Scenic view of trees at camp

How We Do Family Camp With Little Kids

by Jesse Garner


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When we first attended family camp, we had a one-year-old and an almost five-year-old. It was such a blessing of a week and desperately needed for our family, but it also included some challenges with kids that little! Since then, we’ve learned a few things about doing family camp with little kids, which at the Bluffs is 0-4 year olds and also called Cove Kids.

Below is a collection of thoughts and advice. We’re Bluffs campers, so things might not be exactly the same at one of our other family camp properties, but overall they’ll still be helpful.

You Do You Schedule-Wise

One of the first things you need to know is that just because there is an activity on the schedule, it does not mean you have to attend it. Our camp teams are programming the day for families at all levels — with little kids, older kids, and everything in between — and no one is expecting you to do all the things!

This will look different for different families, but with little kids, just know that evening activities are optional so you can start baths and bedtime earlier. There is also often the option for the littlest ones, like zero to two-year-olds, to go to a program. The first couple of years we didn’t even make it to the worship or the evening ice cream party on Sunday night because our kids needed to head back to the cabin and head to bed. All the work of packing and all the excitement of getting to camp meant they were already toast by 7:30pm. And that’s okay!

Or you may not be ready for bed that early, but you’re also not ready for the fun, loud craziness of the evening program. Often Cove Kids is open during the evening program or you can grab some family time playing on a swing or throwing a frisbee while the rest of the camp is playing a game. By Wednesday the kids are SO tired, so it wasn’t until our third year at family camp that we even attended the evening talent show. No big deal. I promise no one will track you down and ask why you’re not at the main group activity. You can do what your family needs!


When you get to camp, you’ll take a family photo and get headshots taken for the CampLife app. Some parents really want a heads up on the photo thing, so here’s your warning! There’s no need to specifically dress up for that photo (it’s really hot outside!), but some families try to use this photo for a Christmas card so they’ll have their kids in matching outfits or something cute.

Once you finish your sign-ups after checking in, we find it worth it to completely unpack into our cabin. Living out of suitcases for a week isn’t really fun, and they take up a lot of floor space. And the cabins have lots of storage options built in! We’re able to get clothes and everything else into the drawers and cubbies set up throughout the rooms and bathroom and keep the floor as clear as possible.

We also set up everything needed for sleeping then. I’ll talk more about sleeping further down.

Finally, we like to set up a laundry basket by the door to corral everyone’s shoes and crocs, as well as a laundry basket in the bathroom for dirty clothes. We have the luxury of driving to camp with plenty of room to pack those things in our van. If you can’t fit them into your transportation, don’t worry about it.

Sleeping Time

Ah, sleep. The most elusive part of parenting littles—and that’s when you’re already home with all your sleeping things! Sleeping at camp can be a challenge, but here’s what we’ve learned:

  • Bring a temporary blackout curtain! (You can easily find one at a hardware store if you don’t already have one.) In the past, our cabin has been near a path light, so there’s been some light coming into the room, and our kids are used to sleeping in the dark! You can cut the curtain to size at camp and stick it in the window to make sure it stays dark.
  • With the blackout curtain in place, you might want some kind of nightlight. We use our Hatch light so we get just enough light to help a kid get back into bed if they wake without keeping anyone up.
  • Don’t forget your sound machine! It’s not loud out at camp, but since it’s a new place for the kiddos they can easily wake at every strange noise from the rest of the cabin or bathroom.
  • If you can, try to put all the kids in the kids’ side of the cabin. It’s difficult to tiptoe around your bed in the evening while a kid is also sleeping in your room. If you have an infant or one-year old they’ll have a pac ‘n’ play ready for you so that you don’t need to pack one.
  • We put our littlest in the lowest bunk last year even though she was still in her crib at home, and it worked great. We put a big pool noodle under the fitted sheet so that there was a barrier to prevent her from rolling out, plus the way the Bluffs bunks are set up, one of the bottom bunks is kinda like a cave, so there wasn’t much of a space where she could fall out anyway.

Surviving Family Devo

Family devo is a sweet part of family camp, but brings some unique challenges with littles since they aren’t going to be diving into any theological conversations with you and are so ready to play play play. As with any family devo, we like to have realistic expectations, keep it simple, and (at this age) keep it short. If you’re already doing something age-appropriate at home (like these She Reads Truth kids cards), bring it with you as an option in case they aren’t connecting with the family devo.

Go into these times knowing that little ones will not sit and listen, absorb, and be able to articulate what they heard, but that’s okay! Centering your family around the Word of God is the goal here, not creating theologians. The Lord will do that over time. You will have a staffer assigned to your family for family devo, so there will be (PTL!) an extra set of hands ready to help wrangle kiddos. Sometimes Cove Kids is open as well, just ask!

One way to get the kids to sit still is with food, so we bring some snacks and snack cups specifically for family devo. We also have friends that do chalk with their littles during the devo to help them focus. Once devo is done, while other families are finishing theirs, we bring the kids in the cabin to sunscreen them up and pack their backpacks for the day.

Family Free Time

Family free time takes place around 3:30 each afternoon! Hopefully your littles took a nap in Cove Kids earlier in the afternoon so they’re refreshed and ready to do something fun. However, especially as the week goes on, even with a nap they are TIRED and there’s still a lot of camp left in the day. (If they need a longer nap, just check with your Cove Kids staff and they’ll help make that happen.)

With that in mind, we keep it chill during family free time. During activity sign-ups (which occur soon after arrival at camp on Sunday), we typically just pick a couple things we’ll do during the week as a family. Almost all the activities are also activities they will do in their kids programs (they’ll see horses and do boats in Cove Kids at Bluffs and most other family camps) so the kids won’t miss out on doing those things if you don’t sign up to do them as a family.

We’ll do a snack first, either from the snack shop or one we brought from home. Then we’ll see what everyone’s energy level is and how hot it is outside. Most often we pick the pool. Other times we hit up the air-conditioned arts and crafts room or just find something fun around camp the kids are interested in doing, like pretending to play frisbee golf.

Once free time is over and activities like the pool close, there’s still about an hour until dinner. This is when we retreat to the cabin for some quiet time. We pack several options and have the kids spend some downtime on their bunks. Some popular options for us have been audio stories, building with Legos, water painting with water wows, find-it picture books, and coloring.


The general packing list from Pine Cove is great, but it’s written for all ages in mind. Here are a few things we like to bring and some extra packing tips that help with littles:

  • Label everything. Our first year one of our kids lost his goggles the first morning and they didn’t ever show up in the lost and found. Label it all. Especially shoes.
  • Laundry detergent sheets or pods! There are washers and dryers on property that campers are welcome to use, and we find that we’ll always end up doing at least one load during the week.
  • Laundry baskets. Bring one for dirty clothes and one for shoes.
  • Small ice chest or cooler. You can ask the camp staff to fill it with ice as often as you need.
  • Rags or wipes for sticky hands. It’s amazing how quickly hands get sticky at camp!
  • Kids’ backpacks. You’ll send them to their program with a backpack. Here’s what we put in ours. (You’ll get instructions each day on what they should wear at the start of the day.)
    • Face sunscreen stick
    • Spray sunscreen (we put a cream sunscreen on the kids in the cabin before dropping them off, so this is just extra protection)
    • Mesh bag (labeled) with an extra set of labeled clothes
    • Mesh bag (labeled) for swimwear (if they’re not wearing it to start the day)
    • Insulated water bottle
    • They don’t need to bring their own Bible in Cove Kids. Save the backpack space!


It’s always sad to leave camp, and there’s a couple things we’ve learned about getting back that have made it a little easier to re-enter normal life.

First, depending on how long it takes to get home, have some quiet play options for when you get back. This is a great time to introduce a new book or toy. You’ll need the margin to be able to unpack and get things back into the house. It’s even better if you can get a family member or friend to come over and play with the kids.

Second, before you leave camp, make a plan for your first couple of meals once you get back. That might mean ordering pizza (no judgment here!), or it might mean having some things ready in your freezer, but the last thing you’re going to want to do when you get home is figure out what you’re making for dinner.


That’s it! I hope this resource is helpful for you as you start thinking about coming to camp with your little ones. No matter what, it’s going to be a fun, fulfilling week, and your family is going to have a blast getting this time away together! If you still have questions about any of the ins and outs of preparing for a week of camp, don’t hesitate to check out our Coming to Camp pages or email our registration team.

Posted Sep 26, 2023

Jesse Garner

Sr. Director of Camper Engagement

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