Photo credit: Allan Clark

Photo credit: Allan Clark

Do you dread the thought of going camping and having to use a smelly outhouse? Dread no more! Camping with your family doesn’t have to mean sleeping on rocks and hunting for your next meal in the great outdoors.

The following are a few tips to help make your first time camping experience a positive experience.

1) Keep expectations realistic. Don’t build up the camping trip so it matches a trip to Disneyworld. Explain you are having a new family experience that involves going to a campground, taking hikes and of course, making S’Mores.

Photo credit: Allan Clark

Photo credit: Allan Clark

2) Check into renting or borrowing an RV.

The novelty of having a house on wheels makes the trip extra special. One family simply asked to borrow their neighbors RV and drove 10 miles to the nearest campground. It felt like a world away and kids loved their “playhouse”.

3) Consider cabin rentals.

Many campgrounds offer rental cabins. This means you’ll have actual beds and a solid roof in case of bad weather. Some campgrounds even offer yurt rentals. (Have your kids Google “yurt”.) We once stayed at a campground in a giant tipi, complete with tables, chairs and beds. And yes, even a TV!

4) Wherever you go…don’t go far.

Kids won’t be able to tell the difference if you go to a campground around the corner or 200 miles away. They want to get there, check out the pool or lake, ride their bikes, etc.

5) Bring the bikes.

Most campgrounds provide safe places to ride bikes. If at all possible, take bikes along.

Photo credit: Allan Clark

Photo credit: Allan Clark

6) Seek out activities.

Check out any ranger talks or participate in camp activities like a nature scavenger hunts.

7) Set an example and shut off all electronic devices.

Sure there will be complaints, but the pioneers survived without cell phones. One mom simply said, “I think there is a rule that you aren’t allowed to use video games or cell phones in National Parks, so we’ll leave them at home.” The Kaiser Foundation reported that children spend 53 hours a week connected to some sort of electronic media. Camping helps you use that time being connected face to face with your children.

8) Get kids involved in planning.

Show them two websites of various campgrounds and let them decide which one they want to go to.

9) Find a good first-timer campground.

If you are lucky enough to be close to a KOA Campground or a Yogi Bear Jellystone Park, go there on a first time camping trip. The games, crafts and fun activities will make your family regular campers. Sure, you may not be out in a deserted forest, hiking past ancient redwoods, but your kids will get a “soft” introduction to camping.

Photo credit: Allan Clark

Photo credit: Allan Clark

Researchers are finding that children today lack the experience of being outdoors and actually getting dirty looking for bugs or feeling tired after a long hike. The advantages of going camping with your children outweighs the small inconvenience of not having your microwave, video games and Lazy Boy recliner.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, coined the phrase, “Nature Deficit Disorder” relating to children who don’t have any connection to nature. So get adventurous and head out to a local campground where you and your family can wade in streams, gaze at stars and of course, make those s’mores!