Camping with a Preschooler

I wrote this a few weeks ago when we were at Alice Lake for Kale’s very first camping trip:

So, I’m camping. Yes, that’s right, I am currently at a campsite about 60 minutes away from my house and I have brought my computer and am currently tethering my cell phone and clacking away while the rest of the family is otherwise occupied. I brought my computer because I have nothing but work to accomplish right now, and taking three days off has thrown a big ugly wrench in the works. But! I have wine, so things are okay. It rained for a few hours earlier today and I was reminded of camping I did as a young girl, with Girl Guides and my mom as the leader.

And then my internet connection pooched and so I did some stuff on Excel and put away my computer.

We lived in Williams Lake for a few years when I was 8-12, when the city still had beehive burners in downtown. Williams Lake is an interesting town city (which you can see from their website they are all about helicopters, cows, and old barns. Jesus Christ, who does the marketing for this place? Would it be that hard to find pictures of smiling residents enjoying their city? What the?), and the campsite was close to town, featured a teepee (yes, really) and was creatively named the Chief Will-Yum campground and owned by the Williams Lake Indian Band. There really was a Chief William, and here’s a totally depressing statement he made in 1879. The domain of now goes to a rebranded Coyote Rock Golf and Camp, so it appears that Chief Will-Yum is now a master planned community centred around a golf course with some camping spaces thrown in. According to their website they can accomodate up to 299 people (aka, they have a big ass field) for all your group camping needs. In any event, I remember camping there as a Girl Guide and it was good times. I’m totally going to get Mom to dig up the photos and you guys will LAUGH at my coolness. That was not my first camping trip – I have oodles of memories of camping in a big ol’ camper in a giant rust coloured truck and hiding in the bunk on BC Ferries and tents and lakes and sunsets. The hishhhhhhhhh of the lanterns and stoves and pumping up air mattresses with a foot pump.

Anyway, Alice Lake was great. It did rain for that two hours which kind of sucked, but Kale and I spent the time mostly in the tent and he drained the battery on my iPhone and I read a book. He LOVED the tent, and we brought his mattress off his bed and let him sleep in one of Ross’ two sleeping bags which was a giant hit.

This is a picture of a small blonde 3 year old who is grinning ear to ear in a blue sleeping bag.
Testing out the sleeping bag upon arrival.

I do recommend a few things about camping with a preschooler.

Bring distraction devices. Whether it’s crayons and paper or books or a puzzle or games or your iPhone, bring something to break up the day. We weren’t expecting rain but that two hours in the tent would not have been possible without my phone, and I didn’t think ahead to bring crayons or other goodies. I had brought some books but he wasn’t into books at that moment and we had no back up. Next time I will remember to bring some random crafty things.

Don’t have high expectations about doing lots of scheduled stuff. This is part of the beauty of camping, I think, but some people like to accomplish a lot when they are camping and plan hikes and outings and blocks of time. The whole experience is so fun, I don’t think Kale needed a whole lot of activities outside of rainy time.

See if the campsite you are at has any interpretive programs and check them out. I have many memories of learning about wildlife and flora at various BC Parks over the years. They didn’t have anything scheduled at Alice Lake, but they did have a little amphitheatre that looks relatively well used.

Throw your sleeping schedules out the window. You’re not at home so let it go and just enjoy. Kale didn’t nap the entire time we were camping (but he did nap for FOUR hours the day we came home) and he stayed up ridiculously late. He was good natured and cheerful the entire time.

Let them enjoy the mundane. For example, walking with a flashlight at night. We bought Kale a kid sized headlamp and WHAT A HIT it was. Washing dishes with the two basins, looking for a good marshmallow stick, using an outhouse, and setting up his camp chair were incredibly fun for Kale as well. Just experiencing the firsts was enough for him.

There were other firsts: first time swimming in a lake (loved it) and he got to get pulled out to a dock, first time around a campfire (instantly respectful of it) and most importantly, first marshmallow roasting and consumption which ultimately became the symbol for all things camping.

This is a picture of a 3 year old blonde boy roasting a marshmallow under the careful supervision of his dad.
Just above the flame, slowly rotate it.
This is a picture of a 3 year old blonde boy trying his first bite of marshmallow.

Man, that picture kind of makes me teary. Anyway, we went camping with Ross’ brother Erik, my sister in law Andrea, and their son. I was delighted to discover that Erik shares my camping fashion sense.

Total faux pas – he’s wearing the same outfit as me! My stylist is so totally fired.

After we packed up the site and were just about to head out, we took a group shot to commemorate the first time we’ve all camped together:

There is something weird going on with this post that is preventing you from seeing this spectacular picture. 

10 years ago


  1. We should mention that Erik and Andrea are seasoned car campers…we are not. So bring what you think is appropriate for your type of camping, but bring a pen and paper because guaranteed you will discover things you want to bring next time; write them down.

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