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Introducing kids to tent camping

I have two boys under 4, we have done lots of hiking and a bit of climbing with them.  But we have yet to brave the seemingly scary world of camping in a tent with them.  I would love to know what things have worked/not worked, in getting kids to transition from home to tent. Thanks!

5 Replies
I think our son was 2 or 3 when we started. The first night in a tent was simply in our backyard. That way, if there would have been any problems, we could just move inside and try again some other time. If that is not an option, I would go to the nearest campground (hopefully no more than an hour away). Don't go for scenic or whatever. The idea is just to get them used to sleeping in a tent at a location where if everything fails you can go home in the middle of the night and come back in the morning to pick up your tent and gear.

@tileg21 how awesome that you are ready to try camping with your kiddos!  I have two boys as well and we took the first one camping when he was just 18 months old, it was an adventure for sure! Some things that work well is getting them their own sleeping bag, this makes them super excited for sleeping!  We also bring a portable white noise machine to help with late night campground sounds.  Don't forget that it can get cold sitting around the campfire, even in summer, so bring warm layers and hats. I also like to bring some of their favorite outside toys, like trucks etc. The first night might be a little tough but it gets better from there!  Have a great time! 

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.
I mentioned it in another post, but I introduced all my daughters around the same age. I would involve them in pitching the backyard tent on a Friday night. They’d play in it; they’d play around it. We wouldn’t camp in it until the following night. The anticipation was too much. Also, I’d throw in a special activity before the official camp. Something we never do like campfire hot chocolate, s’mores, weenie roasting.

Agree with all the above. Although I am at the other end of the kid spectrum (my youngest just graduated high school) Our adventures started with day hikes, then evening/return to the car in the dark hikes, then did a play time "sleep out" with the tent in the front room.  Paper clips unfolded into an S shape hook into the carpet quite nicely.  The first time out "for real" bring some conversation starters for getting into the tent, questions like "favorite thing today" ice breaker style.  Plan on you not getting enough sleep, and be ok with that. Michael's suggestions above with the "something we never do" like marshmallows is just what we did.  Make a treat of being out there.  

The thing that didn't work so well for us was a schedule. It was tough going from home where things happened like a routine.  I think we interupted play too much our first couple times all in the name of avoiding a meltdown.

The first couple times I tried keeping them fairly clean.  That wasn't so helpful. We then changed our thought process, even helped them get dirty. Kids are curious beyond measure, and for the most part, nothing out there "hurts" them.  Help them explore. If they're out doing that all day - couple that with the little conversation in the tent and they will be snoozing without time to get scared.  We read to our girls most nights, as part of the bedtime routine, so bring along a favorite and read, to give a sense of "home".

You have such fun adventures ahead! (even if they are quite a bit of work ;o)  )



We got a cheap tent at a garage sale and set it up in the living room and sometimes in the yard.  Our 1 year old really like sleeping pads and then tent, and is constantly pionting to them on the shelf and saying her name - she loves playing with them.  We plan to take her camping next weekend.