How to make sure your kids aren’t bored at the campground!

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You’ve spent hours planning, packing, preparing, and driving… and you’ve finally arrived at the campsite for the weekend.  But, before you can even sit down and enjoy that juicy romance novel you’ve brought along, you’re little one says “I’m bored”.

What?  Seriously… the whole reason you’ve brought the family here is so they can make some nature memories and have some outdoor fun while you soak up the sun and indulge in a little fire-side mom time.

Well, read on for some campground activities for kids that are sure to entertain.  You’ll find ideas that kids can do independently with little prep.  You’ll also find family camping games, camping crafts, and family games perfect for travel and fun around the picnic table.

kids playing at the campsite picnic table and in a stick lean-to

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What will your kids do at the campground?

Firstly, let’s agree that some families are all about planning and scheduling their fun while other families are more flexible and adaptable with their free time.

Which type of family are you?

Are you the mom who likes to have crafts all prepared and set out for when the craft bug bites?  Are you the family that gathers nightly for board games or plays word games on long drives?

Or are you the family that is happy to find entertainment in the moment, and have kids that are content to occupy themselves with what they find at hand?

And then, some of you might be a little bit of both.

 

For me, when it comes to camping, I really don’t want to spend more time than necessary packing.  Don’t get me wrong, I might already spend too much time trying to make sure our trip is as easy as possible with lots of at-home food prep and packing organizing.   But, I am also aware that all the ‘extra’ items I pack will also have to be re-packed, brought back home, and put away again.

So, with that in mind, our family does not bring a lot of extras.

 

However, our kids rarely complain of being bored while camping.

Why?  Because just being outside is so much fun, right?  But, there’s always exceptions like if the weather is really cold or rainy or they’re feeling overwhelmed and tired, or we’re on a really long camping trip and the novelty of the campsite is starting to wear off, or you have older kids that might not enjoy digging in the dirt and climbing trees as much as they want to sulk and complain about not having their screens along with them.

Those are the times when it’s handy to have a few campground activities for kids in mind.

 

So, read on and pick a few of these to plan and be prepared for.

 

Crafty Campground Activities

If you’re okay with bringing some craft supplies and with having to manage a little crafting clean up while camping, you might want to consider having some nature craft ideas in mind.

Nature can be very inspirational for kids.

Sometimes just providing some colored paper, crayons, and glue is enough to get them involved in a project.

 

Crafts at the Campsite

Here are some suggestions you could give them to get their creativity flowing:

  • Have a birthday party for their stuffie
  • Make a treasure hunt
  • Create a nature collage
  • Have a paper air plane flying contest
  • Make camping hats decorated with leaves and twigs
  • Make a book to record all their nature finds at the campsite
  • Create a camping comic book

 

Rock Painting

If youadded paint to the craft supplies you might want to suggest they paint rocks they find around the campsite.  Using water-based non-toxic paints means the rocks will be washed clean again by the rain or you could gather rocks to paint and bring home (if picking rocks is allowed where you’re camping).

a young child holding a paper plate with painted rocks
Rock painting with Sixth Bloom

Sixth Bloom shares all the details of how they enjoyed rock painting with their preschoolers in this article.

 

Nature Paintings

Here’s another nature paint project by Fireflies and Mudpies.  Read more on their site to see how they chose to do some outdoor crafting and the interesting game they played with their completed camouflage artwork afterwards.

nature collage paintings done outdoors
camouflage painting with Fireflies and Mudpies

Once on a longer camping trip with my children I brought along finger paints.  The kids spent a good hour or more painting and enjoying themselves.  They used their fingers and without my suggestion even started painting with grasses, leaves, and pine cones they found around the campsite.

 

Your kids can still be creative even without lugging along the craft box.

Fun with Clay and Nature Treasures

If you and your kids can locate some clay or mud you could use that to mold into shapes and add some nature treasures to make designs and images.  It’s fun to make faces on tree trunks with clay and rocks and such.

Even without the clay, your kids can make pictures and faces with nature treasures.  Check out these nature portraits by Adventure in a Box for more ideas.

making faces out of nature like leaves, rocks, and twigs
Nature Portraits by Adventure in a Box

I’ll be honest and say that most of my toddler’s campground play involves just the treasures they find at the campsite: hauling rocks and sticks around, making roads in the dirt, throwing pine cones, and climbing trees.

 

Stick Mazes

Here’s a fun idea if you find yourself in a spot with a lot of fallen wood on the ground:  Mazes using sticks.  Read more about making stick mazes at Mother Natured.

a girl standing in the middle of a stick maze
Stick Mazes by Mother Natured

 

Shelters and Lean-tos

And, if you happen to be in a spot with a lot of fallen wood you could help your kids create a shelter or little fort.  We’ve come across some pretty fancy lean-tos and log shelters.

a young kid playing in a wooden shelter at the campsite
Building shelters can be a whole family activity while camping

Even if you don’t have a lot of large sticks available, you can offer your kids an old sheet or tarp and some rope for them to try building with.  I usually have an extra tarp when we go camping that the kids can use for this reason.  They get to practice making shelters, it usually takes them hours, and then they have a little private spot for the duration of the stay.

 

Nature Activities at the Campground

What better place to encourage some nature learning and exploration than at the campsite?

We find that if given a little bit of time and encouragement our kids will start exploring and asking great questions which have led to all sorts of neat discoveries.  Because of this, we now keep some local field guides in our camper all the time.

 

Using Field Guides

We’ve found that our kids will find rocks, plants, and bugs and then spend time looking in the books to compare and try to identify their discoveries.


 

On one camping trip my daughter, 4 at the time and completely unable to read, carried our Kaufman Guide to Birds book around in her pink bike basket the entire weekend.   She was so eager to show us all the exotic birds she was spotting and reading about on her little trips around the campsite loop.

If you have a little one interested in birds, you could even fashion a pair of toilet paper binoculars to help encourage that curiosity…. or even let them use the real binoculars for a special treat!

On another trip, our guy gathered up all sorts of rocks by the riverbank, then brought them back to the campsite to see if he could break them open or identify them.  I think he was a little disappointed he didn’t find any gold or gems, but it still kept him occupied for a few hours while I enjoyed an ice tea and indulgent reading.

 

Nature Scavenger Hunts

If your kids need a little encouragement to explore, a scavenger hunt is a great tool to get them moving and looking with curious eyes.  There are so many different types of hunts you can do: touch and feel hunts, color hunts, insect or animal hunts, seasonal scavenger hunts, even great big find everything type of hunts.

Take them outside has quite a few different scavenger hunts to choose from.  By joining the Take Them Outside Newsletter you’ll get access to all the ones we have in our printables resource library.  We even have a few camping scavenger hunts specific to safety and getting oriented at the campsite, as well as one for a fun group activity at the campground.

Here’s a bug scavenger hunt you can print and bring along.  I love that this one by Messy Little Monster because it is just images making it easier for littler kids.

And this one is fun for little kids too:  a color wheel scavenger hunt by Mother Natured.

an image of a printable color wheel scavenger hunt to play at the campground
Nature color wheel by Mother Natured

If you think scavenger hunts would be a fun activity at the campground, print a few off before you head out.  But, even if you forget you can easily make one up while you’re there.  Just look around your area and make up a list for your kids to hunt around for.  To make your scavenger hunt interesting, add things like sounds, certain quantities of items, natural items, and even some actions to take too.

 

Nature Journaling

Vacation and camping trips are perfect times to take some time for nature reflection.  I’m not into regular journaling in my day-to-day life, but on vacation or when I’m out in the woods for a length of time, I start to want to write and draw more.

And, your kids might enjoy some prompting to also get creative while outdoors.  There are so many nature journal templates and printables available now.  But, the simplest is just to bring along a little blank notebook (or staple together some pages to make your own).

For you or your older kids you might ask them to record their observations and activities for the day, for littler kids you could ask them to draw what they see or what they’ve done at the campground.

Here’s a mini-campground nature journal for kids that you can get access to in our printables resource library.  It’s just one piece of paper that folds up into a cute mini-book.

 

Fun around the Campfire

Just gathering supplies and starting the campfire is a good activity in itself.  If you have older kids and trust their skills you can have them help break down sticks, haul wood, and even light the fire.

 

Fire Starting for Kids

Our kids particularly enjoy experimenting with fire starting material.  If this is an activity you think you’ll get your kids involved in you might want to mention it at home so the kids can think about what would work for fire starting and pack those materials themselves.

My kids have experimented with dryer lint, cotton balls, newspaper, tissue paper, cardboard, egg cartons, bark, moss, cedar branches, and more.  I have purchased matches with longer handles and also a flint striker for them to use for safer fire starting.

kids using small twigs to start a fire at the campsite
Fire starting is a valuable lesson for kids to learn while camping

All this fire play will need direct supervision and instruction on your part, but fire starting is an important life skill for everyone to have.  Plus your kids will be pretty proud to declare they started the fire to cook tonight’s meal or smores!

 

Speaking of Smores, this is a fun camping activity if you happen to be camping without a campfire but still want to enjoy some smores!  You will need to prepare this ahead of time, or at least bring along the supplies… but it’s easy, really cool, and you’ll get a yummy treat at the end!

Read all about how we made smores with pizza box solar ovens here.

 

Campfire games

I didn’t grow up going to summer camp, but I did work as a camp counselor for a few years and singing songs around the campfire was so much fun!  I’ll admit that as a family we don’t sing many songs around the fire, but we have played the odd campfire game.

Here’s a few suggestions of quick circle games kids might enjoy:

  • Telephone:  one person starts by whispering a phrase to their neighbor and that person whispers what they think they’ve heard to their neighbor and so on until it returns to the original person
  • Would you rather:  Take turns asking each other questions like would you rather fly or be invisible, would you rather eat gummy bears or chocolate bars for breakfast, would you rather race your dad or your sister, and so on
  • Alphabet games:  Choose a category like movies, book titles, or geographic locations.  One person starts by naming a movie and the letter that movie ends with becomes the letter the next movie named must start with.  So, for example, The Lego Movie… Ewoks… Star Wars… Solo…
  • Name that Song:  This one is lots of fun with my kids.  I start singing a song and they have to guess if it’s real or if I made it up.  This game has gotten so intense that I’ve had to actually prove myself using youtube videos because they didn’t believe Lolipop was an actual song!

 

Stargazing

Not a lot of prior planning needs to go into stargazing.  You just need to remember to look up once darkness falls.

But, if you’re wanting to make an event out of it, bring along some blankets, maybe a telescope or binoculars, a star map and head out to a dark open area to spend some quiet time contemplating and watching the night sky.

 

Games to play at the campsite

If you have room to bring along some games or equipment, here are a few campground favorites:

 

Cornhole

It’s a funny name for such a simple game.  Two boards, some bean bags, and somehow this game can lead to all-day-long tournaments.

You can purchase these kits or if you’re handy you can make your family a set.  Here are some DIY instructions for making your own cornhole game.

 

Capture the Flag

This one is lots of fun for larger groups and older kids.  You’d want to make sure that the players had a large safe area to play in with very defined borders.  Here’s a site with very detailed instructions on how to play capture the flag.

But, if you’re looking for the quick explanation here it is:  A large group would be divided into 2 teams.  Each team would hide a flag on their side.  The challenge is to capture the other team’s flag without being tagged.

Throw Something Around

Did you know the record for the longest Frisbee throw is more than 1000 feet?  I bet you and your kids can’t do that!  Frisbees can be used to play catch, you can have ultimate Frisbee Games, set up a Frisbee golf course, or just use them for digging in the dirt and hauling pine cones around!

Soccer balls, base balls, basket balls… all of these other games are fun to bring along to the campground too.

A lot of campground have horseshoe pits too.  You might need to ask at the main office to borrow the shoes if you don’t see any laying around.

You can very easily make up simple throwing games too.  Use some sticks to mark out a box on the ground, find some rocks and have the kids throw the rocks into various boxes for points.  I’m sure if you suggest your kids come up with some sort of competition they will!


 

Bring along some big toys

Looking back over our past camping trips, I’d say the camping activity our kids have done the most of is biking.  If you have room for bikes and trust your kids can move around the campground safely, then bringing along some bikes might be a really good idea.

Not only do bikes give kids something to do they can also make getting around larger campgrounds much easier and quicker.

Other larger items you might want to consider:

  • canoe, kid’s kayaks, float toys
  • sand toys, shovels, pails
  • wagon
  • pop up play tents for toddlers
  • slacklines
a girl using a slack line at the campground
Both kids and adults will enjoy the challenge of a slackline at the campground

 

Quiet Activities for Camping

Have you taken a walk down the board isle game at your local big department store lately?  It’s a little overwhelming if you ask me!

I have very fond memories of my family only ever playing spoons at the cottage.  The idea was pretty simple if I remember correctly… you all traded cards until something happened which triggered you grabbing for a spoon… which usually resulted in chairs flying and people screaming.   So, maybe spoons isn’t a quiet table game, but these are:

Card games

Just bring along a deck or two and you’re all set for crazy eights, rummy, go fish, old maid, and more.  Add a crib board and you can have a family crib tournament …or bring along a jar of pennies and teach your kids how to gamble at blackjack!

Uno

Yes, this is technically also a card game, but with fancier cards.  And, you can even get specialty-themed ones like Minecraft, Harry Potter, and Wilderness.

Board Games

If loosing pieces is a concern, think about these magnetic travel type games like checkers, or travel Scrabble.

But, if you’re not so worried about things getting lost or blowing away you might want to consider bringing along your favorite family game.  There’s no need to go out and buy something new unless you really want to surprise the family with a special edition of National Parks Monopoly or Yahtzee.

Photography

Camping is the perfect time to let kids explore how to use a camera.  There’s no shortage of beautiful nature to photograph.  You could create a photo scavenger hunt for them or challenge them to learn how to use some of the features on your phone’s camera – if you trust them with it, of course.

Who knows, you might have a budding photographer in your family and this camping trip is the time for that interest to grow and bloom!

Books

…saving the best idea for last!

Yes, reading is the ultimate camping activity (in my opinion)… sure, my kids might not agree.  But, that being said, they’ve always brought books along and have always complained when I turned the lights out before they were done reading.

Looking for some book suggestions?  Here’s a list full of kids picture books about bugs… since you’re sure to encounter a bug or two at the campsite;)

And, if you’re looking for an adult read, how about Wild by Cheryl Strayed or The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel

 

A few last words of advice… don’t rescue your kids from their boredom too quickly.  Give them the opportunity to feel that inactivity and see what and where it leads them.  You might be surprised with what happens next.

So, for your next trip just plan for a few extra just in case campground activities and instead let your kids use nature and their imagination to keep themselves entertained.

 

What should you do now

Other camping posts you’ll want to read:

 

various campground activities for kids

various activities that kids can do while camping

a child's hands using twigs to start a fire at the campsite

kids enjoying activities at the campground

 

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image of printable camping checklist and planner pages

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