So what kind of special chaos is camping with 3 under 5? I can safely say I love all of the family time that comes with camping, but it is 100% exhausting!! I have been camping with kids since my first born was a few months old, and my youngest has been camping since he was 1 week old! It’s something that we love doing as a family and are highly invested in, we are an RV camping family, but plenty of the tips in this blog will be helpful for all camping families!
First of all, one of the essentials that I talk about with my sleep consulting is bridging the separation. I’ll talk more about that in another post, but what really helps our little ones, is when they have something familiar to hang on to. I always make sure that I bring familiar bedding, their favourite blankets, same pillow from home, and their individual lovey (my eldest son loves his Kickee blankets, and my daughter has a stuffed unicorn!). Having the familiar touches, smells and sights of their beds at home helps bridge that connection of being in a different space and feeling relaxed away from home.
I felt confident that my older two children would make the transition ok, they are used to camping, but I knew the baby needed some more time to adjust. I purchased a new playpen this year, and I am so happy with it! I will post for the 4moms playard at the end of this post, it’s honestly SO awesome. I had the Baby Bjiorn Travel Crib for my other children and it is a great space saving option, with a super comfy mattress. To help make his transition smooth I made sure to use the same bedding from home as well. I also began a gradual transition of him sleeping in the playpen in his own room to help acclimate him to the new space. In the two weeks leading up to the beginning of camping season I would put him in the playpen for one nap per day, and in the few days leading up to our first trip, I had Lincoln sleep in the playpen, in his room over night.
Our RV has a bunk room in the back, so all three can sleep in the same room. I’ll be honest though, I was terrified at the thought of having them all sleep together (They all sleep in separate rooms at home). For the most part my 5 year old, and three year old sleep ok, but my 1 year old is still waking several times per night, I had no idea how it was going to go this year! Night one camping is always a write off, so don’t expect your well laid plan to go smoothly the first night. There is excitement, my kids often nap on route to the destination, and so much exploring to do. We usually have a later than normal bed time, and it often takes about 30-45 minutes longer to get everyone down. Learning to let go of expectations has been very helpful for my sanity while camping!
So when it comes to actually putting three kids to bed, I toyed with the idea of staggering bedtime, putting my younger two down first and my daughter down when the boys went to sleep. Both ways seemed to be effective, and would be a great option if your little ones ages are more spread out. I found that most nights I would put all three to bed mostly at the same time. Older two down, then nurse the baby and bring him in after, lights out for all three at that time, it took some boundary setting, and discussions about being respectful to their siblings falling asleep, but it did work! I used the ceiling fan, or a portable white noise machine as well to help with outside noise from other campers and also one of the familiarities of home.
One of the questions I receive often is about late nights and early mornings, how do we avoid them? The answer is, time, the longer you camp, the more this sorts itself out! I have found that camping for 1 or 2 nights, especially 1 can be so hard for getting everyone into a routine. Usually by night 2 or 3, everyone has had plenty of fresh air and outside time, late nights and early mornings that they are ready to crash and get back onto schedule. It’s that blissful time when us adults finally get our evening time back and we can enjoy a campfire and peace and quiet. I have previously gone all out and used black out blinds over the windows to help prevent early mornings, but honestly I feel that it didn’t really help, and they even have blackout blinds at home.
Last but not least, practice makes perfect! If you only intend to camp once per year, it will be hard to get the family into the groove of being in a new space. We were fortunate enough to spend 30 nights in our new RV this year, and the last few nights went really well, the kids knew what to expect, and we were all so comfortable in the space. I’m sure my anxiety about it all was much lower by the end of summer as well, and we all know that kids can smell our fear! Moral of the story, get out there, camp more, and enjoy as much family time outdoors as you can making amazing family memories!