Saturday, November 19, 2016

How to Make Your First Camping Trip with a Playdate in Tow a Success

Found a new trick for getting the kids to bed early on a sleep-over. Take them cold weather camping! With the sun down by 5:30 pm and an overnight low that dipped below freezing, they stayed busy and active, asked to climb into the tent early, and were snuggled in and sleeping by 8:30 pm. All of that aside, here's how we made our first camping trip with our child's inexperienced friend a success.

1. Assess the child's level of camping and wilderness experience. Start out with car camping close to home with inexperienced kids. This worked pretty well for us. With the plumbed bathrooms closed for the winter, the kiddo wet through culture shock at having to use a vault toilet and spit toothpaste on the ground. Aside from those little upsets, things went quite well.

2. Comfort keeps the tears away. Ensure kids dress adequately for the weather, provide sun-protection and bug-protection, and provide adequately warm sleeping accommodations. Keep the kids fed and hydrated. Given the overnight lows on this trip, we brought winter clothing. Inside the tent, we made a layer of quilts between the kid's sleeping bags and their mats, and draped a spare sleeping bag over the top of their sleeping bags. Without a guest, our down sleeping bags would have been adequate, but concern for keeping our guest comfortable throughout the night trumps efficiency.

3. Teachable moments appear around every corner. Sometimes we take our daughter's camp skills for granted. Our young guest learned how to erect a tent, get in and out of the tent without wrecking the zipper, gather firewood, keep camp clean, and roast a marshmallow for starters.

4. Let kids be kids. Let them choose meals and activities. I wanted to go hiking but the kids wanted to build and play in giant leaf piles. I find hotdogs and marshmallows disgusting. However, I let the kids be kids, and they had a fantastic time for hours and hours.

5. Understand that with kids accidents happen. If you don't want accidents to happen with your favorite and most expensive gear, don't bring your favorite gear.

So where did we camp?

Blue Mounds State Park is about 25 miles west of Madison on the Military Ridge State Trail near the city of Blue Mounds. The park contains over 15 miles of bicycle trails and camping is accessible by bicycle from the Military Ridge State Trail. A swimming pool is available in the summer, and the two observation towers make for a fun distraction. Trails for cross country skiing and snowshoeing provide fun options for winter. Being a non-wilderness experience and close to home should things go awry, this made for an excellent choice with an unseasoned playdate in tow.

The kids had fun and didn't want the trip to end. No tears shed, and no injuries to patch up - a good first camping sleepover experience for the kids.

That's all for now. Get outdoors - and keep our wild places wild!

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