How Not to Camp with Toddlers Series



How (Not) to Camp with Toddlers--a Photo Guide.

Spoiler alert. This is not real advice—not really. The goal was to create real advice—that turned into many mishaps and hilarious stories.  Now I am just sharing them with you to set the parenting bar really low.  You can do better than this. You’re welcome.

For actual tips on how to camp with your kids:

DISCLAIMER: Although Ashley Smith is the Manager of Outdoor Skills for Metroparks Toledo, please know that these misadventures are just for fun and do not actually reflect any of the great programs that the Outdoor Skills team produce.

One program that was scheduled and has now been canceled due to COVID-19 is the Great American Backyard Campout on June 27, 2020. Well, if you ask me, the Greatest part about the American Backyard Campout, is that we can do it anyway—in our actual backyards, kitchen, or living room.

What do you say, folks?

Follow along as this clan of stinky and dirty children gear up to participate in this national event at the end of June. Hopefully you can learn from the mistakes we have already had and will (probably) continue to have and turn your experience into a successful campout!

The video below is a time-lapsed video.



Folks this is Mistake #1.  “But there is thunder and lightning…” is not a valid excuse.

Do use camping as leverage to get anything you want from them.  “Well, if you want to go camping, then you have to brush your teeth and go potty!  Now!”

Please know that you don’t have to have all the right gear (or any gear) to make memories.  You can do a campout on the living room floor, read books under a blanket, have a picnic under your kitchen table, etc.  (Which is what we did after the tantrum about the thunder and lightning…)

Do make sure your baby is safe.  Promising that she can do a campout in the living room then putting her in the pack n’ play = meltdown.  “But I want you to be safe,” is not something that she wants to hear when you “break her heart.” It’s fine. She will get over it. Safety first, right everyone?




Do have a cookout over the fire!  Picnic + S’mores = Happiness!

Do not have it on a windy night when it almost catches your tent/house on fire when it should be going out at the end of the night.  (Photo not included because, well… I think that’s obvious.) 

To opt for a safer and way easier route—go with the #PicnicPacks with drinks from Toledo Spirits Company and a meal from Fowl and Fodder - Downtown Toledo. Metroparks Toledo blanket and glasses from Libbey are making this picnic a must have!




First, do not set up your tent and vestibule (it’s like the mud room for a tent) in the dark when the rope that is holding your tent to the earth will trip your toddler and send him flying onto the sidewalk when he is wearing shorts.  Folks, I mean--he laid flat out on the sidewalk. 

Oops.  (Plus side is that when he is camping, he is so excited to be camping, that he doesn’t even cry when there is blood oozing from both his knees!)

Also, do not camp outside in a storm. Check the weather regularly.  

Do open the door and yell HELP when your husband is sleeping and your tent is about to blow into the next state.

Side note: You will still probably have to sleep on the ground in the bedroom of your toddler who is still slightly disturbed by his close call with Mother Nature.





So, did you read chapter 3? Do not camp outside in a storm? Hopefully we learned our lesson this time… the second time…

Also, do not open the door and yell HELP when your husband or partner specifically says that they don’t want to wake up to you yelling that again.  Just drag the tent into the garage yourself.  It’s flexible and forgiving.

Do apologize when you hear your 3 year old cry out in anger and frustration at 5 a.m.… Mom! Why aren’t we camping anymore?!  “Well, because at 1 a.m. the weather experts issued a special weather statement that said the winds would be over 40 mph and to take shelter indoors” is not an acceptable answer.




Go look for critters (alive or dead—like this bee), make them run around a bunch, and let them get stinky and dirty. 

Go on bike rides, night rides in pjs, and night hikes. Isn’t it amazing that the lightning bug is literally the coolest bug, but it’s also the easiest to catch and the most gentle?

Do read lots of books by flashlight, sing songs, tell silly jokes, bring your favorite stuffies (Dave on the left, Bubba pictured on the right.)

Maybe don’t give them a bunch of chocolate and sugar in a s’more before you crawl into a sleeping bag next to them… or do it just for that little shot of endorphins you get when you see their happy faces.

…And then forgive them when they smack you in the face, poke your eye, use your eye socket to pull their body out of a horizontal position, and then eventually give you pink eye.

Well, folks, next time you will see us, we will hopefully have our first ever successful backyard campout! May the parenting or (for those brave aunts, uncles, grandparents, or others) adulting forces be with you.




Well friends, (can I call you that? I feel like we are at that point in our relationship…) I would love to say that we had a successful campout!

But here is the truth…

We practiced last Friday night—the 19th (I think… all the days have been running together). IT WAS HOT!  We ended at 11pm when baby girl was crying and sweating and my little dude was saying, “I’m hungry. I want a marshmallow.”

This is what “trying to sleep” looked like at 10:30pm on Friday when it was 80°F in our tent.

(This is a dramatization. All children in this video appear to be having fun. The reality was way hotter, sweatier, and there were more tears—from the adults.)



So we tried again on Wednesday night. It was nice and cool and we had a better plan. We put her in the pack and play so we could try to tame the beast. 

11:04 PM- That’s a somersault attempt, and, yes, those wet marks on the sides are from trying to lick her brother.

11:30 PM- Baby girl was hauled away to her real bed and immediately passed out.

11:37 PM- (Whispers in my ear,) “Mom, I have to poop.”

11:59 PM- (Shouts) “MOM! Look I have a shell!”  “What animal are you?”  “A TURTLE!”

7:15 AM- Good morning! We did it!

Again, you’re welcome for setting the bar so-very-low. I am sure you’re backyard campout was much more successful than this one!

You might be reading this and think, this sounds like my worst nightmare. Although there were many frustrating moments and times I thought they will never want to do this again… we keep coming back for more. The stories that once produced tears are now creating laughter as we look back on our times together. Through all our misadventures we had a ton of fun and made so many great memories. 

Please be sure to share some of your memories and how you Get Outside Yourself!

The Biggest Backyard Campout

The Biggest Backyard Campout – Remember the excitement of your first backyard campout? Your family will too when you pitch a tent in your own backyard and join Metroparks as we make June 27th the Biggest Backyard Campout of all time. Click on “going” and let’s watch those numbers grow! Our own Ashley Smith, Outdoor Skills Manager, has blogged about her families experience navigating a first time family campout. Don’t have a backyard? Metroparks camp sites are open for reservations. We’ve also added campsites in Metroparks not normally open to camping. Click Here to see all of the campgrounds, then make your reservation.
Share your camping experience, post pictures on Metroparks Toledo Facebook page or Instagram page!
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