Learn To Camp – Family Camping Tips

The kids and I were guests of Ontario Parks and participated in their Learn To Camp program at Six Mile Lake Provincial Park.

As always, our opinions are experiences are our own.

Miss M and Little Man might be seasoned explorers but I just took them their first-time tent camping ever. Yes, they have slept in yurts at MacGregor Point Provincial Park, cabins at Bonnechere Provincial Park, Minka tents at Presqui’le Provincial Park, but never a tent on the ground. I felt like a failure. Especially since I am an experienced back-country camper – you can see my portage on the Serpertine Loop in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park here.

Have you ever taken your children camping before? Or thought about doing it but figured it would be too much work? Let me tell you, setting up a tent is super easy. As a single mom, I actually thought that this would be hard even though I can set up a tent all by myself. With the help of the Park Ambassador, Olivia and the Learn To Camp program at Six Mile Lake Provincial Park, the kids learned how to set up their tent at the campsite and be good campers.

Why Should You Learn To Camp?

For me, camping has always been a way to commune with nature and appreciate the minimalist part of life. And certainly be disconnected from the outside world and spend quality time with friends and my family. Hello 3G or no cell phone range! Camping was a summer tradition with my parents and siblings growing up and I have some of the best memories of campfires in the evenings, riding my bike through campgrounds, fishing, splashing in a new beach every week and making all sorts of new friends from all over North America.

Camping is awesome for families, for friends and for anyone who wants to camp and enjoy nature. Read on for family camping tips and camping hacks with kids.

Roasting marshmallows at campsite while learning to camp at Six Mile Provincial Park

Who Can Learn To Camp?

Everyone can learn to camp. As a parent, I can definitely see how camping with kids is not easy. As a single mom, it’s difficult. When I go with friends, we all are experienced and know how to set up camp and prepare food and bear-proof our site without teaching moments required. But, my job as a parent is to teach my kids about, and how to thrive in life. For them to learn to camp is teaching them extremely important life skills. Camping teaches kids how to identify and set up a site, set up a structure for shelter, how to build and maintain a campfire, cooking meals over a fire, animal and campsite cleanliness and safety along with camping without leaving a trace. They will also learn how to respect and treat nature well.

Camping also involves a lot of physical work. It’s not tough work to put up tents and set up camp, but some coordination is involved. If you have never camped before, don’t worry! I’ll list everything you need for your first camping trip below and I’m going to tell you how easy it was for my kids to set up our tent.

Six Mile Lake Learn To Camp - identifying the right spot to set up the tent and unrolling the tent.

How To Set Up A Tent Camp

With the help of Six Mile Provincial Park‘s ambassador, Olivia, my kids got to work figuring out which part of the campsite was the best to set up on and why. First, we got to choose our tent spot and that was done by making sure the area was flat and free of rocks and debris. This was we can sleep soundly without blood rushing to our heads or a stone poking in our backs.
Hot tip for new campers – you can book time with a Park Ambassador at one of Ontario Parks participating parks for a free 30 minute socially distanced one-on-one workshop right at your campsite for car campers only. You can learn all about what they can teach you and more here: Learn to Camp. My kids wanted to learn how to set up camp and then also took part in the Discovery Program in the park as well. More on that later.
Now that found our tent spot, we unrolled the tent and found the tent door. We moved it to where we wanted it. Not too close to the fire pit and also not facing away from the dining table. Third, we assembled all of the tent poles and slid them into the sleeves and clips.
Six Mile Lake Provincial Park Learn To Camp. Putting poles through the tent to stand it upright.
Then we raised the tent by making sure the two longest poles crossed at the top and secured them to the tent. They bent into a flexible arc and nothing required too much strength, but I don’t think myself or one of the kids could have done it on our own with a tent this size. Once we had the tent framed up, we pegging the tent into the ground so it won’t move in the wind. Securing the tent with pegs keeps our sleeping area secure.
Lastly, we put a fly over the tent to protect us from any rain or harsh sun. So if my kids can put up a tent, anyone can do it. Once you arrive at your campsite, I cannot stress how important it is to make the best use of the daylight and get your tent and site set up BEFORE you make yourself comfortable.
Six Mile Lake Provincial Park Learn To Camp, setting up a tent

Is Camping With Children Safe?

⁣⁣⁣Camping will always be safe as long as you take proper precautions to protect yourself from animals, keep your campsite clean and have the right equipment. You can be any age and have a safe camping experience. Unless you have a motorhome with full electricity, the iPads and tablets are going to run out of batteries and the children will learn camping skills. If you deem children playing in dirt as unsafe then camping might not be for you.

Children of any age can camp, from infant, onwards. Similar to if you were to take your child anywhere else for a vacation or getaway, you pack and plan. Here are some family camping tips and tricks:

Before the camping trip

  • Meal plan – Pack and prepare foods ahead of time that the kids eat at home.
  • Bring snacks they like, remove them from packaging at home and pack them in Tupperware or reusable containers.
  • Pack favourite items such as a toy or stuffie that brings them comfort.
  • Plan activities and games. Bring buckets and shovels like you would to the beach. Bring nets to catch butterflies or fireflies.
  • Pack clothing for all sorts of weather. Evening and nights can bring cool temperatures.
  • Pack bug repellent. Do not apply bug spray containing DEET to children younger than six months. Try to keep them covered instead.
  • Bring sunscreen, but for infants, younger than 6 months, use a hat and keep them in the shade.

At the campsite

  • Take the children on a walk of the campsite and identify the boundary of where the children can go and still be in sight of adults.
  • Make sure each child has their own flashlight. Headlamps are best for kids because they can’t put them down and lose them.
  • Make sure the children are aware to not leave food out anywhere so they aren’t feeding chipmunks or attracting bears.

Kids Learn to Camp at Six Mile Provincial Park

Tips for Camping With Infants

Infants are of course welcome to camp with the family as well. One of the things to keep in mind is that a tent is literally cloth or canvas and sound travels. We all have different methods of parenting and dealing with our babies when they cry. The one piece of advice I would love to see followed is to take the crying baby out of the tent and bring the baby into your car to calm them down. Be courteous to others and create a sound barrier between your baby and the rest of the campground, please.

Portable cribs or playpens from home with a receiving blanket or a stuffie can help infants have something familiar to keep them calm. Portable playpens can be moved in and out of the tent so that you can keep the baby outside and in the shade while cooking and they’re contained.

What Are The Benefits of Children Learning To Camp?

Children will learn a lot about being active while camping unless they just sit at the picnic table all day. Sulky teens will definitely be bumps on the logs for a couple of hours, but not the entire day. There is so much to do outdoors while camping. Every campground I have ever been in is full of children of all ages riding bikes or exploring.

Allowing the children to have a bit of independence in the outdoors instills a sense of adventure. City kids actually able to go beyond the confines of their yard? Inconceivable!

Personally, I want my kids to love the outdoors, be filled with adventure, and travel like I did growing up.  By having them learn to camp and teaching my kids about camping and exposing them to as many experiences as I can, I hope my legacy will live on in them and I hope they can respect the outdoors and leave it a little better than they found it.

Six Mile Lake Provincial Park beach with kids playing

What Do I Need To Pack To Go Camping?

You definitely need to pack the necessities when going camping. Beyond a tent and food, there are quite a few things I call essential camping items. If you are going to go camping more than once, I highly recommend creating a camping kit with waterproof Rubbermaid bins that can easily be re-packed and loaded into a trunk.

I have divided gear into a few different categories

Tent Camp Gear required for the campsite:

  • a tent for sleeping
  • a tent for dining (optional)
  • tent poles and pegs
  • a mallet
  • air mattress or air pad
  • sleeping bag (one for each camper)
  • firewood and kindling (if you think you need 1 bag, get two)
  • fire starters (matches / lighter)
  • axe
  • water jug
  • flashlights
  • batteries
  • rope
  • tarps
  • insect repellent
  • sunscreen
  • first aid kit (also a good idea to keep on in your vehicle)
  • duct tape
  • deck of cards
  • garbage bags

Camping Gear required for cooking and food preparation:

  • table cloth
  • camp stove and propane
  • washbasins (this is where the reference to dollar store hits)
  • biodegradable dish soap
  • paper towels
  • hand sanitizer
  • aluminum foil
  • pot
  • frying pan
  • cutting board
  • can opener
  • scissors
  • kitchen utensils such as tongs, flippers
  • marshmallow/kabob roasting sticks
  • plates, bowls, mugs, cutlery

Personal Items To Pack For a Camping Trip

  • clothes for all weather
  • rain jacket
  • rain boots
  • toiletries
  • bathing suits
  • quick dry towels
  • cooler with food (prepare meats at home first if possible in marinade)
  • non-perishable food
  • snacks

Be A Good Camper! Tips To Be A Kind and Courteous Camper

With an increased influx of new campers and people in Ontario Parks in the past couple of years, comes a whole new set of challenges. Camping is a learned behaviour, not something we know automatically how to do or how to behave while we are doing it.

Here are tips for new campers to be kind and courteous to everyone:

  • Leave your site cleaner than you found it. If there was any garbage on your site when you arrived, pick it up and dispose of it. Always pick up after yourself and ensure you haven’t left anything behind when you depart.
  • Do not wash dishes under water taps or in comfort stations. Please invest in basins from the dollar store, boil water and do it at your site.
  • Plan ahead and come prepared, this means arriving while there is still daylight to set up camp and knowing in advance that you need to buy firewood from the camp store.
  • Grocery shop at the nearest town before you arrive so you’re not driving your vehicle in and out constantly.
  • Check the Ontario Parks website before you leave so you know what facilities and activities are available before you visit the park.
  • Respect radio-free zones and noise limitations beyond certain times. Your camp neighbours may or may not enjoy your music after dinner.
  • Don’t feed the wildlife and please don’t try to attract animals.
  • Don’t chop down branches from trees for firewood.
  • Respect nature and the environment you are in.
  • Please keep your dogs and furry friends on a leash.
  • Stay on the trails in the parks.
  • Leave no trace.
  • Take only photos.

Six Mile Lake Provincial Park Living Edge Trail Boardwalk hiking etiquette

How To Keep A Clean Camp And Avoid Attracting Animals

One of the most important pieces of camping knowledge you could ever have is how to avoid attracting animals to your campsite. Here’s some common sense: animals smell food and they will come. You can mitigate the chances of them getting into your coolers and bags if you put them away.

At night and when you are not at your campsite, be sure that you have stored all food, drinks, coolers, dirty dishes and especially toiletries in your locked vehicle. Anything with a scent can attract wildlife. Garbage bags left out will attract animals. It’s good practice to try to camp as waste-free as possible. whatever waste that is created should be hidden in the trunk of your vehicle.

Try not to leave garbage in your fire pit or burn your garbage to dispose of it. There could still be small bits of food scraps that will attract animals. Pro tip – cans do not burn, but they are recyclable! In Ontario Parks, there is a place to bring all of your garbage and all of your recyclables. Please utilize it.

Here’s a term to learn – greywater. This is the term for your soapy, dirty dishwater after you have washed your dishes. Do not dispose of greywater by pouring it into the bushes at your campsite. First, all food should have been scraped off into the garbage first. Use a few drops of biodegradable soap in a basin with water to wash dishes. Rinse and when you are done, dispose of the greywater either at the vault toilets or at a sanitization station for trailers. If you want all the tips and tricks for washing dishes while camping, please see the Ontario Parks blog post on it here.

Six Mile Lake Provincial Park Site 86

What Else Is There to Do At Ontario Parks Campgrounds?

There are many activities and facilities at the over 340 Ontario Parks locations across the province. Hiking, fishing, birding, swimming, canoeing and biking are amongst the many activities you can partake in. Different parks have different amenities. I would highly recommend that you go to the website of the park you intend on visiting first before heading there. Some camps are only for day usage.

Six Mile Lake stand up paddleboards and kayaks available to rent

Did you know that you can rent canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards from numerous Ontario Parks locations? There is no need to bring your own canoe, kayak or SUP, especially if you don’t own one! For an idea of rental costs, I paid $45 for a four-hour canoe rental from 1:00 pm to 5;00 pm. The kids and I were lucky enough to take advantage and spend an afternoon paddling around Six Mile Lake while we were camping there. I was trying to teach them the J and Y stroke as my own father once taught me, but the lessons weren’t sticking, haha, next time 🛶

Some parks do not offer rentals at all. If you are hoping to rent any equipment, please check the website of the specific park to ensure that the facilities are operating and/or available.

Six Mile Lake Canoe Rentals. Mom and kids in canoe.

Discovery Program For Kids at Ontario Parks

One of the coolest things to do on this camping trip for Miss M and Little Man was to partake in the Discovery Drop-in program. Olivia was happy to greet the kids at the drop-in area and take them down to the marsh for wildlife catching and identification. Some really cool things the kids learned were how to figure out if a frog is a male or a female frog and how to spot signs of distress in frogs when kids are out catching them.

Six Mile Lake Discovery Program wildlife identification session

Other workshops are provided by park staff at the Discovery Drop-in during the months of July & August. Kids can have the opportunity to explore the park, observe plants and animals, and discover the wonders of nature. For up-to-date information, you’ll have to keep an eye out for the weekly calendar of events posted throughout the park you are visiting. Check the park information and activity section on the Ontario Parks website to see if the Discovery Program is available where you will be camping.

Six Mile Lake Discovery Program frog catching

⁣Turning Kids Into Campers For Life

For a first-time tent camping, my kids enjoyed it a lot. They had a lot of fun at Six Mile Lake Provincial Park. We were there for two nights and it felt like a short trip to us. We would definitely camp for longer next time!
While you’re in the outdoors, you might also want to check out my guide to Hiking Etiquette here!
Learn to Camp at Ontario Provincial Parks - family camping tips and tricks for first time campers and kids starting out. Packing list and how to be a good camper.

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  • I actually have never been camping before so I found this post really interesting! I do plan on doing it at some point so I’ll save this for when I plan my camping trip!

  • I think it is fantastic that you are dedicated to teach your children how to camp. Bravo Mom! Your article is inspiring. When my kids were growing up, we would set up the tent in our backyard as a kid adventure. They loved it!

  • My son went camping with his friend last month and had a blast. I’m not a fan of camping but this blog is very helpful for anyone who’s considering taking their kids on an adventure 🙂

  • These are such great tips! The time with a Park Ambassador sounds like a great opportunity! I bet the kids love that part! Hoping to get one more camping trip in before the end of summer!

  • So many great tips for camping! I love that you are taking your kids tent camping as it’s such a great experience and so fun. My whole childhood we camped but I haven’t done any in the last decade or two. I’d love to get back into camping, just need to find someone to go with! Great list on what to bring as it’s so easy to forget all the things you really need out there.

  • This is a great article and tips. I started camping at a young age and this is how I learned how to continue to go on new advnetures. So important to introduce the kids at an early age to how to go camping, and how fun it can be!

  • I don’t LOVE to camp. At all! But when I used to go with my husband and girls, I did a pretty bang up job and learned how to do dutch oven cooking. Camp food tastes pretty good.

  • Fantastic photos and information! I think this is an awesome idea to provide a programme like learning to camp and incredibly beneficial.

  • This is a really well thought out guide to camping with kids. Lots of tips in here I never would have thought of. Thanks for the great post!