Here are the eight things that proved indispensable on our trip:
2. Smores. No camping trip is complete without them and you'll never hear the end of it if you go the healthy route and bring fruit kabobs or the like. Bonus, bring smores forks with telescoping handles to maximize the space the kids and the fire.
3. Mini marshmallows and PVC pipe. I know this sounds random, but it was my husband's brain child. The kids had tons of fun "battling" one another by blowing the mini-marshmallows through the three-foot lengths of tube like an air dart. You can get "official" marshmallow guns at craft fairs, but what fun is that? Having a dog to help clean up the mess is recommended (see item 1).
4. First-aid Kit. Between the kids and adults we had two burns, one knife cut, several splinters and countless scrapes. A good kit is worth the space and peace of mind. A few band aids won't cut it.
5. A big throw blanket. This should be a blanket that you are not sleeping with and ideally will be an outdoor blanket that doesn't attract leaves and twigs. The kids get tired of sitting at camp tables that are too big for them. A cushy blanket you can throw on the ground is a great alternative for coloring, playing cards and relaxing (while keeping your grubby little angels, and those of your friends, out of your tent).
6. Good walking shoes. Even if you can't get your kids to walk to the mailbox at home, they will want to walk through the forest, I promise! My husband brought along his compass and let the kids take turns leading which made him very popular.
7. A few basic games. I stress "basic" and "few". The point of escaping to the great outdoors is defeated if you just transport all of your diversions from home to your tent. Forget the IPad, DS, Barbies and motorized Jeeps. We were traveling with five kids ages 4-6 and our toy stash consisted of a soccer ball, football, coloring books and a bean bag toss. The kids mostly wanted to explore, find "firewood" and walk the dog (see item 1). Over three days there wasn't one "I'm bored" or "what are we doing next?"
8. Plenty of flashlights. This was the one thing the kids had no interest in sharing. Don't think this means the kids were actually using the flashlights to guide themselves or provide light. No, they liked putting them in their sleeves and pretending that their hand caught fire. When one of the girls' jackets actually did catch fire the trick lost some of its humor, for the grown-ups anyway.
9. Bring your own five--year old spirit along. I know I said "eight" things, but this really was most important. Being in the outdoors with kids is a great reminder of how simple the real joys in life are and how much there is to explore and experience if you'll just put down the Blackberry. We've taken our son to some of the finest resorts in the world and he's never had more fun than on our little three-day trip in a tent.
Have any tips to share? Something you won't camp without?