Kids Bed Time at Camp


An excerpt from The Family Camping Guide. 175 pages. Available from Apple iBooks for only $4.99 CAD

ISBN: 978-0-9698297-9-9

Sleeping in a tent or camper van is foreign and a little scary for a lot of young children. For that matter, it’s foreign and scary for a lot of adults. It’s not their “own” bed, the tent walls move with every breeze, forest noises can be un-nerving and the bathroom isn’t just “down the hall.”

Everyone needs to get used to the idea of sleeping outdoors. Of course running the kids ragged is a time honoured tradition that will allow them to sleep on a cold, hard rock if needed, but depending on age, getting them into as normal a “bed time routine” as possible seems to help get them settled with less fuss.

The usual, going to the washroom, brushing their teeth, washing their hands, getting the last small glass of water, story time and a kiss on the forehead goes a long way in making the experience of “tenting” less worrisome.

Still, we grown-ups need to recognize it’s not going to be business as usual when it comes to bedtime. Like you, they’ll want to sit around the campfire and talk, stare into the flames and listen to the coyotes howl in the distance. They won’t want to miss any of the stories the adults tell around the fire. They’ll want to be part of all that. You might need to relax your own standards about what time they “should” go to bed and let it ride a bit. Pick your battles and all that.

Sometimes one parent, guardian or older teen going to bed at the same time in the same tent helps with insecurity issues.

The youngest ones need to know that you’re only outside the tent door, tending to the fire, so they can rest easy. We used to leave the tent door open and the bug screen secured, so that our daughter could just look out from the tent and see us relaxing by the fire and enjoying the evening, chatting between ourselves, while she nestled in her down filled sleeping bag.

The young ones need to understand that they can’t just get up in the middle of the night and run down to the outhouse. They need to wake mom, dad or an older teen to walk them where they need to go. If they need to go, there’s no arguing with it. Don’t make them feel they should “hold it." Don’t make a big deal out of it. Just get on with getting them to the loo and back to bed as quickly as safely as you can.

Everyone having their own flashlight helps avoid stubbed toes, missing shoes and uncertainty when night falls. (See the section on Camp Lighting below.)

A Few Sleeping Tips

In my experience, when it comes to trying to get the family out in the natural world, it’s usually dad driving the train – not always, but usually. Dad probably has old gear from his, “camping-with-the-boys” days, but that won’t cut it. This is family camping and you don’t need to “rough it” any longer. Good, comfortable, reliable gear is easily bought or rented from outfitters like Mountain Equipment Co-op.

  • Be sure to use a comfortable sleeping mat or camp cot. Why would you sleep on the hard, cold ground, with a rock in your back, when it’s completely avoidable?

  • Select a sleeping bag appropriate for the persons size and sleeping habits and be sure it’s rated for the temperature you expect to encounter. (See the section on Sleeping Bags in the next chapter.)

  • Bed wetters are well looked after with a sleeping bag liner from DryDefender™. These are comfortable cotton sleeping bag liners that are backed with waterproof lamination. Easy to wash and dry. These available from the bedwettingstore.com

  • Have a few extra fleece blankets on hand if the night turns chilly

  • Keep all foods and drinks out of the tent. No need to attract bugs or animals

  • If you read to the kids at bedtime, you should continue to do so. Anything that helps reinforce a familiar routine is good

  • Keep inhalers, necessary medicines and what-not close at hand, in a sealed container in the tent. Most tents have small built in pockets in the side or corners for just this purpose. Other tents have a “gear loft” which is suspended from the ceiling of the tent

  • No matches, lighters or candles should make their way into the tent

  • Be sure everyone has a comfortable pillow

  • If younger kids sleep with a certain stuffed animal or doll, there’s no reason you shouldn’t take it along for the trip

  • Expect disruptions from the kids at night. Frankly there’s no avoiding it. Weird dreams, cries for help in the darkness, getting stuck in a sleeping bag, hearing scary noises, etc. It’s part of the tenting experience I’m afraid. Don’t make a big deal of it, just get the kids settled down and you’ll all soon be back to sleep.


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