Camping with kids can be a lot of work, but it can also be a lot of fun for those who come prepared. With a little planning and effort ahead of time you can ensure new and exciting experiences for the whole family, and maybe even a bit of downtime for mom and dad.
We now have one summer of camping under our belts and I wanted to share some of the many ways I have come up with to keep the kids happy and entertained when we are out camping.
We have quickly realized that a key component of a successful camping trip with the kids is the proximity to a playground. Even the simplest of playgrounds can be worthy of several visits a day when out camping. There are always new kids to meet and play with and it is great to see my kids begin to learn some of the playground games like “grounders”. We try to get as close as possible to the playgrounds so we can let the kids go on their own as we set up camp or prepare meals. This little bit of freedom is great for my son and makes him quite proud to be put in charge of his little sister.
BRING THE COMFORTS OF HOME
Children are creatures of habit so it is important to bring things that are familiar and comfortable. Pack along their regular pillows and blankets, as well as a few familiar toys to make the campsite and accommodations feel more like home. For eating, bring cups and tableware they are familiar with and pack snacks that you know they love.
It is always hard to figure out what to pack for your children to keep them entertained. What works while you are at home might not necessarily work as well when you are travelling. Here is a list of what I bring along that actually gets played with by my kids.
Bikes After we had first told my son that we were getting a trailer, he saw another trailer on the road with their bikes attached to a bike rack and excitedly asked if he could bring his bike along. Unfortunately we had limited space on our first trip to pick up our trailer and he had to wait until our second trip to bring his bike along. He loves riding it around the campground and it will only get better as he gets older and we can allow him a bit more freedom to go out on his own.
Sticker and Activity Books Stickers are a great mess free activity for rainy days in the trailer. There are a lot of great combination activity and sticker books to keep the kids entertained and happy. Some of my kids favorites are stickers you put on a scene, or blank faces you stick funny eyes, noses and mouths on.
Markers and Paper A giant roll of craft paper + a package of Mr.Sketch markers ended up being some of the best things I have packed. My original thought was that we could also use the drawn-on paper as kindling for the fire, but my son was much too proud of his work to allow that. Given that I had battled for months to finally get him to draw, I was happy to bring the works of art home with us.
Board Games It is great to have board games as an option for those days when it is rainy and you are stuck inside the trailer. We have a few travel board games as well as some easy card games for the kids such as Old Maid and Go Fish. Again, the dollar stores are a great place to look for these types of items!
Homemade Playdough I like to make this 5 Minute Microwave Playdough for camping trips. It is quick and simple to make, and if it gets dirty camping it can just be tossed out and easily remade. I also find that the kids become more imaginative when they are limited to one color of dough and just a few tools and cookie cutters.
Bubbles Bubbles are a cheap and easy form of entertainment for the kids and our crazy little bulldog. Both he and the kids are happy to chase down and pop the bubbles for as long as I am willing to keep blowing them.
Buckets and Shovels Many of our camping trips are to the lake, so it is nice to have sand toys along. We build many sand castles, but the buckets and pails also get well used at the campsite or playground to fill with leaves and rocks or bring buckets of water from the nearby tap.
Small Figures and Playsets I am a big fan of these My Busy Books by Phidal Publishing. They come with a play mat and a selection of your child’s favourite characters. My daughter loves playing with her Disney Princesses and My Little Pony’s in her carseat, in her bunk of the trailer, and even at some of the sandcastles we made at the beach over the summer.
Bug Container There are all kinds of creepy crawly things to find while out camping. My son ended up keeping a ladybug in a plastic McDonald’s cup on our last trip, so I have since picked up a nice plastic bug container to keep in the trailer for future campground “pets”.
Building Blocks I put a set of Jenga type blocks in the trailer last summer and after seeing my son use them as building blocks, I have added some inexpensive wooden building blocks to our toy tub. These can be used in multiple ways and often get combined in play with the My Busy Books figures.
Lego-To-Go My son’s favorite toy without question is Lego. He can spend hours playing with it at home and always has a minifigure or two stuffed into his pockets. Using a inexpensive metal lunch box from Dollarama, I came up with this easy travel Lego tin. I found a small base plate that fit perfectly in the lid and simply glued magnets to the bottom to stick it inside the lid. The box was then filled with a small assortment of Lego bricks and specialty pieces to bring along for building fun.
Storybooks Our kids are used to a story each night as part of their bedtime routine so I like to pack some of our old favorites, as well as pick up a few new book to enjoy in the trailer. I usually keep a watch at Dollarama or Costco and have been able to pick up a lot of great books from each.
Glow Sticks When it becomes dark, the kids are always excited to crack open a glowstick or two. These are fun and can picked up fairly cheap at the Dollar Store or Walmart.
TRY SOMETHING NEW
With a bit of planning ahead, I am able to come up with some new crafts and activities to try while we were out camping. Here are a couple of our favourites from last summer:
Nature Scavenger Hunt There are lots of great free printables online for Nature Scavenger hunts. For the younger kids, the pictures based lists work great and make it easy for the kids to reference and check off as they go. I recently found this fun pirate themed Nature Hunt that I am looking forward to printing out and using with the kids this year.
Ice Cream in a Bag This is a fun activity and treat in one for a hot day. It does require you bring a few supplies (including ice), but it is easy to do following these simple directions from 2 little hooligans.
SEE WHAT THE CAMPGROUND HAS TO OFFER
Ask at check-in if there are any activities happening at the campground or if they have any handouts for kids. During our stay at Slave Lake last summer, we discovered they had a fun Bear Hunt that had us searching for pictures of various famous bears throughout the campground. Also there, was a great amphitheater where we were able to watch and participate in a fun little show about animals.
At a couple of the campgrounds we visited in Saskatchewan there was free weekly programming with sports, games and crafts for the kids to participate in. One campground even offered swimming lessons in the lake throughout the summer!
We did a lot of small hikes and walks on our camping trips. The dogs are always happy to get out and put their sniffers to work, and the kids are usually more excited about exploring the woods then I would expect. Just remember comfy footwear for all!
DON’T SAY NO TO TECHNOLOGY
While the purpose of camping is to try and get out and enjoy nature, it is also nice to have access to familiar things from home. It rained our whole first day in our new trailer and it was so nice to have the iPads for the kids to watch a movie, or rediscover some of the apps they haven’t played in months. The iPads help keep them entertained on the drive and when they needed a little downtime before bed, they happily settled in to their bunks with their iPads.
LET THEM FIGURE IT OUT
Sometimes the best thing to do is let kids get a bit bored and see what activities that might come up with on their own. On one of our trips, my son saw the stack of empty beverage cans on the picnic table and kept himself busy for about an hour playing a game of bowling with them.
When my daughter is bored, she likes to pull out the sand toys and will happily make “cakes” with the dirt, pinecones and leaves on our campsite.
No matter how much you pack there is no way to ensure yours kids will be happy campers all of the time, but being prepared definitely helps. I hope I have given you some good tips to keep you and your kids happy on your camping adventures this summer!