It is a rare breed of child who isn’t excited by sleeping in a tent although, I am reliably informed, they do exist. Camping with children and as a family can be the breeding ground of magical memories and something that your child will talk about for years to come and on into adulthood.
All of life presents hazards but camping with children can potentially introduce a few new ones that you need to be aware of to ensure a stress free trip for yourself and your family.
Careful campsite selection is essential to ensure your trip isn’t one long anxiety headache regarding your child’s safety. Picture, for example, a beautiful campsite where all the pitches are centred around a stunning lake. Can you imagine the type of trip this will make for if you are the parent of a young child? At best it is an undertaking for the super-vigilant and at worst it’s a recipe for misery.
Sites come in different levels of child-friendly and deciding what you need will be dependant on the age of your child. Consider things such as proximity and access to roads, the presence of water hazards such as lakes, rivers or even large ornamental ponds and geographical features such as cliffs or other steep drops.
Arriving at camp
When camping with children, one of the first things you need to do on arrival is to take a walk round the camp to familiarise yourself with its layout and potential hazards. This exercise isn’t designed to make you paranoid, just aware. Even parents who have diligently researched before making their site selection can’t cover everything.
If you do come across something that you find particularly worrying then don’t be afraid to bring it up with the camp-site owners. This may be a swing in the children’s playground hanging by a thread or a rotten plank spanning a steep ditch. It may be something that they weren’t aware of and can be easily rectified.
Set some rules
All but the very youngest of children are able to understand rules and it is an idea to sit down as a family for this discussion to ensure everyone is in agreement. It also prevents misunderstandings or scenarios where children have been told one thing by mum and another by dad (or claiming so later!)
Rules for rules sake are anathema to a child so explain why you are setting them down and involve them, if they are old enough, in the decision.
Older children are naturally going to roam a little further afield, away from your watchful eye, so they need to know what the limits are to this and anything that is strictly out of bounds.
Only you, as a family, can know what rules to set as parents come in every variety, from the mega-laid back to the mega-protective. Remember that the main purpose here is to be safety conscious and aware while, at the same time, allowing all family members to enjoy themselves. Tighten the rope too much and your children will be miserable and/or break the rules, tighten it too little and you will be miserable and anxious.
Agree a ‘what to do if lost’ plan
Some camp-sites are big enough to be totally disorientating in themselves. Others are small but perhaps surrounded by woodland or unfamiliar territory. Again, the plan you set will be very specific to the site you are on and the age of your children.
Mobile ‘phones are obviously a wonderful tool at times such as these but, at the risk of stating the obvious, do ensure there is signal reception. Some parents choose to arm their children with an alarm whistle for certain situations.
Whatever plan you decide on, make sure it is as clear and simple as possible.
Preparing meals can be a potentially hazardous time when camping with children. Camp-stove cooking needs careful planning especially where there are very young children present. Camp cooking often means bringing naked flames, hot saucepans and boiling liquids into closer proximity to your child so stoves will need to be attended at all times.
Explain the hazards to older children and make cooking times one of minimal movement about the camp to avoid knocking anything over.
Out Of Reach
Gas cylinders, matches and knives are just a few of things that you will almost certainly have about camp and in far more accessible places than you would have at home. If your tent is of the standing room variety then hold nets that suspend things from the roof and out of reach for small children are an excellent option. Locking things away in your car is also a possibility.
A camp-fire has to be one of the biggest joys of camping. Most of the larger camp-sites don’t allow camp-fires but there are still many of the smaller, basic ones that do. Should you choose to have a fire then you will need to be prepared to have an adult in supervision the whole time without exception.
When camping with children, keep children a good distance from even the smallest fires to allow for jumping sparks. Be aware that some clothing is more flammable than others and dress your child accordingly.
Caught short in the night
Unless you are happy for your child to be stumbling around a camp-site at night for trips to the toilet block it is a good idea to keep a bucket handy in the tent. To avoid spills and accidents try and get a bucket that has a lid.
The sun is likely to be the biggest safety hazard for your child during your camp trip. Ensure children are adequately protected to avoid the miseries of sunburn. This is one of the rare occasions where older children may require more attention than younger ones.
You are entirely responsible for applying sun protection to smaller children and supervising regular reapplication but older children will often forget. Nagging may be justified.
Pegs and Guys
Hands up all those camping enthusiasts who have never tripped over a peg or a guy. If you are sitting there with hand raised then give yourself an enormous pat on the back – you are one in a million. There is very little that can be done about this except perhaps making the sides and back of the tent out of bounds which may not always be possible.
The best you can do when camping with children is ensure all pegs are flush with the ground so that any falls don’t result in an impaling. Ensure the area is clear of anything else that would be dangerous to fall on such as sharp corners or poles.
Camping is for everyone. Don’t be put off thinking the headaches will outweigh the benefits if you have children. Of course there are things to be considered but as a parent aren’t there always? Amongst the vast camp-site choices are many that pride themselves on being extra child friendly, specifically targeting that market and using it as a competitive selling point. If you are concerned then choose one of these for the greatest peace of mind.