Taking the whole family for a camping trip is one of the great joys in life. Planning ahead for some fun ways to keep kids of all ages engaged in the experience goes a long way to making family memories that will last forever.
With our busy lifestyles, many children these days are used to having their entertainment come prepackaged with flashing lights, cute soundscapes, and addictive action. Getting kids to open up to the sometimes slower paced and more subtle enjoyments of nature can sometimes be a little challenging.
In this article I will cover how to create a kid friendly campsite and ideas for fun activities including arts and crafts, fun games, and skill building activities. (consider linking to these sections)
KID FRIENDLY CAMPING
Before you even get into any great kid-friendly activities, make sure you plan for and set up a campsite that is safe and takes into consideration the special needs and challenges of camping with kids. Here are a few ideas to consider:
Kids have a tendency to get dirty, fast and often. Consider a large camping cooler with a spout set on the edge of the table if flowing water is not available at your campsite.
Orient the table so the water falls at the edge of camp and away from it. Have some biodegradable soap and a towel nearby.
Every campsite is different, so spend a little time scanning the area upon arrival and making note of any special hazards. Make kids that are old enough aware of your concerns, and ask for help monitoring younger ones around any dangers.
Make sure everyone at camp knows where the first aid kit is located.
Teach kids about the dangers of attracting bears or other critters with a messy campsite and get them invested in helping to keep camp tidy.
Some things to keep an eye out for:
- Campfire hazards – Trip hazards near the campfire or barbeque are particularly dangerous.
- Water such as a pond or stream – Never let small children be unsupervised around even shallow water.
- Knives and other sharp tools – At home they are usually out of reach, but it can be easy for them to get in the wrong hands if not careful at camp.
- Piles of wood or rocks – Often a safe haven for snakes or other potentially nasty critters, teach kids to approach with caution, look before they grab, and bang with a stick before removing items from a pile to investigate.
Day Clothes Packs
Consider packing clothes for the kids in large Ziploc bags, marked by the day. This is a major time savor when it comes to helping younger kids get ready for the day in the morning. Dirty clothes can go right back in the empty bags, keeping dirt and stink away from the clean clothes.
One of the best memories from my childhood were some of the great snacks that seemed to only show up on a camping trip. Making sure the kids have fun and special snacks on a camping trip will help make for a memorable trip.
Be creative, and try to come up with some foods that won’t require ingredients that need refrigeration. Here are some ideas:
- Gorp (or other fun trail mixes)
- Ants on a Log (celery with peanut butter and raisons on it)
- Hot Banana boats (split bananas stuffed with marshmallows, peanut butter, chocolate chips, wrapped in foil with skin on then grilled on the coals until gooey)
ARTS AND CRAFTS
Found Object Art
Pack some glue, colorful yarn, construction paper, popsicle sticks, crayons or markers and scissors for endless variations on this theme. Kids love a chance to create within boundaries. Give them a mission and let their imaginations run wild:
- Make a journal of the camping trip that gets added to every evening.
- Make a story board with found objects and colorful illustrations.
- Create a 3-D sculpture.
Dreamcatchers are very easy to assemble and require few take-along materials. Consider checking out the craft store to pick up the main rings, usually made from twisted vines wrapped into a circle to discourage the kids from collecting live plants.
There are lots of options for decorating a dreamcatcher to be found in nature, but bring some beads and feathers just to make sure there is some bright color to add to your dreamcatchers.
Using some plain office paper, and some crayons, charcoal, or colored pencils, have the kids make some impressions of leaves on paper. If they are old enough they can identify their leaves and make a journal out of their collections.
Or, encourage them to make free form collages by overlapping their leaf impressions. The sky is the limit in terms of how the creative juices will flow with this fun activity!
This is a classic, and most kids even approaching their teens, can get into this fun game. You can make a list of treasures to hunt in advance, or you can put the list together as a group which will get the kids more invested from the start.
Set an area that is age appropriate for your kids to explore (between here and the parking lot, or down that trail to the big tree, for example).
Setting a timer and scaling the list for the age of your kids is also a trick to keeping this game fun. For younger kids, it is better to do multiple rounds with shorter lists.
Have the kids partner up and consider adding camera action to the game as well. This adds the potential of the fun by adding items to the list that are appropriate to film, but not disturb, such as insects and flowers.
Here are some examples of items to put on the list:
- Stone of a certain color
- Leaf of a certain shape
- Stick with a certain number of branches
- Pine cone
- A rock of a certain shape
- Flower of a certain color (photo)
- Spider, beetle or butterfly (photo)
Before leaving on your camping trip, brush up on a few classic ghost stories or make up some of your own to start a new tradition. Another variation on the classic ghost story is to go around the campfire, each person adding a sentence, giving the story plenty of twists and turns and getting everyone engaged in creating a tall tale.
I Spy with My Little Eye
This game is great in the car on the way to a camping trip, or a good way to stay engaged from under the pavilion on a rainy day.
“I spy with my little eye…..something…..round!” and then let the guessing ensue!
Card and Board Games
While not the most exciting form of camp entertainment, if you hit a patch of inclement weather, you will be glad you planned for some easy indoor activities.
SKILL BUILDING ACTIVITIES
Kids usually enjoy learning new things as long as there isn’t a quiz at the end and the activity is new and interesting. There are all sorts of outdoor skill building opportunities to take advantage of on a camping trip. Here are just a few to get you inspired:
Build a Fire
Have the kids help to collect the sticks, leaves and other tinder that you will need to get a good fire going. Show them how a fire needs air to get going and share the old “Mother it, don’t smother it” adage.
If you have some older kids, consider bringing along some flint or a magnifying glass to give them a hand at trying to start a fire without a lighter or matches.
Of course, fire safety should always be part of the lesson as well. Make sure you have a reliable way to put the fire out if it gets out of hand, and are emphasizing the fire circle as the only safe place to build a fire, and why.
Make a Shelter
Okay, you don’t need to make them actually sleep in it, however, once your kids spend a few hours making the perfect shelter out of a tarp, some rope, and available found objects in the woods….they will have a great fort that will last the duration of the trip.
Some materials to consider bringing along to make this activity extra fun:
- Rolled rug for a fancy floor
- Rope and twine
- Shower curtains
Pack some guidebooks that will help you to identify flowers, trees, birds and/or insects. Go on a nature walk and have the kids keep a journal of some of the things they saw on the trail.
Most guidebooks have an index of primary and secondary characteristics to notice. This is a great way to get the kids thinking like scientists and learning to notice the different features of the beautiful assortment of life that nature has to offer.
It also teaches the value of observation rather than collection. The values of conservation can start early! Be sure to pack some binoculars for this fun skill building activity.
I hope this list of ways for how to make camping fun for kids has been helpful. Do you have some fun ideas to add? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Be sure to check out some of my other helpful camping tip guides:
How to Keep Food Cold While Camping