As with most avid hikers and backpackers, I want nothing more than to share my love of the outdoors with my daughter. The thought of her not enjoying time in nature, or rejecting hiking all together, is unthinkable! This is the first mistake that I made, in sharing my love of the outdoors with my child.
Last December, I took my five year old daughter on an overnight camping trip. We had two very successful trips last year and I was overconfident with my planning for this one. I wanted to try somewhere new and didn't consider whether or not my daughter would feel comfortable there. We arrived late in the day which didn't leave much time for her to play and get comfortable with the new surroundings. She wanted to be in the trees, but I wanted to be near the water, so that's where we set up camp. I didn't bring enough snacks and she didn't like the new food I brought for dinner. I didn't bring books or other items that she was use to for our bedtime routine. The lantern and flashlight I brought broke shortly after it got dark. All of this made for a terrible time and she ended up not wanting to stay so we left later that night.
1. Expectations: My expectations for my daughter to love spending time in nature, has caused me to fear the "what if she doesn't want to do this??" I have learned that all I can do is offer her the opportunity to discover her own love of the outdoors.
2. Planning: Plan to arrive at the campsite early enough so your kids can have time to play. Maybe plan some games they can play or activities related to the area. The goal is to work out their energy, so when bedtime comes they will be good and tired.
3. Fear: Kids are naturally afraid of the unknown. Listen to them when they tell you what they want. My daughter wants to be in the trees as opposed to being near water, so I need to listen to her and help with her comfort level. Also, make sure you bring plenty of flashlights, lanterns, or other lights, to help with the fear of the dark.
4. Routines: As we already know, kids need routines. Being able to keep some routines in place while in the outdoors is important. Our biggest thing is sticking to the bedtime routine as much as possible. After all, most of the trouble kids have while camping is not getting good sleep. We always read books at bedtime and have a snuggly toy in bed while falling asleep. I also have an air mattress that we can both fit on so we can cuddle while my daughter falls asleep.
5. Food: Kids need to eat in order to be happy. I bring along plenty of snacks and easy to prepare meals so she is happy and therefore I'm happy. A full stomach also helps with bedtime.
6. Gear: Just car camping (driving into the campsite and setting up) is different than backpacking. You can bring whatever you want! I bought a bigger tent and an air mattress that fits inside. This way we can snuggle while we do our bedtime routine and that helps her fall asleep. I also bought some glow sticks to put next to the mattress, that provides some ambient light similar to a nightlight.
Since writing this draft, I have taken my daughter on another camping trip and I took my own advice. I am happy to report that we had a successful fun trip!