I hope at some point in your life you’ve camped (whether or not it went off without a hitch or if you woke up floating away on your air mattress like in cartoons). Our experiences build character and camping is one of those activities that make great memories for children and adults alike!
Over the years, I’ve been asked, “what does your kid do while you’re camping? Aren’t they bored?”
I’m here to share all my ideas with you today to make sure that your kiddo is entertained in the wilderness! I’ve also included a section all about indoor camping-themed activities for those who aren’t really into camping or for those who need some rainy-day activities for home.
Activities for the campground (or even the backyard!)
1. Utilize the wilderness
I don’t actually bring a lot of toys when we go camping. Nature is our playground! Sticks become musical instruments or swords, trees become jungle gyms, and rocks become building blocks. Use your imagination and let theirs run free! It’s a little difficult to see in the picture here, but my son spent about an hour making a rock pile when we first got to camp on this trip.
2. Play with water
We like to find campsites near some body of water. For kids, a small stream, river, or lake can create days of fun! If there’s a beach nearby, bringing beach toys as simple as a bucket and shovel can enable them to create lots of structures and designs. If you forgot toys, again, find some sticks and rocks to draw in the sand! Our names are written on a lot of beaches in Alberta.
3. Let them help with tasks
I understand that some people (both adults and kids) may think camping is “boring” since you’re just sitting around in nature. We’ve learned to disconnect from electronics and connect with the simple tasks when we go camping. We use the actual experience of camping as a multi-day activity! Getting kids involved in the work helps them feel entertained and part of the team. For instance, if your kids are old enough, let them help set up the tent, start a fire, chop wood, gather sticks (if wood gathering is allowed), and cook meals. I also engage my son and ask him to do tasks that make him feel accomplished, such as tidying up the tent and hanging clothes on the clothesline.
4. Bring games and toys that keep them active
- Sports games are a great idea for camping. Bringing soccer balls, baseballs, and footballs engages the whole family! We also bring ladder golf and cornhole, and I’ve seen spikeball in many campsites.
- Additionally, we went camping recently, and my friend brought walkie-talkies! The boys ran around the campsite yelling at each other until the batteries died (sorry nice camp-neighbours.)
- Another slightly different toy to bring camping are balloons! The kids will play for hours and there are countless games you can play with them.
- Pack a hammock! You can find some inexpensive ones and they’re worth it. My son plays, eats, and even sometimes naps in the hammock. Sadly they will occasionally break, as our friend’s did a little while ago, but the creative gears got turning and she repurposed it into a seat (and the chaos began all over again!)
- Create your own games such as a sleeping bag potato sack race, set up an obstacle course, or if you have multiple tents to set up, get the kids to race and see who can set up their tent faster!
5. Bring nighttime activities
During summer in Alberta, the sun doesn’t set until about 10pm and doesn’t really get dark until later. That fact makes nighttime fun a little difficult, but the activities are still worth bringing. The forest gets darker than the campsite, so we like to go for an evening nature walk to unwind from the day! Three things I recommend bringing that can engage kiddos for evening/nighttime activities are: first, headlamps! They can play flashlight tag and run around. For my child, wearing the headlamp is a fun activity in itself. Next, I recommend bringing sparklers! Kids love seeming them flicker in the twilight. Finally, if you’re able to find glowsticks, bring them. Kids can also bring them to bed (if they’re old enough). Glowsticks have really helped my son fall asleep while camping.
6. Bring some activities that help them unwind
There’s nothing more challenging than trying to get your overstimulated child to calm down and get ready for bed around 10 pm. They’re usually buzzing from the day of excitement (true story from a few weekends ago) so here’s a few ideas to help those crazies fizzle. We always pack books, colouring sheets, and pencil crayons. Additionally, if you have older kids, bringing board games and cards can be helpful to keep them still for a few hours (or minutes…). We like singing soft songs or humming around the fire and talking about our day to unwind before bedtime, too.
Camping-themed activities for rainy days
Unfortunately, the weather doesn’t always cooperate. If we’re camping or even if we’re spending time at home, sometimes we get weather that makes us want to stay indoors. If you’re not a camper but still like the concept of camping, these activities are also for you!
- Read camping books, such as ones written by Author Dineo Dowd.
- Create camping-themed artwork, or colour camping-themed colouring pages, such as this adorable one by Jayne Baun!
- Make camping crafts! Build a campsite diorama, binoculars using toilet paper rolls, or create a glowing campfire with sticks, pebbles, tissue paper and a battery-powered candle.
- Learn about camping safety! THiNK OUTSiDE boxes are a great way to get your child educated on outdoor and wilderness safety. We tested out the knot-tying box and had a ton of fun learning some fun new knots that will help us out while we’re camping. We’re also affiliated with them, so use the code KWE15 for $15 off your first order!
Carrie's packing tips to ensure happy adventures
One of the most important tips I can give you when you’re going camping is to bring extra clothes and shoes. Part of the fun of camping is the mess of it all! We went camping for three days recently and we went through everything we brought and had to re-wear some of the clothes and dry a pair of shoes at the fire.
In addition to packing extra clothes, pack clothes for all weather! Here’s what we typically bring for a three-day weekend:
- Shoes: Rain boots, running shoes, water shoes/sandals, and easy-on shoes (slippers or booties for midnight bathroom trips)
- Tops: Raincoat, warm (nighttime) coat, a sweater, baselayer, 2 long-sleeved tops, and 2 t-shirts
- Bottoms: Jan & Jul rain pants, thick fleece pants, a baselayer, 2 long pants, 2 shorts, and 2 pairs of swim shorts
- Misc: Sunglasses, sun hat(s), umbrella, toque, and mittens
Of course, this depends on where you live, so what I pack might not always apply to you, but here in Alberta, we can sometimes experience all four seasons in one weekend! Bottom line, overpack a little bit.
Please don't stress about camping!
If you’re not a “camper” because you fear having to find ways to entertain your child, rest assured, they will find ways to entertain themselves! Just prepare for them to look like they just took a mud-bath fully clothed. Ensure the activities you choose are age-appropriate and they’re staying safe around water, fire, and all the other sharp and scary things nature gifts us. Educate yourself on campground etiquette before you head to the campground so you know what is and what isn’t allowed. Additionally, be aware of wild animals! If you’re not educated, check out our post here on animal safety with Wild Animal Expert Kim Titchener. We’re mostly focused on bears here in Alberta, but we also know there are many other types of animals you can experience while exploring the outdoors!
If you have any questions about anything we brought up in this article, please contact us and we would be happy to discuss anything with you! We’re a pool of helpful ideas over at Kids Who Explore and would love to help you get outside.