These dollar pom pom balls from Target were a hit with both my one year old and three year old. They are so simple to use, mess free, and oh so versatile. This is also an amazing fine motor skill activity for both kiddos.
What you will need:
Tweezers (if your child is ready for them)
It’s pretty easy to get this sensory bin up and going. Dump all the pom poms you have into the container, put some cups inside, and you have a sensory bin. The more pom poms you have the better. You can also getting different size pom poms to add even more fun to this activity. Let your little one explore the bin.
Depending on your child’s ability, have them sort by color or just dump the pom poms from one container to another. For my oldest, I gave him some tweezers to make it just a little more challenging. He not only had to sort the poms by color, but also use his fine motor skills to transfer the poms from the container to the cups.
Each of them had a blast playing with the pom poms and this will definitely be a sensory activity we come back to! It took my oldest 10 minutes to sort his pom poms. Ten minutes of concentration, hard work, and silence. I sat there is awe watching him maneuver the tweezers and pom poms. He had so much fun and worked so hard. He was so proud of himself and I was proud of him too!
We are only a couple of weeks away from the start of school. Hard to believe! Before we know it we will be hitting up the weekend fall festivals, watching football, and carving pumpkins. That sounds pretty good right about now since the forecasted heat index is 107 degrees. But back to school seems bittersweet.
Summer is so alluring. I think we always hold a childhood view of summer, as we should. Long days, less rules, salty hair, endless sunshine. For me, I imagine playing flashlight tag in my front yard, listening to crickets as I look out for fireflies along the tree line, and feeling the salt, sand, and sunscreen dry on my skin in the sun. That feels like summer. So even though I can’t stand the thought of this heat (thus me being inside typing on my laptop), I will miss summer. I will miss what summer means. I’ll miss my girlls’ sweaty blonde curls, sitting outside with popsicles guilt-free, watching them run after seagulls in the sand. So let’s make the best of the last days of summer. Let’s make a bucket list.
Here are some fun summery things that anyone can do, no matter where you live!
Go Out for Icecream
As I mentioned, popsicles are a summer staple for us, but nothing feels more nostalgic than going out for an ice-cream cone after dinner and sitting outside trying to eat it before it melts away. Take your kids out and let them pick from the menu, then snack away while watching the sunset. Or, enjoy the atmosphere of an ice-cream shop if it’s a million degrees out. It still beats sitting around at home counting down until bedtime!
Build an Epic Sandcastle
No beach needed (although it’s preferred), just a sandbox or a visit to the playground will do. We often play in the sand on the volleyball court at our local park! Make a real sand castle and have your kids scavenge to decorate it: shells, sticks, leafs, even making toothpick flags for it at home. Snap a few photos to remember it by, and try to make an even bigger one next summer! For fairly cheap, you can buy or make a sand table and let the fun stretch into the fall.
Go for a Sunset Walk
When sunset is after 8pm, it’s pretty exciting to be able to stay up as a kid and do something, anything, when you’d usually be in bed. It’s been awhile, but I remember that feeling vividly. It makes whatever you are doing more exciting. Grab a couple flashlights and take a walk at sunset. Enjoy chatting with the family, screen-free, and talk about the sky’s colors and other things you see. Then whip out the flashlights and walk back under the moonlight. What kid doesn’t love flashlights? They’ll have a blast and be tired enough for bed!
What’s better than watching kids run and shriek with glee in the backyard? Not much. My daughter asks to do this every other day or so. Sometimes we see fireflies outside, and sometimes we don’t. But the thought of catching these little glowing bugs to serve as her nightlight makes her so happy. Definitely a great summer to-do item. If you can’t find fireflies, make some out of construction paper and have your kids look for them in the backyard with a flashlight for a little bug scavenger hunt. They’ll still have a blast!
Watch a Movie Outside
Set up a picnic blanket in the shade (or a tent if you’re feeling adventurous) and watch a family film outside. Add pizza or popcorn if you dare! Whether you use a projector, an iPad, or your phone, it’s different enough to peak your child’s interest. Plus, you could probably take a book outside and squeeze some “mom time” in! Win-win.
Visit a pool or splash pad while you can, because many of them close Labor Day weekend leaving both kids and parents a little sad! Especially when you live in a place where temps stay in the 80s through October (or November or December!) Pools can be elusive as most require memberships and guest passes are a thing of the past. See if there are any public pools (or pools where you can buy a day pass) in your area, or visit your local Parks & Rec page for your county to find public splash pads.
Last but not least, schedule a family day. You only get 18 summers with them. That means even though my oldest is 3, we are 1/6th of the way through her summers with us. SAD! We try to travel and go camping and spend as much time together as possible, but time will still fly. Find a summer festival, pack a picnic, or plan a day trip everyone can make and soak up that summertime bliss. Then daydream of all the ways you can make summer magical again in 9 short months.
How do you soak up summer? What activities should we add to our bucket list? Share in the comments below!
There are few things more stressful than dragging kids to a place they don’t want to be, and having to wait there. The doctor’s office, DMV, oil changes, etc. We don’t always have a choice to go solo, and we can’t make the wait any shorter. Plus, we don’t want to be there either! Even during family outings we find ourselves with downtime in which we need to keep our kiddos busy, like waiting for food at a restaurant or waiting in line for a fair ride.
Here are some tried & true ways (aside from sugar & screen time) to fun up those un-fun environments for kids:
Old School Games
Our parents used to drag us everywhere, and didn’t have tiny TVs or gameboys to hand us. Have we forgotten so easily? Sometimes when we struggle for the answer with our littles we just need to look back. In this case, look back to what our parents and grandparents did.
One of my favorite things to do with my preschooler while we are waiting somewhere is play “I Spy.” We once had to wait 3 hours in Urgent Care and the silver lining was getting to learn more about how my child’s mind works. We played “I Spy” for about 2 hours. We took turns and started with colors and then moved on to shapes and patterns. Even, “I spy something clear” or “I spy something with a dog on it” and she had a blast! I had a few laughs too at how clever her finds were. If this is too advanced for your child, simply name colors an have them point out something red, blue, green, etc.
We also like to list out animals. Animals that have a tail, animals that “roar”, animals that have fur. This isn’t as popular as “I Spy” in my household, but it gets your kids thinking and comparing. For older kids, bring out the ABC’s and tie in whatever they are into. ABC animals- aardvark, beaver, cat….ABC automobiles- airplane, boat, car…and so on.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Have your kid copy your actions. They’ll think it’s hilarious and you can keep them in line. If you are somewhere very public like a pharmacy waiting room, stick with facial expressions and hand movements. If you are confined privately to say a doctor’s exam room, break out the dance moves!
Work of Art
I always carry a few crayons and some scrap paper in my purse, but even those limited materials can be challenging to break out. One of my new favorite things for waiting rooms and car rides is Melissa & Doug’s Color Blast or Magic Wow coloring books. One mess-free marker and a neat little book is all you need, and it keeps kids busier than handing them some blank paper and a few crayons.
I know, I know, stickers can be ridiculous, but hear me out. For toddlers and preschoolers, even up to elementary school-age kids, the right sticker book can be a game changer. Hop on Amazon and search “sticker activity book” and see which strikes your fancy! My oldest loves the Sticker Dolly Dressing collection.
You can also print out our own matching game. Search online for free printables or use characters from your kid’s favorite movie to make your own. Puzzle and maze print-outs work well too! I often grab extras of these at restaurants or the public library. Here’s a website I stumbled across that has some cute activity worksheets you can print for free.
Real Life “Where’s Waldo”
This is kind of like a version of “I Spy” with people, so if you are somewhere you can people-watch, this can be pretty fun. We once had our car inspected at a building with a lot of sidewalk traffic outside, so we looked out the window and saw what we could see. I would tell my daughter, “Find someone with glasses,” or “Find the orange cat.” It’s surprisingly fun for adults too!
Re-Imagine a Favorite Book
Waiting around makes for some great reading if you ask me, but if you have little kids with you who can’t read on their own, bring a favorite book or two of theirs. I like to pack two that are full of possibilities, aka have very busy illustrations. You can use a book in so many ways. Find things in the pictures, ask your child to point out all of the letters that are in their name, make up your own story, etc.
Classic Deck of Cards
My daughter doesn’t quite understand all of her numbers yet, but loves counting and matching. While trying to keep her busy one rainy afternoon on a family beach trip we realized the magic of Crazy Eights. Ever played? If not, look up the rules! It’s the perfect card game for preschoolers. All they have to do is match the cards (same number or suit) and they can basically play unassisted. (Jumbo cards make it extra fun.)
Bring a String
Okay, call me crazy, but my daughter can entertain herself with a string for ages. She “ties knots,” drags it around, puts things on it. It sounds nuts, but sometimes simple objects bring out the most in their imagination. I have this car dash gripper for placing things in your car so they won’t roll around and she asks to play with it all the time. She pretends it’s a camera, folds it up different ways, all kinds of things. So toss a shoestring in your purse the next time you think about it and break it out when you’re waiting somewhere and let me know if your kid keeps busy too!
We hope this helps ease those unwanted waiting times. If you have any genius ideas, please share them with is! It takes a village!
Sometimes using paintbrushes or our to paint can become mundane, so we switched it up. I found a pair of cheap water guns that the kiddos could use easily and an idea was born : Water Gun Painting.
Who said water guns should only be used for water? Not I, so we used them to paint. Neither kiddo had ever used a water gun, so I knew this would be a really fun experience for them. While Gray dove right in, Charlie needed a bit more assistance working her water gun.
What do you need to get started?
Large pieces of paper
Easel (or fence)
We used acrylic paint, but you can use washable paint to save your little ones clothes. First, you want to dilute that paint and create a 50/50 water to paint solution. You can just eyeball it, it is not an exact science.
Then you want to load up your water gun with the paint/water solution. I squirted the water gun in the sink a few times until the paint started shooting out. That way when the kiddos start spraying it works instantly.
I brought our easel outside, but you could also tape a piece of paper to your fence. Once your piece of paper is secure, let them go to down.
Gray noticed that when you sprayed the blue on top of the yellow he made green. If you had three water guns it would be a lot of fun to use the primary colors to show how colors are made.
Try as you may to avoid it, having kids changes your social life, and I think for some people who have yet to have kids it’s hard to understand why the change is often very drastic.
“Why don’t you just have someone watch them for a little bit?” “Why don’t you sleep when they sleep?” “Why don’t you try telling them ‘no’?” “When I have kids they are going to listen to me, that’s for sure.” “At least since they are staying up late they will sleep in!” “Noisy kids in a restaurant is one of my biggest pet peeves.” “Just bring them with you!”
No, no, no.
This is a super sinister comparison, but what the heck, having kids is like contracting a virus. No, more like a lifelong disease. It impacts every single aspect of your being. How you breathe, how you sleep, what you can and can’t do, how you feel. It literally alters how you think. Are there ways around this? Sure thing! Some people manage to travel the world with their babies and change very little about the life they lived before. But for most of us, it will forever change how we live our lives. We need our friends who are not yet parents to understand that we are still us, and we still are still friends, we may just ask to do a few things differently. Just bear with us.
Most of you know Kate and I are military spouses. Among other things, that means we live away from home. Away from family and friends, and our husbands are often gone. When we have someone else watch our kids, it’s either A) each other, or B) relying on a stranger. And I know you don’t yet have kids to worry about, but it’s a scary world out there, and I am not that mom that interviews babysitters. I need to know you, I need to trust you. That may seem like a helicopter mom thing to say, but my next door neighbor told me her 18 month old was killed in a daycare fire, so no, I think I would rather bring my child along to our coffee date rather than hand them off to someone else. I think about 75% of parenthood is worrying about all the things that could happen. And even if I do get a babysitter, that’s costs money and doesn’t really relieve any stress because I have to anticipate everything he or she may need, pack it, and then worry about it the whole time we are hanging out. Sure, we watch each others kids from time to time, but that is no easy feat either, so please understand that sometimes it’s not that easy to just leave young children with someone else to get a little time away, no matter how much we need it. Conversely, it’s not always easy to just bring kids with us, because then we actually have to watch them instead of holding an adult conversation or enjoying the party. However; and this is very important, PLEASE KEEP INVITING US. We want to come and be our old selves, we want to feel included, we want to spend time with you too.
As a stay at home mom, I simultaneously feel like I don’t have a job, and also I have a job that never stops. I respect my friends that work full-time (and then some), especially those that work weird hours. I am glad I don’t have to do that. But please know that even though I am home all day, my life is also exhausting. I don’t get to sleep in. Ever. No one makes meals for me. I am a 24/7 Google search bar for my preschooler whose curious little brain wants to know why all the things are the way they are. I’m also a complaint box for my toddler who screams at me in a foreign language and I’m pretty sure would give me one star on Yelp. I am extremely thankful that I get to be a SAHM, but sometimes I want to complain. I want to vent. I want my friends to understand that my day spent at home was long and hard. You may think I get to play with kids all day and that’s awesome, and yes in many ways it is, but sometimes I want to just hide in the bath tub and listen to white noise, which by the way I can’t do because someone will probably harm themselves in the 30 seconds I am gone. And if I do get to sneak away for some “me” time, I always feel like I’m staring at a stopwatch, seeing seconds fly by and feeling like I need to get back to my kids. So please know that my job may not be the same as your job, but it’s a hard job, and just like you complain about yours, I may want to complain about mine too.
You would think that with all the hours in the day, I could clean or do laundry while I’m at home. You probably look at my laundry on the couch or see dishes in the sink and think “Man, if I have a full-time job and do this, why can’t she find the time?” Or actually you probably don’t think that at all, you’d help me in a heartbeat if I asked, but that’s what I am worrying that you are thinking because I often feel like I should be able to do it all. Trying to get anything done during the day when your kids are home is like trying to type a research paper with an undo button on repeat every 10 seconds. I put toys away, it’s instantly the most fascinating thing in the room and my kids must play with it. I fold laundry and my preschooler wants to “help”, which really means take laundry from the folded pile and try to fold each one again. Cooking meals takes extra time because I have to tell my kids, “it’s hot!”, “don’t touch!”, and “stay back please!” a million times, and again the preschooler wants to help. I once sent my friends a picture of dirty laundry in color-sorted piles lining my hallway and one friend said, “I don’t think I have ever seen that much dirty laundry in my life.” It didn’t hurt my feelings. It was a lot of laundry. When you have two small children who are messy eaters and play in the dirt and the water you never get to have empty laundry baskets, that’s for sure! And FYI, if you sleep when the baby sleeps, that means you never get any of the above done either. It’s very unfortunate.
Have I gotten annoyed at a baby crying in a movie theater? Sure. A lot of things used to bother me before having kids. I never knew getting crapped on could actually bother me so little, but what do you know?! Please know that some parents take their kids places as a way to enjoy their time together (not doing kid things) and that means that the kids can get a little bored. Having fussy kids in a restaurant is MUCH MORE annoying to us than it is to you, trust me, we just may not show it on our faces. We have to choose our battles and therefore our frustration at our kids often lives deep inside and slowly just eats away at our souls, that’s all. We also would prefer our kid not cry or throw rolls but to us, it’s worth it to have a little time out when we are used to cooking mac n cheese. We are sorry that our kids cause a ruckus. We wish that wasn’t the case too, but kids are kids.
Trying to talk to kids when you don’t have kids can be challenging. I’ve been there myself. Sometimes you don’t even know what they are trying to tell you. You smile and nod and say “ohhh, cool!” on repeat. But please be mindful of what you say when they are around, because they are ALWAYS listening. Even in a conversation you are having with me, they are listening, and they will ask questions later. Also, some common topics to avoid: dead pets, Santa, sweet treats or any food not currently in my house, and anything scary. If I spend MONTHS convincing my child that ghosts do not exist, and you come in and they say, “What was that noise?” and you say “A ghost, eek!” I will gut you with my eyes. True story. Getting kids to eat vegetables, getting kids to not be scared, these are just some of the things we spend so many man hours on, please don’t ruin it for us! And if you mention some food that we don’t have I am going to hear about it every day until I buy it.
Please know that kids also defy logic. If they stay up two hours after their bedtime, they will not sleep in later. They will wake up at the same friggin’ time with an attitude like they have a hangover. There is this thing called “overtired” where they get SO tired that they are actually restless, and it is real. And it is scary. So if we have to leave early or skip an event because of child nap times or bedtimes, please know it is for our own sanity. We wish we could be there. If we make an exception for you, you know that we must like you a whole lot! A young kid staying up late is similar to Daylights Savings, it takes several days to adjust after.
I want to be clear that I am not speaking to my friends directly, or any friend in particular. (Except you Jeremy, the ghost comment was not cool!) This is just an open letter to things I have heard or had said over the years. All of this is in good fun. As parents, we are used to the stereotypical sayings and assumptions. We get it ALL THE TIME. Even from other parents. The point is, we don’t really know anyone’s whole life, do we? The friend that works 60+ hours a week in the medical field, the mother of one who has to give her child multiple medical treatments each day, the friend without kids who desperately wants kids, the mother of five under five who barely keeps her head above water but always has a smile on her face. We don’t know, so we don’t judge. Or we try not to. There is always someone worse off than you. There is always someone better off than you. The best you can do is be understanding. When a friend says they can’t come, they can’t talk right now, believe the best in them. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Believe that they are trying to juggle all the things, but right now something is more important and it is not a reflection of you. Also know that we don’t just assume you think badly of us. You overlook our laundry and dishes and restaurant tantrums and so much more with understanding eyes. Sometimes we just worry we don’t have it all together, just like I’m sure you do.
To my friends without kids, I love you. Thank you for being my friends. Thank you for letting me be yours.
Let me start off by saying, I am by no means a baker, but I do love cookies. When I found this super easy recipe, had to give it a try. It looked pretty fool proof and it turns out it was. The cookies came out so good and stayed soft and chewy for over a week. So, lets get started!
Birthday cake mix
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/3 cup oil
Start by preheating your oven to 350°F.
While your oven is heating up, combine the cake mix, chocolate chunks, oil and eggs. Mix until they are combined.
If you have a melon baller, use that to form the cookie balls. We don’t have one, so we used our hands. Right before the cookies go in, garnish them with sprinkles!
Pop the cookies in the oven for 12-15 minutes.
Just like that, you have delicious cookies for everyone to enjoy.
This recipe yielded 24 cookies. I stored mine in a Ziploc bag with a piece of bread to keep them soft!
It has been HOT here in North Carolina, so we have been eating a ton of popsicles. As my kids sat there devouring their sugary treat I couldn’t help but wonder how I could make it a bit healthier. I don’t know if its just my two kiddos, but they have a ton of energy all they time. Feeding them basically frozen sugar water wasn’t doing myself any favors.
So, I hopped on good old Amazon and ordered some popsicle molds. Thanks to prime, two days later they arrived on my doorstep. You would have thought I would be googling recipes while I wanted for the molds, but nope I didn’t. Of course, my son was so excited when they arrived we needed to make popsicles immediately or so he told me.
I found a few recipes on Pinterest, but didn’t have nearly enough ingredients for any of them. So, we created our own!
This is not an exact science and you can add or substract whatever ingredients you may like. We did not add sugar and I think the popsicles came out pretty sweet. Bonus, my kiddos loved them as well.
How to make them:
Chop up some watermelon and throw it into the blender.
Juice about a half of a lime and add that in as well. *This is where you’d add the sugar, if wanted. *
Once everything is smoothly blended together pour it into the molds. Leave about a half inch at the top for the popsicles to expand when freezing.
This was the hardest part for my son, put them in the freezer for at least 4 hours. I am pretty sure I heard the question ” Are they done yet?” at least 20 times that day. So, in retrospect it may be best to make these at night and skip the “Are they done yet?” question.
Once they in fact were done, the verdict was in and they were a success. We can’t wait to try out different flavors this summer.
What are some of your favorite popsicles flavors? I would love some ideas for next time.
My one year old is very into picking things up and putting them in something…a bin, a toy box, a random kitchen drawer, the garbage can. Oh yes, we find toys everywhere. She’s THAT child. So I like to make some activities for her where she can sort and store at will. Here are two DIY activities that are really simple!
Start by showing your child how to thread the pipe cleaner into the colander. Let them play with putting it in, pulling it out, and feeding it through. Even twisting it up a little bit! Our colander has different shaped holes as well which makes for fun trial and error to see where it will fit. We added a step today by threading Apple Jacks cereal on some of the pipe cleaners. My 3 year old enjoyed that part a lot more!
Parmesan cheese is pretty essential in our household and therefore I often buy the big container. Ours was almost out so I just transferred it to a new container and cleaned out the parmesan cheese shaker, which is great for sorting! We used q-tips but you can also use beans or other small child-safe objects to place in the two different sides. (I recommend adult supervision with q-tips so they don’t try to stick them in places they shouldn’t go…because kids.)
This was definitely the favorite of the two activities. My 3 year old spent more time with the colander than my 1 year old, and even took it over to her play kitchen to “make pasta” so hey, the activity that keeps on giving! They both loved putting the q-tips in and then opening the other side to try and shake them all out.
Have any tried and true activities using household items? Please share below!
In life, there are a few things that are harder then we anticipate. Keeping a clean house seems to be one of them for many of us. Because of children, pets, and daily life, keeping a clean house can seem like an impossible task. Like most things in my life, I decided to tackle this problem with a list and routine.
List most of us, I made myself a New Years resolution. My personal goal was to decrease stress in my life. A messy house creates a messy mind, which in turn creates a stressed out me! So, the brainstorming took hold. I knew I needed a structured plan to get the cleaning train moving. I also knew the more I kept on top of my cleaning routine the faster the daily process would be. Think about it, if you clean your floors once a week, there is less dirt to scrub off then if it’s been a month. And just like that a cleaning schedule was born.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your home can’t be 100% cleaned in one day either. Let’s be honest, your home will never be spotless, because that’s just life. But, you can keep your house clean and yourself sane by breaking down your cleaning into more manageable tasks. I break my tasks up into two categories: daily and weekly. This helps me stay on top of things, without spending hours a day cleaning.
What does that weekly schedule look like? Well here it is:
Monday: Bathrooms: my least favorite thing to clean on my least favorite day. I do bathrooms first, so I can get it checked off the list.
Tuesday: Downstairs floors. Vacuum and mop all the floors on your main floor.
Wednesday: Declutter: Wednesday is trash day, so I go around and collect all trash, recycling, and giveaway items. This is a great way to reduce clutter in your house as well.
Thursday: Upstairs floors. Vacuum and mop all the upstairs floors.
Friday: Catch up: Use this day to check up on anything you may have missed over the week.
Saturday: Clean out the fridge & Meal plan! Create your weekly meal plan to make your grocery shopping trip a breeze.
With my weekly tasks, come my every single day tasks. These activities do not take long, but help move everything along smoothly.
Empty the dishwasher: put away all the dishes from the night before.
Reload the dishwasher with left over dishes.
Throw in a load of laundry
Load and rerun the dishwasher.
Wipe down all the counters.
Scrub the sink.
Put away laundry.
Take 15 minutes to clean up.
Helping clean up the playroom.
This cleaning schedule has saved me so much time and stress. I check things off as I go and I don’t have the feeling looming over me that I should be cleaning. I can spend my free time making memories with my kiddos and relaxing.
The goal here is to keep your house clean, while spending less time actually cleaning. Remember, your house doesn’t have to be spotless because you and your family do live in it. I hope this cleaning routine saves you time that you can use to build and grow those precious memories with your family.
Last summer, my husband got a wild hair about getting a camper. With him being an avid tent camper and huge fan of roughing it, and me not, I got on board pretty quickly. This would be like glamping! We decided a used pop-up camper was the way to go, just in case it wasn’t for us we could re-sell and not be out a huge investment. My husband searched daily and found one pretty quickly. Living the military life and having two little kids (and two dogs) doesn’t make it easy to travel, so our goal with the camper was to take little adventures and make the most of our time together, while traveling affordably. We brought it home, cleaned it out, and took inventory of everything we had and what we might need. We actually lucked out and got a lot of freebies thrown in with our camper, so we decided to be ambitious and take a trip right away!
Between last summer and now, we have learned a lot. I’ll admit, there have been days where I wonder WHY in the world we thought this was a good idea and I swear we aren’t taking another trip ANYTIME soon. But then, much more often, there are days where I just feel bliss, and soak up all the memories I possibly can, watching my kids experience things and creating ways to play that they never would have at home. Last week I rocked my youngest to sleep in a hammock under the last light of day, listening to crickets and birds, in the middle of a National Forest. Just take a second to appreciate how cool that sounds! We’ve seen lighthouses, mountains, and waterfalls all just in the past 9 months. Every single time we pack up, I am so so so thankful we took the trip, no matter what tiny struggles we may have had. So, if you are thinking of camping, in a tent or camper (we have done both with two babies!), here are my words of wisdom:
Start somewhere close. When we planned our first trip in the camper, we went an hour away from home. We tried to anticipate all the things that could go wrong and decided that worst case scenario, we could drive home at any hour of the day. We also chose to go to a KOA, which as new “campers” we learned stands for Kampgrounds of America. What is great about these is the amenities, and their consistency. Almost every KOA has the same amenities and they are AMAZING for kids. Bathrooms, showers, pools, little convenience stores, dog parks, and rentals, among other things. Since we were worried about keeping little ones entertained, a KOA sounded like a great first trip! We also watched several videos on YouTube to make sure we had everything our camper might need, like proper electrical hookups for example. When we planned our first tent camping trip, my oldest was 15 months old and I was 3 months pregnant, so we also decided a local-ish trip was the way to go and picked a National Forest campground near my parent’s house. Having home close by is a good safety net and stress reliever in my opinion!
Toss expectations out the window. Coming on strong with #2 on the list, I know, but let’s just get it out of the way. Parts of this are going to be challenging. While camping with kids, at some point you will STRUGGLE. When campgrounds are by a river or covered in huge boulders and you can see that spark in their tiny toddler eyes, your brain may short-circuit for a minute while you wrap your mind around how to keep your child from seriously injuring themselves. That’s okay. Just agree up front that you are going to be as “go with the flow” as possible. This is new, and new things come with a learning curve. Our first trip, we forgot coffee. This was DETREMENTAL! The second trip we remembered coffee but forgot cream and sugar. Better, but not ideal. We had a coffee curse! But now, just having completed our last trip this past week over spring break, packing and grocery shopping came relatively quick and easy. You WILL get the hang of it, it WILL be worth it, and your kids WILL have fun (and you will too.) Don’t stress over if they are eating enough fruit or if they get unbelievably dirty, or if you forget to pack a couple things. Treat it like the vacation that it is and try to make the best of what you’ve got! One thing that helps calm my nerves when going new places is to research the campgrounds and look for photos online of what to expect. I do this by using good ol’ Google and also by searching hashtags on Instagram, either of the campground name or park name. That way I can set expectations accordingly.
Pack familiar things. Nearly everything you are about to do is going to be different. One saving grace for me was bringing a travel high chair. When my youngest daughter was 9 months old, we went to the Outer Banks. She couldn’t walk, but MAN could she crawl. And if you haven’t been inside a pop-up, crawling is a little worrisome! So being able to strap her in her seat for snacks and meals, even to play with toys while we cooked dinner, was a lifesaver. Also be sure to pack favorite stuffed animals, blankets, or whatever comfort items you would usually pack for your kiddos, because camping does bring along unfamiliar places and noises! I suggest pack-n-plays or dock-a-tots for little ones so that they can nap/play easy. Monkey Mats also come in very handy for being able to play anywhere.
Bring along layers. Packing clothing for you and your kids is a little tough, because while you want to pack light for a tight space like a tent or camper, you also want to have enough clothing. When we went camping in the mountains this past October it was our first time “dry-camping.” That means that while our camper has hookups for electricity and water, we camped on a campground without. That also means no heat or AC. The first day we were in t-shirts and long pants, loving the fall weather. The last night, we experienced 60+ MPH gusts which shook our entire soft top camper, I was convinced a huge tree was going to crush us, and the wind chill was in the teens. Sleeping under lantern light and no heat with a 2 year old and 10 month old. Insane right?! But we made it and we agree it was our best trip ever. It’s funny how challenging or uncomfortable things sometimes form the fondest memories. Make sure to pack layers, rain jackets, etc for any possible weather. And a FEW duplicate clothing items, because kids.
Keep toys simple. Time to go back to basics! Staple toys for us, no matter the destination, include a bucket and a shovel. I also have recently started including a little Tupperware container for temporary critter observation (lol). For my youngest, I like to throw in a few toys from home that keep her entertained: something to read, something that makes noise, something to chew on, and something to stack/build. At the age they are now (3 and 16 months), I include play-doh and crayons/paper for some crafting, and the iPad in case the weather is bad and we need to watch a movie until the rain passes. The iPad also doubles as a sound machine for daytime naps! When selecting what to pack to keep kiddos entertained, try to find the balance between pushing them to be creative and explore their surroundings, and you staying sane. Remember why you want to take them camping in the first place and try to be creative yourself, and make the most of your time in the wild as a family. Play can be ANYTHING.
Push yourself. Also during that aforementioned mountain trip, we arrived to our campsite at 1:30am, set up in the dark, and went to sleep around 3am. We then woke up at 5am to make a 30 minute drive and see the sunrise on Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. Hiking up that short trail to the summit with nature completely silent around us and being alone on top of a mountain watching a new day?! Oh man. We ALL did it with smiles on our faces and it was a breathtaking experience. I’ll never forget. Camping is adventure, so make sure you bring your adventurous side. See the sights, eat the food, make the drive. We hiked to see a lighthouse and sweated through our clothes. We tent camped by a river and were eaten alive by bugs. We snuggled in one bed as freezing wind shook our surroundings. These are the stories we write together, as a family. The good laughs and fond memories come from experiences that stand apart from all the rest.
Some of our must-take prodcuts: Cutter All Family wipes are amazing, and probably worked the best for us! We snagged these Para’kito wrist bands and clip for the babies from Walmart. They are baby safe (all natural ingredients/essential oils) and work well as a back-up, but wouldn’t recommend them being your only insect repellent. We also use Thermacell repellants and citronella candles around the campsite if it’s really bad. Coppertone Water Babies works best for us, we love the whipped sunscreen, but Babyganics makes great products too.
My packing list for the kids: -sunscreen -bug control -thermometer & baby tylenol, along with first aid kid -hats -For warmer months: light jacket or rain jacket, for colder months: layered clothing up to a heavy jacket -basic toys -iPad (sound machine or a bad weather day) -diapers, wipes, potty -plastic grocery bags for dirty diapers, wet clothes, etc. -towels & baby shampoo -kid-safe antibacterial hand sanitizer or antibacterial wipes -pillows & stuffed animal -bedtime story -baby carrier (I bring my Tula and my WildBird sling) -bathing suit, water shoes, and foldable pool for warmer months -Monkey Mat
Remember, camping doesn’t have to be roughing it. One of the reasons we got a camper was to ultimately save cost on vacations. Many theme parks, national landmarks, and other attractions have designated camping areas (even Disney!) where you can stay and sight-see. We haven’t been able to do this yet, but it’s on our bucket list. Since getting our camper, we have slowly added upgrades to make traveling further more attainable, such as a composting toilet, outdoor canopy, and gated fence for our dogs (and kids, lol). We love dreaming up all the places we will go!
Now, start planning your adventure! Feel free to comment if you want to know anymore about our camp life!