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Our First Camping Trip: The Real Experience with Four Special Needs Children

A few weeks ago, we went on our first camping trip with our four special needs kiddos.  As usual it was packed with crazy adventures. I thought I'd share for those who enjoy following our family fun, and so I'd remember everything for next time.  

The trip was kind of a last minute thing.  Weather was predicted to be incredibly hot.  We thought spending days at the beach and sleeping outdoors would be our best bet for keeping everyone cooled off and pleasant.

Though we had camped at grandparents' homes before, preparing for the real thing in less than four days was slightly more work than anticipated, especially when it came to preparing the kiddos.  I was incredibly thankful for the packing list and meal planner I found to help keep me organized.

Our First Camping Trip: The Real Experience with Four Special Needs Children

Our First Camping Trip: The Real Experience with Four Special Needs Children

Our Arrival

Our planned time of departure was 2 PM.  We actually left four hours later.  If I could go back and change anything about the trip, our late departure would be it.

Our Arrival to the Camp Site

By the time we checked in, purchased firewood and ice, and set up our tent, it was already getting dark.  We still hadn't made a fire or prepared dinner.

Waiting for Dinner

We prepared Grill Foil Packed Cheesy Fries with Bacon on a Stick, that you could mix and top with sour cream in the dark.  

The fries and bacon were either burned or raw.  

Dinomite who had looked forward to this meal most, completely melted down.

Making Dinner Over a Campfire

Thankfully campfire cones saved the day and our first night ended on a high note.  

The only other issue we had was helping the kiddos settle down for the night.  

I've never been so thankful for loud neighbors who covered up all the noise the kiddos were making.  

Enjoying Campfire Cones

We had only one minor incident during our first night camping.  

One of our kiddos, notorious for sleep walking, stood up in the middle of the night mumbling, and peed right in the middle of the tent.  

Thankfully it was in an area where there was no bedding or other items and could easily be cleaned up with a few Clorox Wipes.

Our First Full Day at the Campsite

Our First Full Day at the Camp Site

The morning went extremely well.  The kiddos enjoyed their breakfast of individually packed cereals, and were eager to play or help with morning chores, including the dishes from dinner the night before that we had thrown in the van.

Breakfast and Clean Up at the Campsite

Once everyone was ready, we all headed to the beach.  I had picked up some sand toys for the trip, which the kiddos thoroughly enjoyed.

Time at the Beach while Camping

They also enjoyed time spent in the water.  We always keep life jackets on our kids who can't swim when at beaches and the pool.  It's one less thing I have to worry about, which helps in situations like this.

Fun in the Water while Camping

I was so pleased with how the girls enjoyed their time out of the water.  Anxieties are high at the beach, so breaks from the water are very necessary for them.

Resting on the Beach while Camping

Lunch back at the campsite was next.  We served delicious taco salad in a bag, except that it wasn't in a bag, because the kiddos couldn't quite grasp why we wouldn't use plates.  Lol.


Lunch While Camping

After lunch Jason took the boys back to town for one of their extra curricular activities. The girls and I stayed behind to clean up after lunch and spend some time together.

Washing Dishes While Camping

The afternoon was absolutely delightful.  The girls and I went for a walk and then played Shelby's Snack Shack and Cinderella's Uno while eating trail mix.

Playing Board Games while Camping

As soon as Jason and the boys returned the fire was built and dinner preparations were underway.  We had hoped that Sunshine would be calmer than she was the night before, but it wasn't the case.  Fire seems to trigger HUGE anxieties for her.

Staying Safe While Making Dinner at the Campsite

We eventually ended up giving her Benadryl to calm her, so that she would stay safe, as our developmental pediatrician has recommended.  

It wasn't too long before she fell asleep in my arms.  Meanwhile Dinomite had retreated to the tent to calm his own anxieties about dinner.

Bagel Pizzas over a Fire

Fortunately, dinner was a huge success.  Dinomite and all of the other kiddos loved their bagel pizzas.  It was dessert that caused the anxieties our second night. 
Making Cinnamon Rolls on a Stick

We tried cooking cinnamon rolls on a stick.  The problem was that they kept falling off the sticks.  

It didn't take long before we changed our plan and cooked them as kabobs over top of our grill basket, so when they fell, they could still be cooked.

All of the cinnamon rolls fell apart, so we ended up having cinnamon roll bites cooking in the dark.  Some were burned.  Other parts were still a little raw, but with frosting the kiddos loved them.

After dessert, we cleaned up the table, throwing dirty dishes in the car for tomorrow and settled the kiddos down as quickly as possible.  

We were more successful than the night before, but it was still really late before they quieted down.

The kiddos fell asleep quickly, but Jason and I were kept awake by a critter climbing on the sides and top of the tent.  To this day, we don't know what it was, but it did leave a present on our picnic table for us to find in the morning.

Day 2 Camping with Four Special Needs Children

Once awake and dressed the next day, we ate breakfast (granola bars and yogurt), and did camp chores. Then we headed to the park for play and a picnic lunch.

Day 2 of Camping

It was quite warm out.  Everyone was delighted that the park was shaded by trees on all sides.

Spending Time at the Park While Camping

Lunch consisted of Nutella and strawberry or Sunbutter and raisin wraps.  Everyone enjoyed lunch but Bulldozer.   He was very troubled and upset over an exchange he had with other children on the playground.

It wasn't until we had all headed back to town for hippotherapy, returned to camp and spent more time at the beach, that he had recovered from the misunderstanding and could enjoy the rest of the evening.  He was looking forward to helping Jason build a fire tonight!

Building a Fire to Cook Dinner at Camp

When we returned to our site, we had new neighbors next to us and across the way.  Everyone who passed was smitten with the tiny camp aboard the antique dump truck.  Many stopped to check it out and visit.

The kids were very intrigued by our neighbors as well, but not excited about so many people stopping by to visit them. Anxieties soared.

We made it through our own introductions and were so relieved to learn that our neighbors across the way (staying in a camper), not only had experience with special needs children, but adopted children with RAD themselves.  Whew!

Once again, dinner and dessert were late, despite all attempts to be finished before dark.  

My dear friend Kris and her daughter stopped by to visit.  

It still amazes me that we managed to cook and eat hot dogs on a stick, macaroni and cheese and S'mores for dessert without someone completely losing it.

Dinner at Camp

All of the transitions throughout the evening had really thrown Princess and Sunshine.  Their behaviors were NOT fun to deal with.  Eventually we did manage to calm everyone down and sleep that night.

Of course we had to have yet another night time adventure.  I was walking back from the bathroom and froze as I saw a skunk right in front of me, and right next to the tent.  Thankfully he was startled by my flashlight enough to run away, but not enough to spray.

Sunshine struggled our third night in the tent, waking up frequently. After a rough evening with her, my patience was running thin.  Neither one of us received much sleep.

Cutting It Short

The next morning Jason and I decided that the girls and I would head back home due to their behaviors.  Dinomite, Bulldozer and Jason would stay another night and pack up camp in the morning.

This plan was a good one until there was a threat of thunderstorms and the boys missed their Mommy.  Jason and the boys showed up at home around midnight.  Lol.

In the morning, Jason headed back to camp and packed everything up before the forecast storms for the next day arrived.  And our trip was done.

Will we do it again? Absolutely!  Will we change anything?  Yes!

Lessons Learned While Camping

1. Leaving camp every day for extra curricular activities and supplies was a HUGE pain.  Everyone was struggling with transitions and we always felt like we were rushing.  The activities were also what caused us to be so late with dinner each night.

2. We need to practice campfire meals at home, before we attempt them at camp.  This would save so many meltdowns.

3.  It may be of benefit to stay in a spot that's more secluded, so we don't have to worry about neighbors and anxieties.

All in all though, we had a fabulous time and can't wait until next year to try again!

If you're interested in more camping themed ideas, activities, and experiences be sure to check out the post below!

Free Camping Printables Campfire Themed Birthday Party Montessori-inspired Children's Books About Camping Montessori-inspired Practical Life Camping Activities


  1. Wow well done on achieving a great camping break. I love camping with my own kids but can imagine that you need to be extra careful with your crew.

  2. Wow, it looks like you all had an amazing time! I know it's difficult with two kids in a tent so you are so brave to take 4 together! I love that you prepared them for the experience at home, that must have been so useful to get over any issues. Loving all the happy pictures too, gorgeous! Thanks so much for linking up to #Whatevertheweather :) x