Trying to get time away for family camping is hard enough, not to mention getting kids interested in camping activities. All too often, children are preoccupied with phones, tablets, and other electronics, which makes it challenging to help them get in touch with nature. Luckily we’ve been there and done that— and know a few things about getting kids excited for the outdoors.
Unplug for a day (or two… or ten) with these five cool camping activities. Pack up the RV or camper van, drive to your nearest campground, set up your site, and let the fun begin!
Safety First and Always
However, before letting the kids out free-reign, let’s talk about some important safety tips.
While my intent is not to worry parents with ‘letting the kids loose’ out there in the woods or campground, there are a couple of rules you should put into place before letting them go explore.
Campground Rules for Kids
- Encourage children to always have either an adult, teen, or another child with them in all camping activities. Safety in numbers.
- Remind them of their street smarts, stranger danger, and all that goes with it.
- Put a ‘safety’ whistle on them; instructing them to only use it in case of emergency.
- Make sure they have some sort of identification on them (i.e. name tags inside their clothing, etc.)
- Take note of your children’s clothing colors anytime they go out.
- Have easy access to a current photo of your child.
- Have your First Aid Kit stocked and readily available. They’re kids. You’ll need it!
Now that we have the ‘Safety Guidelines’ in place, let’s get on with the fun stuff!
Fun Camping Activities for Kids
Without further ado— the five fun camping activities!
1. Go on a scavenger hunt.
Suggested supplies: Check off list, small pencil, small bag (those 99cent shopping bags work perfectly)
Prior to leaving for your camping trip, make paper copies of a list of things children can gather. Parents or leaders can make this age-appropriate and/or create teams to make this extra fun. For the younger ages, list more accessible and easily identifiable objects. For the newer kids, list items that will be a bit more of a challenge to spot and acquire.
Tiny Campers (ages 4-7): Make a shortlist based on shorter attention spans. For example, make up a checklist listing the following: Brown Acorn, Green Leaf, Yellow Flower, etc. It’s important that they be accompanied by an adult. You surely don’t want them bringing back poison ivy or toxic flowers. It’s a good idea for adults or leaders to be familiar with plant identification.
Kiddie Campers (ages 8-12): Step up the game by sending them out with a list of things that could involve other campers (make sure this is okay with them prior to starting the game). Items should be disposable so your children don’t have to return them: Bottle cap, twistie bread tie, aluminum foil ball,
Tween and Teen Campers (ages 12+): Teens love their phones, so allow your teens to take theirs for this photo scavenger hunt.Send them out with a list to take photos of: cumulus cloud, live bug, live butterfly, bird on a rock, tree leaf, granite rock, flower bud, trail marker, etc. This should keep them busy because they will need to practice patience and quiet observance of their surroundings.
If you have a mix of ages, you can pair a newer child with a younger one.
2. Learn new photography techniques.
Suggested Supplies: Camera, memory card, small camera filters, selfie stick, small tripod, check-off list
This camping activity is especially fun for the newer bunch; even young adults. Prior to leaving for your camping trip, create a cool paper check-off list of nature items for them to take photos of (close up photos of insects, frog or toad, leaf veins or tree bark, mountain view, animal and far away landscapes.).
Send the kids out to take photos at different times of the day. Have them learn about simple apertures, horizons, lighting, and patience, etc. Add in the requirement that they include a selfie or two…or ten!
This activity, like the Scavenger Hunt, can be a great memory maker for the newer kids as they can print off or Instagram their awesome photos showing what they did on their camping excursion. When other kids see them, they’ll be envious of the cool camping experiences and quite possibly, will want to go camping with your family next time.
3. Go geocaching.
Video source: I Am Your Target Demographic
Suggested Supplies: Handheld GPS and/or cellphone with GPS app, small log book, pencil, and tiny unique trinkets (about the size of a dime or nickel)
This is another one of those camping activities that the littles can team up with the big guys. This is also cool because it teaches kids about geography, land navigation, patience, attention to detail and will keep them busy.
There are Geocaching Apps you can download. I recommend taking a trekking pole for the kids to poke into holes before reaching their hands into. I also suggest having tiny trinkets to put into the geocaching containers.
Don’t forget a pen so players can sign the logbook so they can prove they found it. Remember, when caching, ‘take something, leave something’ to continue the fun for other geocachers.
To find a cache, you’ll need to enter its coordinates in a handheld GPS Receiver or Smart Phone. You don’t need a complex GPS. Pick an affordable and easy-to-use geocache-specific GPS unit that your kids can use.
Tips to locate a cache: First, be patient and take your time. Recall the size of the cache and use the hint (if needed) from www.geocaching.com
4. Get trashed!
Suggested Supplies: Trash bags, sterile gloves (as close to size of child’s hands), anti-bacterial wipes (for after), and prizes
Recently, I blogged Getting Trashed: The Dirty Truth About our National Parks and Sites. It’s about the unacceptable human-controlled epidemic that’s happening in our national parks, state parks and campgrounds. This camping activity would be a great lesson in teaching your children about stewardship, conservation and volunteerism.
This camping activity is fun in teams; whether with an adult or teen. Send them out with their own bag and sterile rubber gloves to look for trash. Make it even more fun by creating a list of trash things the kids must find (i.e. bottle cap, pull-tab, paper towel, aluminum foil, water bottle, soda can, fishing line, chip bag, etc.). Construct a points system (i.e. bottle cap 5 points, pull-tab 3 points, cigarette butt 1 point, etc.)
Provide prizes for the most pieces of trash, most points, and the heaviest bag of trash. Stipulate ‘no dumpster diving’ or ‘trash stealing’ from other sites. As adults, you’ll be able to tell what’s been just tossed in the trash and what’s been out in the elements.
5. Create something new with nature crafts.
Suggested Supplies: Craft box, all-purpose glue, crayons, chalk, non-toxic paints, watercolor paints, paper, cardstock, graphite pencils and small items like wiggly eyes, beads, wet wipes, etc.
There are so many things kids create with the nature all around them. First, while preparing for your family camping trip, make up a ‘camping craft box’ with the suggested supply list.
Have them gather ‘fallen’ elements (sticks, leaves, acorns, etc.) and create artsy crafts with nature. They can decorate pinecones with wiggly eyes and feathers, paint rocks, leaf and flower pressing, leaf rubbings with crayons, make birdhouses out of sticks and moss, etc. The world is at their feet.
One of my Nature Craft Camping Activities that I enjoyed when I was a young Girl Scout was making bird feeders out of pine cones, peanut butter and bird seed. Your children can do this with sticks and small pieces of wood.
Get the Family Together and Hit the Road
We all know that sometimes entertaining children or finding that ‘one thing’ that will keep their attention a challenge. But when you do, they will learn to appreciate the nature around them. In turn, they will want to camp and look forward to their next camping experience!
For more cool Kid Camping Activities and Games, check out these neat sites: