Camping with Kids

5 Lessons I Learned While Camping with 5 Kids

Jamie and I were feeling brave back in the spring when we decided to go camping as a family and take our friends’ two children as well. As the time crept closer, I started to feel a bit nervous about keeping 5 kids (and a dog) happy, entertained and well…alive.

I’m happy to report that we not only managed to do those three things, we actually had a lot of fun doing it. Things have certainly changed since we used to camp just the two of us, but we learned some valuable lessons for our next camping trip.

1.) Spray Sunscreen

Normally I’m the crunchy mom that throughly reads sunscreen ratings on and carefully selects one that I’m pretty certain won’t give my children cancer or cause them reproductive issues (if you think I’m kidding, check out the website). But, applying (and applying, and applying…) thick, “natural” sunscreen to 5 kids on a sandy beach is enough to make anyone lose it.

Thankfully my bestie had packed a spray and I found another one in the trailer. I learned real quick that this was the way to go. Except for the baby… she still got the cancer-free, reproductive system friendly sunscreen. Sorry big kids!

The afternoon of day two was spent on the beach, just me and the kids. Jamie was busy moving the trailer to a new site (one with hydro which wasn’t available the first night). I hadn’t yet learned the sunscreen lesson and I was diligently applying and reapplying the thick paste on the kids. By the time I applied, then re-applied and re-applied, I got pretty lazy and half-heartedly applied some to myself. I couldn’t reach my back and the kids were eyeball deep in wet sand, so I got quite the burn. Whoops! If I’d had the darn spray with me, I wouldn’t have been too lazy to lather myself up well AND I could have sprayed some on my back. Lesson learned.

UPDATE: I found a spray sunscreen at the health food store. EWG still doesn’t recommend them, BUT it’s actually a cream in spray form.

Fun at the beach

2.) Food – Lots of it

Basically think about how much food your kids normally eat. Even in the summer when they are outside from sun up to sun down. Then multiple that by about 472 and you may just pack enough.

I was floored by how much they ate! I’m used to my kids eating constantly, particularly Ayla, but this was next level. Next time, I will be more prepared with healthy made ahead snacks like muffins, banana bread, etc. I did make some chocolate avocado bread that the kids thought were brownies (I mean I didn’t tell them they were brownies, but I didn’t correct them either) and they ate the whole loaf in about 7 seconds.

So pack lots of food. Then pack some more.

Tacos were a huge hit!

3.) Stick to Bedtimes (or close to)

I definitely learned this one the hard way. I get it, it’s hard! I hate being the grinch that makes everyone stop mid marshmallow roast to brush teeth and hop into bed, BUT if your kids are anything like mine, they need their sleep.

Plus, chances are they will wake up early. Like with the sun, early. Mine were so excited to be camping with friends we don’t see often, that I swear it was a competition to see who could wake up first. Then of course we were all in one trailer, so as soon as one was awake, we were all awake.

By day 3, my kids were so exhausted that they could barely make it through breakfast without bursting into tears. My bestie’s kids clearly have her energy level and were absolute rockstars, but mine were losing it. In fact, they missed out on a camper versus staff soccer game because an afternoon nap was mandatory!

Another great bedtime tip is to shower before bed. We were camping in the middle of a heat wave and the sweat just made all the dust and dirt stick to the kids. Molly had dirt caked in all her little baby rolls. We all hit the showers before bed and it really helped everyone sleep more comfortably! If your campground doesn’t have showers – a baby wipe or face cloth will do.

Napping after a case of the grumpies

4.) Toys – Keep it Simple

I thought I had kept toys really simple, but I’d cut it back even more next time. We were extremely lucky that it didn’t rain at all so we were outside literally all day. Here is what I packed:

  • One small plastic shoebox with a few trucks, cars, and dinosaurs. This was not even opened. This shocked me as Rory loves his cars, but he was so busy doing other stuff that he didn’t touch a car until the ride home.
  • A basket of books. I packed books with interesting pictures and ones we haven’t read in awhile. These came in handy when my kids were feeling grumpy.
  • Sand toys. These were well used at both the campsite, the park and the beach. I had a mesh bag with an assortment of shovels, watering cans, buckets, balls, etc.
  • Baby toys. I packed a couple of Molly’s favourite toys. She played with them on the trailer floor every morning as I made breakfast and in her playpen outside. But most of the time she was happy to be playing with anything and everything she found (sand, twigs, leafs, etc.)
  • Box of art supplies. Just some paper, paint, brushes, play-dough, watercolours, our art journals and markers. We used this quite a bit and it was a nice activity for the kids while we were making dinner.

This list may seems a bit excessive, but we were in a trailer, so we had the extra room. With 5 kids, I wanted to be prepared in the event of rain. When we go tent camping next month, I’ll likely just bring a smaller bag of sand toys, 2-3 books, some art supplies and 2-3 of Molly’s favourite chew toys.

Art supplies came in handy
Even the baby loved the sand toys

5.) Divide and Conquer

I was pretty impressed with the way that Jamie and I worked together. As I mentioned above we had to pack up EVERYTHING and move campsites the second day. Although it was a lot of work for him, it just made more sense for him to plug away at it alone (well the dog kept him company) while I took to the kids to the beach. Trying to do all that work while keeping an eye on 5 kids (particularly the baby who wasn’t happy in a play pen for long) seemed like a terrible idea and I’m sure he likely got it done faster than if we’d all stuck around.

And by day 3 when our kids needed a nap, but my bestie’s were still raring to go, it made sense to divide and conquer again. He took the baby and our friends’ kids to the soccer game, while I stayed back and napped with our two oldest.

We also used this strategy for bike rides. We’d take turns staying back with the slower two or riding ahead with the confident 7 year old. Rory and Molly rode in the trailer.

Dividing and conquering was absolutely necessary to meeting the needs of all the little people we had with us and in turn keeping our sanity. We did get a lot of time together as a big group, too, but sometimes splitting up was needed.

The Memories are so Worth it!

As intimidated as I was in the days leading up to this trip, I am so grateful we decided to do it. It gave us a chance to spend some quality time with our friends’ little people and our own. The kids all got along amazingly well (they’re 7, 6, 5, 3 and 11 months) and seeing their excitement and joy made it all worthwhile. In fact, I think we’d like to make this a yearly tradition!

Camp fire fun