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Let’s go camping! That’s one of my favorite things to say. I love almost everything about camping, and so does my 7 year old. Everything but the mosquitos, of course. It’s a time for us to do things together, be outside, and quiet ourselves from hectic everyday life. Another thing about camping is that it is an opportunity to teach your child about problem solving, perseverance, gratitude, and grit.
So, how do you keep kids engaged when there’s no screen time? How do you make camping fun for the whole family? The trick is to find a balance between having fun camping activities for kids at the ready and allowing them to find their own cool things to do.
Here are some camping ideas for kids that will make the outdoor experience memorable for the whole family. Some of the activities to do while camping will need a little prep before you leave, but it’s worth it. Get yourself a bag or a small tub to bring your camping gear with you.
We’ll split the things to do while camping with family into cooking, exploring, and campsite fun.
Dutch oven pizza is a great way to start off your first night cooking with your child. This is something you can do together and tastes delicious. You can bake over the hot embers of a fire pit or coals, whichever you have access to.
Of course, cooking over the fire is wonderful. But how about cooking in your own DIY solar oven? With an old pizza box and a few materials, you can build your own solar oven and cook up some simple things like s’mores or quesadillas. Build the oven together at home and place it in your camping activities tub. You can bring an oven thermometer to place inside so you can see how hot it gets.
Before you go off to explore, you will need something to keep the bugs away, so don’t forget some DIY bug repellant bracelets to wear on your adventure. Put the repellent spray in your camping activities tub for whenever you need to refresh them.
Scat and tracks
I love to help my little guy understand that if he has a quiet voice and a quiet body, he will be able to discover wild things on our adventures. Animals are all around in the woods; they just don’t want to be seen while people are active.
We can learn a lot by keeping our eyes, ears, and noses ready to “read” the messages animals leave. To help him understand these messages, I like to explain that animals have a different way of saying things. Critters will use vocalizations like yips, hoots, and howls. Some animals will also use smelly and messy ways to leave messages. So he has to keep his eyes and his ears open as we trek.
Some useful information while hiking:
- Animal poop is called scat. Don’t touch it.
- Many animals use scat to communicate with others.
- Bears, elk, and deer scratch and rub trees with special glands to leave their scent. Since animals can’t use words to explain how they feel, they leave smelly and messy messages that tell other animals to stay away from their space or territory. Here’s what bear scratch, bobcat scat, and elk rubbings on trees are actually saying to the other animals: “Stay away! This is my territory!” “It’s time for me to start getting ready for winter.”
- Try a scat or track bandana from Acorn Naturalists. You can also get their Nature Circles or their activity cards for young children.
While on your road trip to camp, you can have a great conversation about what you and your child would like to find on your hikes. Put your child in charge of making a list as you drive.
Try to help your child with age-appropriate things to find, such as various colored plants for younger ones and possible bear scratches on trees for your older ones. Put the list in your camping activities tub and bring it with you when you hike so as to check off what you observe.
Another part of your scavenger hunt can be to choose three or four things to bring back to the campsite for some art fun—the flatter, the better. Make sure you have a container like a pouch to carry your very special things back.
Once you are back at your site, it’s time for more fun. You can either do DIY camping activities or settle for the classics.
Create a memory book
Pull out your essentials for one of the best camping art activities for kids:
- Special scavenger hunt pouch
- Some blank white paper (prior to your trip, put three holes in the paper and place in your camping activities tub along with some yarn cut in three, 4 inch lengths)
- Crayons to make rubbings of the things you found
Use one paper for each item. You can also challenge your kids to find three more things to make rubbings just in or near your campsite. Talk about what you found, maybe write what it is on your paper or for older kids a sentence about why it is interesting.
Once the rubbings and comments are made, take the yarn pieces and tie the pages together with one yarn piece to each hole. Now you have a book to read and treasure off your adventure.
You can also make nature collages with your findings.
Glow in the dark ring toss
This is the classic game of ring toss but with an exciting twist.
Here’s what you need:
- Glow rings (buy or make your own 4 for each person)
- Three mason jars with water or used soda bottle with water
- Glow sticks (buy or make 6 of them and place them in the mason jars)
Place the sticks and rings in the sun for the day then wait for it to get dark.
Set up your mason jars/soda bottles about 10-15 feet away, depending on the age of your teams. Now you can play a classic game of ring toss with glow-in-the-dark rings! Take turns tossing to see who gets closest to the bottles or even gets the ring around it.
How to make glow rings and glow sticks
If you would like to make your own glow sticks for the ring toss game, try this simple process. You can also make extras for more fun playing cards in your tent.
- Buy octopus tape.
- Cut in 7-12 inch lengths depending on how big you want your rings.
- Roll the tape on top of itself lengthwise to get a non-sticky strip.
- Tape the ends together to form a circle.
- Store in your camping activities tub.
- To make sticks, cut in shorter lengths and leave straight. You could make them thicker by rolling another strip onto the previous one.
If you’re looking for games to play while camping, cards are perfect for kids of all ages. It’s a time when your child has your complete attention. Have you ever played Red and Black with your toddler? Give your little one half the deck and take turns turning over a card.
After you turn over a card, you put the red ones in a stack and put the black ones in a stack. Everybody wins. As your child gets older, you can play numbers. The same concept, only that you make stacks of numbers instead. These are terrific transitional games before some classic games of Go Fish, War, and Slapjack.
If you have an old-fashioned card table, bring it along and play some dominoes. If you don’t have a card table, a flat surface big enough to cover a campsite picnic table is good.
After you play some dominoes, show your young camper how to line up these small wooden blocks to make a race track. Or get yourself a big set and fill the table. Domino race tracks are fantastic ways for kids to engage in free play that helps with early science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and fine motor skills.
Here are some extra fun and cool things to do while camping with kids of all ages:
- Let your teen or tween make a music playlist to play while cooking dinner or playing board games.
- Have your camper help you set up the tent or other do camping chores like washing dishes.
- Challenge your camper to see who can stack the highest stack of rocks.
- Let your older kids bring a friend.
- Team storytelling. Your child comes up with the idea and you have to make up a story. For older kids, switch roles or take turns.
Camping requires effort and creativity in order to achieve success. Having lots of fun camping activities and games ready to go for your young outdoorsman can make for a much more enjoyable experience for everyone.
Children who are given opportunities to take on challenges and see the fruits of their labor can become problem solvers and doers. When given a task with just the right amount of difficulty, your child will learn perseverance, gratitude, and grit—plus how to make the perfect s’more.