of string and twigs, or bring a bottle of paint and some paper to create leaf prints! The possibilities are nearly endless. If your child isn’t interested in that, you can always just get a coloring book and some crayons to keep them occupied.
- If there is one thing toddlers seem to love more than just about anything else, it’s food. This isn’t exactly an activity, but it still keeps them quiet and calm. Ziploc bags full of cereal or animal crackers are fine, but there are several healthy alternatives if you want to reduce their sugar intake. Don’t forget the staple of camping trips, though! S’mores are a longtime camping tradition, and I don’t think any normal toddler will pass up on the chance to eat chocolate or marshmallows.
- An important part of learning development for a growing child is to use critical thinking skills to better understand their surroundings. Playing games like “I Spy” will teach your child to carefully observe their world and adequately improve their cognitive function later in life. Musical games are also developmentally beneficial for kids! Listening to and participating in musical activities helps with sensory development and literacy.
- Scavenger hunts. When I was a child, the best way to get my attention was to do a scavenger hunt. This activity will stimulate your child’s interest in their world and keep them excited. Give them a prize when they find everything on the list!
- No matter what you do together, part of the fun is just bonding with your child. Studies from various countries around the globe indicate that parents do not spend enough time playing with their children. That lack of attention and bonding time is actually very damaging to a developing brain. If you give them your whole attention, you are telling them that they matter; you are giving them the skills to assist them in adulthood. That feeling is priceless to a young kid.
Those are just a few suggestions, and you can check out more here!
What do toddlers need for a camping trip?
A thorough packing list of your toddler’s wants and needs will guarantee a fun and safe getaway. You may see things you would have never considered before in the list. In that case, the outdoor adventure will be that much more fun for both of you!
- Extra clothes and diapers/underwear. Kids are messy, especially younger ones. That’s just a fact of life. For a three-day camping adventure, I would recommend bringing double of every clothing item and at least triple the number of diapers. Running to the nearest store with a screaming, dirty child sounds like no fun. With diapers also comes a reminder to bring wipes and a changing pad.
- Comfort object. Whatever your little one uses to keep nightmares away, bring it. A comfort object may be a stuffed animal, a blanket, or a pacifier. Being away from home is scary, and they need something familiar to help them face the unknown. Trust me, it’s a necessity unless you want to get no sleep.
- Sunscreen, hats, and a lifejacket. A very young child has sensitive skin that will burn far easier than yours will under the sun’s glare. Keep your toddler pain-free and healthy with sunscreen and a hat. Sunglasses will also help if they will keep them on. If you’ll be camping near water, err on the safe side and bring a life jacket for them. They can swim with ease and the jacket will keep them from drowning if they decide to go for a dip while you’ve looked away for a couple of seconds.
- First aid kit. This should be on your packing list regardless, but toddlers are more prone to accidents than adults. Every kit should be equipped with bandages, gauze, tape, aspirin, a thermometer, tweezers (for splinters), and antiseptic wipes. If any injury is more serious than what these items can fix, find your nearest emergency room.
- Having dirty hands and unbrushed teeth puts a kid in a major cranky mood. Bring hand sanitizer, face wipes, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a hairbrush, and any other part of your child’s morning or night routine. In addition to keeping hygiene on track, the familiarity that comes with their daily rituals will bring them comfort.
- There are several available for children of any age and literacy level everywhere. Toddler books are often about learning colors, shapes, and textures. It will fascinate them and give you a little bit of peace.
- Outdoor toys will bring you both a little bit of joy on your trip! Bubble wands, baby pools, frisbees, and bean bag toss games are easy to carry around; none are so easily broken, either.
- Try stargazing together! Binoculars are small, portable, and easier to use than a telescope. Even a three-year-old could operate them with a little help from you! Using these to stargaze is also a useful learning tool. Being aware of space, of something bigger than this Earth can spark a love for science and scientific fields of study when they grow up!
- Many small children are afraid of the dark. Flashlights are great, but colorful glowsticks will make them forget their fear in the first place! The more gentle sensory input you can pack into this trip, the better.
- When the sun sets during the summer, the fireflies come out to play. Bring along a little jar with holes poked in the lid to catch them! The jar is also useful during the daytime for observing other little critters like beetles and ladybugs. Please be sure to release them after your child has had a chance to observe them, though.
- You can get a free portable safety harness. This will help keep your toddler in their seat and it can be used anywhere.
How do I save packing space?
The lists of everything recommended for camping with a toddler seems intimidating, I know. It doesn’t have to be, though! There are tons of “life hacks” out there for just about every configuration of packing known to man. A few of the best tips are as follows:
- Roll outfits instead of stacking them. Creating bundles keeps outfits planned and other clothes neatly in place. Gone are the days of dragging everything out of your suitcase just to find one pair of pants.
- Keep all toiletries in a clear case. You can see what you’re reaching for without fumbling around, and it keeps your things organized in one place. It also helps your toddler know which bag is theirs and which not to touch when it’s time to freshen up.
- Place certain items inside of your shoes. Anything in a small bag can be stuffed inside of your extra shoes to save room. Every little bit of space counts!
- Pour shampoo/lotion/body wash in small, portable containers. There is no good reason to bring full-sized bottles and take up a good chunk of suitcase real estate if you’re only going away for a week or two.
- After you pack everything up, remove half of it. That seems crazy, but you will find that you may not need as much as you initially thought. It’s a good exercise to fully evaluate what you need and what you just thought might come in handy. You’ll be a master packer in the future for having done this!
Packing “life hacks” guides
Which foods should be packed for camping with a toddler?
It comes of no surprise that kids can be picky eaters. We’ve already discussed snack foods, but now it’s time for a real meal. There are a few toddler-approved meals for all times of day that your toddler would be hard-pressed to refuse.
- Pre-packaged muffins will seem like dessert, especially if they have chocolate chips in them. Toddlers feel like they’re getting a sweet deal by staying away from yucky oatmeal, and they are getting plenty of carbs to boost their energy in the meantime!
- Fruit and cereal. Fruits provide natural sweetness and vitamins while cereal is a great source of fiber, depending on what you get. Both can be packaged in sandwich baggies, but fruit should probably stay in a cooler.
- Cereal bars. These are the easiest of all to pack. Cereal bars are thin and rectangular, taking up virtually no room. They don’t need to be refrigerated, either. Again, the sweetness factor satisfies kids’ candy cravings without actually giving them candy.
- This was a given, but it needs to be said; sandwiches are so versatile! These can be packed beforehand on a short trip. Child favorites include peanut butter & jelly and ham & cheese.
- Cheese and crackers. Simple, easy, and fairly clean! There are no sticky liquids involved, so they won’t get quite as dirty after. There is no such thing as an entirely mess-free meal, but shirt crumbs are better than jelly hands coming at you!
- Hot dogs. Duh! What would a camping trip be without roasting hot dogs over the campfire? Bring your toddler’s favorite condiment and put chips on the side. It is low effort, budget-friendly, and sure to please.
- Leftover mac and cheese. All kids seem to love this cheesy pasta meal. Make some before you go, store it in a cooler, and warm it up in a pot over the fire for dinner! What could be easier? Bonus: pasta is soft, so little people with teeth still coming in will have an easy time chewing.
- Meat and veggie skewers. These are easy to grill over a fire, and they only require mild prep. Everything is in bite-sized pieces, so there will be no trouble getting the food down. Take the skewer out before you give them to a small child.
- Cheese quesadillas. Two ingredients, a few minutes to cook, and an easy win when your kids chow down. There are no “icky” grown-up ingredients, so that’s a plus for them.
If your family eats vegan, there is no need to fear! Here are some vegan, toddler-friendly meals to preserve your ethical code and their smile.
For a child with Celiac Disease, there are gluten-free meal ideas.
What are some tips to keep my toddler safe on a camping trip?
Tiny humans are exploring their new, strange environment. They don’t know what will and will not hurt them in the great wilderness, so it falls on you to keep them safe. Scary, right? Not anymore. Put your mind at ease by following these tips:
- Bring a playpen. If you plan on turning your back for any length of time to watch birds or talk to other campers, put the baby down in a safe and enclosed environment. They won’t be on the ground eating bugs or chewing rocks, and they can’t wander off into the forest unattended.
- Study up on plants. Some plants look harmless, but they can be seriously dangerous. Poison oak will irritate the skin and cause severe allergic reactions in some cases. Others are fatal if ingested, like water hemlock. You can find a comprehensive list to have on hand here.
- Keep tools for proper lighting. Playing around at dusk is fun and to be expected! Everything looks and feels different after sunset, and your toddler will want to explore. Keep them from tripping or getting scared by bringing a headlamp, lantern, or powerful flashlight.
- Never leave a toddler unattended by any body of water. It takes falling headfirst into just two inches (or six centimeters) of water for them to drown. That’s less than you fill the bathtub with! No parent is perfect; accidents may happen, but please be as alert as possible.
- Stick to established campsites. Pitching a tent somewhere far away from civilization seems like an exciting adventure, but where there are no rules and no people, the risk of danger increases. If you or your toddler gets injured and there is no one around for miles to help, the injury that would be easily treatable becomes potentially fatal. Cell phone signal is usually unreachable in the middle of the woods as well, so you wouldn’t be able to call anyone for assistance. At a campsite with other people around, you have a community to help you with issues and keep you safe from predatory animals.
- Bring a wearable baby carrier. If you do plan to go hiking and tow the little ones along, the best way to make sure that they don’t get lost or fall on some slippery rocks is to bring a baby sling. Sure, it adds extra weight to your body, but think of it as a challenging workout! Here is a guide to help you choose which one you may need.
- Keep them away from the campfire. Toddlers haven’t yet learned not to touch a hot stove, or in this case, a campfire. They need to be watched at all times when the fire is lit. Create boundaries with your child and give them a special place to sit any time they want to come near it.
- Carry an EpiPen. If your child has severe allergies to anything that could be lying around your campsite, bring an EpiPen. Having one on your person makes the difference between life or death.
- Childproof your suitcase. Chances are that you have medicine of some sort in your bag, probably in your first aid kit. Children are sneaky, and they can easily get into it when you are cooking or are otherwise occupied. It is best to put some sort of lock or heavy item on top of your suitcase to keep curious little hands out of it.
- Don’t push them too hard. You, in your adult body, are energized and ready for a steep, two-mile hike. Your three-year-old is not. Take them on a more reasonable route, something that will not fatigue them. This is especially important for hot days. Children can get heat stroke as quickly as adults can.
- First aid. Always have a first aid kit to take care of the inevitable scraps and bruises. Also, make sure there is an antibiotic in the kit to help keep infection at bay.
How do I get my toddler to sleep while camping?
Getting a toddler to stop fidgeting and lie down to sleep while on such an exciting new adventure is tricky. The tent is dark, there are strange sounds coming from outside, and they are not in their beds like they’re used to. All of these factors create the perfect storm for a tantrum the next day. Luckily for you, these tips will keep both of you from losing your sleep and your sanity:
- Establish naptimes. If you give your toddler periodic nap breaks in the tent during the day, they will likely be more comfortable during the night. Napping also gives them a chance to refresh their nerves and take their grumpy moods away. While they nap, you are free to read or do whatever you want peacefully.
- Participate in high-energy activities a few hours before bed. This is a surefire way to tire a toddler out. Play tag, hopscotch, or whatever is the most active and still kid-friendly. They simply will not be able to keep their eyes open when their head hits the pillow.
- Bring a cot. Sleeping on the ground may not be the best idea for a tiny tot who is used to snoozing on something softer. Their comfort is the most important key to getting them to sleep. Here is an example of a toddler-sized cot to consider picking up before heading out.
- No drinks before bedtime. It is fine for your child to have a few small sips of water before hunkering down, but you do not want to trudge back and forth with them all night to the bathroom because they cannot hold it until morning. Neither of you will get sleep, and you will both be moody by morning.
- Use a soft lantern as a nightlight. In my experience, most toddlers are incredibly afraid of the dark. Even with you around, they may very well be uneasy. Bringing along a small lantern will give the tent a dim glow that leaves no room for monsters to lurk in the corner.
- Make use of a white noise machine or instrumental music. Covering up the sounds of animals roaming about in the darkness with something soothing or familiar will put your child’s mind at ease.
- Take out that comfort object. You remember the stuffed animal or blanket I suggested packing before? This is when it comes in handy. Children feel that they are protected by their comfort objects, and this belief will allow them to rest. If they feel that their bear will scare away the monsters for them, what is there to worry about?
- Make sure your toddler is warm. Sleeping near the ground in the middle of the night can get chilly, even if the temperature is still over 70 degrees (Fahrenheit). A shivering baby becomes miserable fast. Tuck them in tightly to keep them toasty and snug.
- Stay close by. Leaving such a small child in a tent alone makes them uneasy. After all, you are supposed to be their watchful protector. Children trust adults to keep them safe. If they cannot see you, they may feel that you have abandoned them. The best option is to hang out in the tent with them until they fall asleep.
- Reassure them. A simple, “I’m not going anywhere; I’ve got you,” calms a child’s anxious mind. As was mentioned in the point above, let your toddler know that you will not abandon them. Softly repeating the phrase like a mantra while they drift off helps.
How do I keep myself energized enough to keep up with my toddler on a camping trip?
There are a few different ways to overcome the energy gap between yourself and your toddler while camping that do not involve ingesting tons of caffeine. The trick is teamwork and health.
- Co-parent. If you plan to camp with your spouse/partner and your child, take turns watching over the little one while the other partner gets some rest. It isn’t fair to leave all of the hard work for one person. You may love your child more than anything else, but no one is a superhero. Being the best person you can for your toddler means being refreshed and attentive.
- Bring a group. If you do not have a spouse or partner, bring along one or two more people you trust. It takes a village to raise a child. Bringing along more people means that your kid will be extra safe. There can never be too many helping hands.
- Eat a good breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The nutrients and carbs you take in will give you a boost of energy all day long. Skipping out can make you lethargic and distracted. The best foods for energy are eggs, oranges, nuts, and apples. Each of these contains either protein, vitamins, or carbs. Do not forget to drink water with your meal! Staying hydrated keeps you on top of your game.
Now you are fully armed and ready for a fun and safe trip with your toddler. Have fun and don’t forget the snacks!