Happy Campers

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Published on: Mar. 2, 1999

If you're going camping to "leave it all behind," don't let "it" include your baby or small children. A family camping trip can spark a child's lifelong love of the outdoors and, besides, it's fun to have the kids along. The addition of babies or small children to your outing will pose challenges, but a few tips can help you get off to a good start.

On your first trip out, camp in your own backyard. You simply want the kids to enjoy sleeping outside, and they will. A tent is a house built to kids' proportions, and small children enjoy sleeping cuddled up to a parent or two. A backyard campout lets you pack and set up as if you were away, but it provides the safety net of home.

After a round in the backyard, hit a favorite spot. It helps if you've been there recently or can talk with people who have. That way you'll know what conveniences the site does and doesn't provide. Call ahead. Ask the ranger or attendant about facilities the area offers visitors with babies and small children. If a pleasant but more remote campsite is available, reserve it or arrive early to claim it. You'll appreciate that distance between you and neighboring sites, especially in the event of night crying or tantrums.

Some adults, accustomed to traveling without kids, try to sustain their own grown-up pace. Rethink your plans with your kids in mind. Make sure that activities, including the drive to your destination, aren't too long or monotonous. Remember that kids run on kids' time, and an uneventful 15 minutes will seem like an hour to them. Consider inviting another family to join you. The kids will enjoy one another's company, and parents can take turns caring for the kids.

After settling on a destination, pack what you need, but pack light. For the kids, choose clothes that will keep them comfortable and safe in heat, cold, rain, bright sunshine, briars and bugs. Remember hats, gloves and footwear, including extra socks. Don't pack to keep the kids clean, pack for function.

For a family, support gear may include security objects, such as stuffed animals and bedtime books, and rainy day or quiet time activities, such as puzzles, games, crayons, paper and toys. Small trucks and tractors are ideal for play in the dirt and pea gravel so commonly found in campgrounds. Outdoor activities will engage the kids,

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