Family First: Camping with three kids at Pasir Ris Park

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Beautiful sunrise at Pasir Ris Park, Singapore

Being greeted with such a glorious sight when we open our eyes in the morning is something my family hardly gets in Singapore. This photo was taken in June 2016 when we slept over at Pasir Ris Park.

I'm glad I have a group of friends who love camping. Their photos and chattering about past camping experiences excite us and we have been longing to join them too. Since K's medical conditions have improved over the past few months (she has been disconnected from the feeding pump and oxygen concentrator), we decided to try out a 3D2N camping trip with them.

9 families camping at Pasir Ris Park.
Look at the number of tents we had for the first night!

I have fond memories of my university days where I camped out at Pulau Hantu (a southern island of Singapore) to help my lecturer collect data for her research study. Now that Ch and L are older, I want them to experience what I had enjoyed back at Pulau Hantu - to have fun under the sun, to get used to the lack of comfort items like the fan and air-con, to disconnect from the TV and iPad and to enjoy time with friends. 

A few of our friends were curious about our camping trip and wanted to know if our younger ones adapted well to a change of environment. To be honest, I didn't even expect myself to stay on for the second night. L gets very fussy when he is hot and he will have heat rashes. 

But my biggest concern was K - I was worried that she could not get used to the heat and the unfamiliar surrounding, especially during the night. The paranoid Me even wanted to bring along her portable oxygen tank just in case she develops breathing difficulties. Turns out, K was an amazingly easy kid camper and she slept well on both nights!

Learning from our more seasoned camper friends, we adapted some of their "best practices" to make our camping trip an enjoyable one for our kids. Here's sharing what we did:

:: Upsize the camping tent.

We own a four-man dome tent, but it gets a little squeezy inside if all of us lie down together. Hence, hubby "upgraded" us to an eight-man tent (we only have 5 "men" in our family) which a friend helped to buy from the Winning website. It was spacious with plenty of room to spare even with all our bags in. 

:: Give the kids opportunities to help.

Pitching the tent is hard work but fun and Ch and L gladly took on the task to help ZY. They looked so proud after the tent was up and ready.

A friend also round up all the kids and gave a "Camping 101" on how to wash their own plates and utensils after eating. Being able to help with more "adult tasks" gave the kids some responsibilities and ownership of the camping experience. 

Kids help to pitch tent.

:: Make outdoor sleeping a comfortable experience for the kids.

Else they will never want to go camping again!

I know ... camping is supposed to be a rough-it-out experience but we wanted the kids to sleep well so that they will not be too grouchy in the day. 

The fan is L's sleeping essential and K usually sleeps with the air-con, so I was quite worried about the night as we could have two fusspots to handle. To make matters worse, the first night was extremely hot and humid. There was hardly any breeze even though we were next to the sea! The weather forecast showed a wind speed of only 4 km/h for that night. Fortunately, we brought along handheld fans (the kind that is not battery-powered) and we took turns to fan L and K for the whole night. 

We also brought along inflatable mattresses as advised by our camping friends. Initially, I scorned at the idea of bringing mattresses but it turned out to be a wise choice as sleeping on hard grounds is not something I'll look forward to. The kids took a soft toy each to cuddle at night.

Because the first night was so hot, everyone decided to abandon the tents and slept at the pavilion for the second night. I forgot that the night might get too cold and didn't pack any jackets. As a result, we had to make do with towels as our blankets. 

:: Spray on bug repellent throughout the stay.

We had bad encounters with sandfly bites when we were at the Pasir Ris Park last December. The bites were so potent the itch lasted at least one week. 

Hence, a bug repellent is an essential item especially since we are good mosquito feeders. I go for repellents that contain natural ingredients (for nature's sake) and no DEET (for our safety's sake). They are pretty effective against mozzie bites, but the downside to natural repellents is that re-spraying every few hours is necessary to stay bites-free.

For this camping trip, I used Cottoncubs' Kids' Insect Repellent, which is made with certified organic ingredients (approved by Australian Certified Organic Standard) and pure essential oils. It comes in a 125 ml spray bottle and makes applying and re-applying very easy. I also like that it has a mild natural smell, and we didn't have sticky skin after applying.

For the record, we didn't get any mozzie bites and had fewer sandfly bites than what we got in December. Somehow, K was spared from the bites! ZY had the most bites probably because he didn't re-apply the repellent diligently. 

Oh yes, if you know of any natural repellents that can ward off sandflies, please bring it along. And please let me know. 

Organic Cottoncubs Kids' Insect Repellent helps to repel mozzies.

:: Make bonding time a priority.

One of the best things about camping with others is that the kids have more playmates, hence more fun ideas to play together. A family set up the slackline which is similar to tightrope walking - that occupied the kids for a long time. Another family brought card games and chess. I was amused and proud to see L enthusiastically teaching some of the kids to play GUBS (a card game).

Time passes by very fast when there are so many things we can do. The adults had time to get to know new friends, and to catch up with old peers. The kids "hung out" at each other's tents a lot. Much of the day was also spent playing at the big playground nearby. Our friend brought along his inflatable kayak and the kids took turns to kayak out into the sea!

Camping activities for the kids.

Despite being tired out from a whole day of activities, the kids chatted late into the night, while the adults found amusement listening in to their conversations. I also had some time alone with L at the playground at 12 midnight - a first for us and something he was so surprised and thrilled to be able to do.

Chilling at Pasir Ris Park playground with son at midnight.

:: Bring only camping essentials 

for cooking, washing, bathing ... basically, pare down to the minimum so that you don't have to pack too many things. Share cooking items like oil, salt and pepper, chopping board and knife, etc. That helps to rekindle the "kampong spirit" too.

We use the same pot for cooking and for boiling water to make beverages. We also brought non-disposable plates, utensils, and cups so that we do not generate more rubbish. We did use up almost all the consumables we brought ...

Still, my car boot space was filled to the brim when we went! Tsk tsk! How did that happen?

Other than the BBQ pit, we had "luxurious" items like two camping chairs, the inflatable mattresses, and an air-pump. 

Car boot is fully filled with camping items.

:: Keep camp meals simple but sumptuous.

Camp meals do not always have to be just instant noodles and canned food. And instead of lighting solid fuel and patiently waiting for the food to cook (which we did during our December day camp), we brought along a gas stove to save time on cooking.

This was how I packed the food items for each meal - all the ingredients needed for the meal go into one big Ziploc bag and labelled so we know exactly which bag to use for the meal. I had simple instructions written down so that anyone can cook the meal.

Pack camping meals into individual bags.

I pre-cooked our first camp meal (dinner) at home and heated it up at the campsite. We had yummy tortilla chips with minced beef casserole! Breakfast meals were kept simple - Milo for the kids, coffee for ZY and I - and the families shared luncheon meat, eggs, and bread. We also cooked one-pot pasta (yes, I packed an onion with some button mushrooms too). One of the families shared their delicious creamy potato soup and deep-fried chicken wings, Korean style, all cooked at the camping ground! Oh yes, we even had BBQ food for dinner!

If you don't want to cook your own camp meals on-site, food delivery is always available. Or just drive down to the nearest coffee shop to get some food.

:: Chill together when it rains

The tents are waterproof and are able to keep us out of the rain, but on the second day, dark clouds loomed threateningly. Most of us took shelter at the pavilion to hide from the thunderstorm and spent the time chatting and enjoying one another's company. 

Storm clouds coming.
Look at that cool tent set-up on the right!

Oh, by the way, you will need to apply for a camping permit from any AXS machines or the NParks Camping Permit Internet Application. The permit is free, but each applicant is limited to camping for four days per month. If you make the online application, you will still need to print out the permit from an AXS machine.

Pamela who blogs at Tan Family Chronicles wrote very useful tips to help you plan your family camping trip. Hop over to this and this posts.

We had a good time for this trip and the kids want to do this again. Does anyone want to join us? Which of these is your favourite camping tip? Let me know in the comments section!

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  1. Wow, we are really an expert in camping.
    Will need to consult you next time when my tots are ready for camping!
    I would say is a good training for boys as they will need to serve the nation

    1. Ah... Definitely not an expert camper. Pamela and husband from The Tan Chronicles are the experts (:
      It's fun todo this once a while and get away from the usual comforts.

  2. Kudos to you for doing all the camping prep and making such memorable experience for your kids. I've never considered camping with my kids, mainly because I'm a creature of comfort and never really enjoyed camping in my youth. Your post convinces me otherwise. Perhaps the kids are more adaptable than me.

    Michelle @ The Chill Mom

    1. Yes, Michelle! I think assuring the kids prior to the trip itself helps them to be mentally ready.

  3. I have seen Pamela's posts as well, both of you are so inspiring! I think my kids would love camping, but I think the biggest hurdle is me. Ha! :D

    1. Haha MummyEd, I hear the same from many of my girl friends. I think you can give it a try. Just do a day camp for a start.

  4. Thumbs up for all your preparation and effort, Mary! You are really so inspiring, esp cooking on the ground 'kampung spirit'. I never really enjoyed my camping days too, I can't sleep for two nights. My girls and I need a/c every night be it warm or rainy. Never try never know, maybe I may give it a try again.

  5. Must be fun to get away from home and camp. I would love to go camping but the prep work is the one that put me off trying it.
    Can put aside the fears of snakes etc to try. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    1. Actually I've not seen snakes around my camping sites even when I camped over at Pulau Hantu long time ago. Have you? I've seen monitor lizards and centipedes though. I guess Pasir Ris park is quite safe.

  6. It's really fun to camp by the beach, to reconnect with the nature in our urban life. Gd to teach our children too. I would be happy to have an opportunity like that too. Btw, yr sunrise photo is soooooo beautiful

    1. Ya, it is! Our kids really need to experience more of the sun and sea.

  7. This is wonderful Mary and i am going to refer to this post when planning for camping. Well, we have not tried yet before doing a camping here. I am sure kids would have enjoyed.

    1. Thanks for your kind words! Fix a date for the camping trip and try it out!

  8. So fun!!! I used to go camping with my parents when I was a kid quite often... one thing I def want to do with Lil Pumpkin while she's young :)

    Ai @ Sakura Haruka

  9. OMG this looks incredible!! My husband and I always talk about bringing the kids to camping.. but it has never came true at the moment because they are too young now. I can't wait for them to be slightly older! Your tent and that inflatable bed looks really comfortable.

    1. Hi Jacqualine,
      Yes, older should be easier too. But it's never too early to try out. You can start off with day camps and test them (and yourself) out. Anyway, if all else fails, just zoom home quickly. (:

  10. See you and family soon in next camping trip, I heard from Pamela village getting bigger :)

    cheers, Andy

    1. I think Pamela needs to do a shout-out to gather campers for our next trip! (:

  11. Wow.. would absolutely love to join this fun camping trip. Ashamed to mention it'll be both me & my kid first..

    1. Hi, there is always a first in everything! No shame, no shame!

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