We started camping with Emma when she was 18 months old. We quickly learned that we didn’t have to bring a lot of toys to camp, but we did need to have some activities to keep her busy while we took care of “grown-up” chores around the site, or to keep her interested and engaged on hikes.
Most of my ideas have come from my own memories of Girl Guide crafting, activities I did with kids when I was a camp counselor, and a nature-focus on activities Emma already enjoys at home. There are also lots of books, blogs and websites that can provide hours of fun ideas. With camping season kicking off soon, I thought I’d share a few of my ideas with you.
|Idea # 8: Take a deep breath and hand over the camera. You’ll be amazed at what kids can capture through their own lens. Heres Emma with my camera in Algonquin Provincial Park in 2014. She was 9 years old.|
Emma is 10 years old now, but really all that has changed with these activities is how much help she needs from me and Alex.
I try to keep costs low when I’m getting supplies, so I buy most of the materials for these activities at a Dollar Store.
1) Beaded/braided bracelets and necklaces.
It doesn’t get more traditional than this! As a camp counsellor, making bracelets and then trading them with campers and other counsellors was a well-loved activity. Every summer, I’d come home with my wrists covered in colourful bracelets.
Plastic lacing works great for this, because it is colourful and won’t get gross when it gets wet. You can also use embroidery floss, but it is more challenging for kids under seven years old.
2) Play with Clay
Take bricks of clay for kids to play with while the campsite chores are being done by the adults. I encourage Emma and her friends to use found items around the site like sticks, leaves and rocks to incorporate into their clay designs. They can press them into the clay or use them for the texture. Another idea is ask them to create a “souvenir” of their trip by making something that reminds them of where we are, like a canoe or paddle. The clay we use air-dries, so I just leave it on the bench until it hardens.
3) A beach in jar
Bring water-tight jars or clear plastic containers to the beach. Fill with sand and found beach glass, rocks, sticks or shells. If you have paint with you, paint the name of the beach and date on the jar.
4) Rock Painting
Find small rocks around the campsite and paint them to create colourful designs or creatures.
5) Tree or leaf Rubbing
Use crayons and regular paper to to create an imprint of tree bark or leaves. Simply place the paper on the tree trunk or over the leaf and colour the paper.
Young kids can start a journal by drawing pictures of things they saw or did. With Emma, I would ask her to describe our day and would then write the words for her.
You can keep copies of the park newspaper or the post permit to glue into the journal.
As the kids get older, encourage them to write their own stories and memories each day.
Having a dedicated journal just for camping trips could be a great way to record years of memories!
7) Dance camp
Emma is a dancer. She never stops dancing, no matter where we are. Never. We have always allowed her to have an iPod to listen to music around the campsite while we are busy preparing meals, etc. One year, she decided to become a campsite choreographer and has been doing it ever since. She maps out her dances and practices them over and over. When she’s ready, she performs the dance for us when we’re sitting around the campfire. This activity keeps her busy and happy. And it combines creativity and her love of dance with camping and the outdoors!
8) Photography free play
|Emma at three years-old with her first camera, at Grundy Lake Provincial Park|
Take a deep breath, and hand over the camera. After emphasizing responsibility and respect for the equipment, encourage your child to take the pictures they want to take. It is a lot of fun to view their world through pictures and can bring out a lot of giggles. You might also be amazed at the young photography talent that is blooming on your campsite!
9) Photo Scavenger Hunt
We save this one for hikes. Emma says hiking is boring, so we had to find a way to keep her engaged. A photo scavenger hunt always works to keep her moving and make the time go faster as we hike. The trick to this activity is to include the kids when you are developing the list. This gets them engaged right from the beginning, and is a great way to teach them about the environment where you are camping. For example, your child might want to find a pine cone. But if you are hiking through a deciduous forest that could be a tough task. Have a conversation about the items you can find while developing a realistic list.
One final thought: One of the great things about camping is how kids can find ways to amuse themselves around the campsite, without much help at all. It’s great to have activities planned in advance, but never forget that sometimes something as simple as a stick can provide hours of entertainment.