Camping is often a rite of passage in childhood, but for parents of preschoolers, the idea can be terrifying. Young children run everywhere. With potential dangers like poison ivy, roaring fires, running water and strangers everywhere, it's enough to give you nightmares. But, by preparing ahead of time and making your first camping commitment small, you and your preschooler will soon be camping pros.
The first place to start learning is in a book. You can find all kinds of books on camping for your tots. Many favorite preschool characters, like Dora the Explorer, have books about camping. Reading about the characters' experiences with camping can give your children a brief introduction to camping. Most children's books with a camping theme include scenes depicting classic activities like sitting around campfires and setting up a tent.
Make camping come alive on your kitchen table with a camping craft. Set up a 3D picture using a piece of construction paper as the base. Fold a smaller piece of paper in half to create a tent and help your child tape it to the paper. Cut out human figures and tape them around the tent. Add a fire by gluing some broke sticks in a pile and adding orange, yellow and red tissue paper to make the flames.
Set up your tent in the backyard or, if you don't have one, wing it with a blanket thrown over a picnic table. Play with your preschooler outside and pretend you are camping. Talk about what the stars look like, and what kind of animals you hear. You can also practice building a campfire or even light one in a fire ring if local laws permit it, and discuss fire safety rules for camping.
The idea of camping with preschoolers may be so exhausting that you never go. So, don't think about it. Just pack up and go for one night to teach your child through experience. It's a short commitment but it's a good introduction to camping. Your child gets a feel for it and you'll figure out what you need to take for future trips and what you don't need after all. Bug repellent? Check. Flashlights? Check. Two boxes of "just in case" electronic toys? Not so much. Now you are ready for two nights. Just be careful with the campfire.