Parenting Guru: Camping for the Unlikely Camper

Chatting by the campfireChatting by the campfireIt's not in my nature to camp. I'm not a lover of the great outdoors. Yet this summer marks my 6 th year camping with 9 other families near the Santa Cruz Mountains. So why do I camp year after year? The reasons I camp are plentiful. The most significant reason is the perpetual smiles of wholesome joy beaming across my children's faces. That's closely followed by the magical spirit of exploration, the talks by the fire, whittling walking sticks, telling ghost stories, eating, drinking and all the laughter. It is a time to bond, a time to get back to nature and recognize that it doesn't take much to keep so many people entertained and engaged for a 4-day weekend. The parents and the children have an amazing time and while there may be some little mishaps that have required unexpected trips to the emergency room, tick bites, mosquito bites, scrapes and bruises, we all look forward to this enchanting long weekend.

Of course, this does not occur without a lot of planning. We now have this down to a science with most of the same families participating year after year. We each have our group list and family list of things to contribute. It doesn't hurt that a few families really know how to grill a mean tri tip and butt steak. We also make a spicy turkey chili and made-to-order, boil-in-a-bag egg omelets. We'd love to share what we've learned. If you can glean just one thing we've discovered and leave behind some bits of wisdom from your experience we can all have the perfect camping trip.

Preparation

About a month before we camp each family makes sure our gear is in fighting form. No holes in the tents, no rips in the sleeping bags and tarps at the ready to put under the tents at the campgrounds. I have special camping clothes that are mosquito repellant, that's because out of a group of 50 people I'll be the one to get bit.

We have a spreadsheet that lists all of the supplies we need to bring to mutually share. This includes trash bags, breakfast, lunch and dinner makings and of course nightly S'mores ingredients.

Of the nine families that attend we pick out 3 families per night who will work together and divide and conquer the dinner routine. With 3 families rotating the responsibility each night it helps give other families a break from cooking and cleaning every night.

The families who prepare dinner also clean up. Again, this helps spread the load and gives other families a chance to relax and enjoy.

We pick one night where we have a wine tasting event for the adults and a chocolate tasting for everyone. One year we had a jelly bean tasting contest to see if the kids could distinguish the flavors. Create some fun group events that are as much fun to prepare as to present.

At the Site

Once we are all at the camping site everyone helps pitch the tents, set up our camping tables and outdoor grilling area. Groceries are unpacked in raccoon-proof cabinets and parents are told where their kids will be before they set out in groups.

The kids all know to go to the bathroom in pairs and never wander alone. The older kids keep an eye out for the younger kids and act as another pair of eyes with the parents.

Whistles and walkie-talkies (and mobile devices) keep everyone in touch with one another.

First aid kits are filled with bandages, ointments, eye drops, aspirin, Tylenol, rash cream, poison ivy creams and Pepto Bismol.

We bring all sorts of battery and propane powered lights for night time. Our grills, both charcoal and propane are set up as a camping kitchen.

Hand wipes and anti-bacterial pumps are set up at the ready. We have stations for cooking, eating and prep and cleanup.

Games are brought out for after dinner including Wizard, and regular decks of cards for whatever games they want to play.

Moms and dad take turns getting kids ready for bed. Older kids stay up and start hanging out with the parents to play card games.

We have early birds in the group who get the hot water boiling for coffee and tea.

Breakfast and lunch are simple; cereal and sandwich fixings. Every family purchases and prepares their own to keep it simple. Our only group meal is dinner.

We plan an afternoon hike or other activity as a group. Then folks can do whatever they want including crafts, archery, skateboarding, reading, and socializing.

Best things to pack

1 Gallon and Quart size plastic bags
Aluminum foil
Baby wipes for quick clean ups
Bathing suit
Batteries (extra for flashlights, lamps)
Bug Repellent
Camping gear (tent, sleeping bag, pillows, laundry bag, camping apparel)
Cards (Wizard, regular deck of playing cards)
Cell phones, chargers, car AC adapters
Chairs (camping chairs)
Coffee, tea, sugar
Coins for public showers
Condiments for hot dogs and burgers salt and pepper
Cooking gear for camping (stove, grill, pots and pans)
Coolers
Cutting boards, cooking utensils
Dish rags, dish towels, dish soap, dish gloves
Ear plugs (for noisy neighbors, snorers, loud birds in the wee hours of the morning)
Fabric dryer sheets (to keep bugs away)
First Aid Kit (or Imodium AD, Tylenol, aspirin, Band-Aids, Neosporin, hydrocortisone cream, Benadryl)
Flip flops for showering
Food - meal planning list
Flashlights, portable lights for nighttime activities and reading in the tent
Games for campfire
Garbage bags
Grills, oven mitts, grilling utensils, fork, knives
Groceries for camping
Hair brush, hair products
Hat
Ice packs, Ice
Medications (for anyone who needs to take regular meds)
Paper towels
Plastic wrap
Plates, cups, napkins, eating utensils per person
S'mores ingredients including
Sunscreen, waterproof
Tables, folding
Table cloths
Toiletries for showers (soap, shampoo, lotion)
Towels
Wash bins for cleaning up
Walkie-talkies
Water, filtered. 1 Gallon per person.
Water bottles (reusable to reduce waste, 1 per person)
Whistles for emergency

Whoa, that's quite a list. Am I missing anything? As I said, I'm not a camper. Take me to Hawaii and I can have just as good a time with the same group of people at a nice hotel. But yet I camp year after year with this same group of families. I guess I'm a happy camper after all.

Tina is proud to be a Yahoo! Shine Parenting Guru. When Tina isn't busy writing for her blog, Parent Grapevine or taking professional photos for Moms Who Click, she can be found as a Featured Contributor for Yahoo! Contributor Network.
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