Ideas For Kid-Friendly Family Camping

Not every child takes instantly to the idea of camping. Here are some suggestions for making the family camping trip a little more appealing to everyone involved.

Few activities can bring a family with children closer together than a camping trip. The cooperative effort, the time together experiencing the outdoors and new places, the shared laughter, all have the potential for lifetime-memory creators. These are the types of experiences parents want to give their children: great family times that grown kids can look back upon and cherish.

Not every child, however, takes instantly to the outdoor/camping experience (heck, not all adults do, either). While some kids seem to revel in all-things-outdoors, others may not find the occasional rigors and inconveniences of not having a flush toilet for a weekend all too appealing. Particularly younger kids may need some gentle prodding to become campers.

Forethought, Pre-planning Can Make Family Camping Trip a Success

While no child should be forced into the wilderness against their wishes, there are plenty of ways to make even the most timid of children come to love camping. A bit of forethought, some pre-planning on mom and dad’s part, and the kids will be asking “when are we going again?” on the way home. Here are several suggestions for making the family camp trip an enjoyable one for all.

Get Everyone Equally Involved

  • Start and keep a family camping journal. Each day have a different child fill out the day’s entry of activities, with input from everyone. Past entries make for fun campfire reading.
  • Have each child be “in charge” for a day, deciding what activities will be undertaken (swimming, hiking, games) that day.
  • Assign a rotating chore list, so that each child gets involved in the various responsibilities (cooking, setting up & cleaning up the campsite, firebuilding, gathering kindling,) and has the opportunity to learn. Obviously, depending on age and safety factors, mom and dad will be assisting here.

Start Family Traditions

Whether it’s sing-alongs, ghost stories (maybe an ongoing ghost story!), the sharing of family history, or a nightly game of charades, the after-dinner campfire is the perfect time to begin regular traditions that may be carried on from trip to trip, year to year.

Perhaps it will become routine/tradition that on a given day of each trip your family always takes the big hike. Rotate the responsibility of who chooses the hike, and who “leads” it. Back at camp, today’s journalist can record the highlights.

Make Camping a Learning Experience

The opportunities for children to learn while spending time outdoors are almost endless. With the aid of field guides (or perhaps mom and dad’s own impressive knowledge), just a few of the possibilities are: wildflowers, trees, plants, animals, animal tracks, birds, cloud types/weather, stars/astronomy, survival skills, knot-tying, fire-building and many more.

Consider making your family camping trip a Geo-Camping trip. Combining the quickly growing outdoor activity of geocaching with camping is about as kid-friendly as it gets. What child doesn’t love a treasure hunt? And it’s a great way to learn navigating one’s way through the woods.

Finally, for those very young or very timid children, consider easing into the outdoor experience by first renting a cabin or an RV. The family can still enjoy outdoor activities during the day, cook out, and have a campfire, but the comfort and familiarity of a real bed at the end of the day may be just enough to put that child at ease.

Regardless of sleeping quarters or activities chosen, family camping trips have the potential to bring the whole family closer together and create lasting memories. A child who is comfortable in the out of doors becomes an adult who is comfortable in the world. What better gift can a parent give a child?

Activities and Games for Young Campers

While many campsites now offer electricity for the benefit of users, it’s unlikely that campers will be spending their time watching television or playing video games like they may do at home. Instead of listening to the inevitable “I’m bored,” children and young adults can be motivated to enjoy nature through the excitement of outdoor activities. Many state parks and campgrounds offer a variety of activities for visitors to enjoy, or campers can create their own fun.

According to Shando Varda in 101 Family Vacation Games: Have Fun While Traveling, Camping or Celebrating at Home (Hunter House, 2005), games are an important element of the camping experience. “Through play, a child learns about trust, boundaries, taking turns, what hurts, what feels good, how to express their opinions, how to listen to others, and above all they learn that when they stick to their agreement about the rules of the game, they receive the wonderful reward of fun and laughter.”

Activities Offered at Some Campgrounds

The Web sites and brochures of individual campgrounds almost always include a list of activities that are available to campers. These activities can include:

  • Water activities – Almost any campground on a body of water will offer swimming, boating (some facilities even offer canoes or kayaks to rent), scuba diving, snorkling, fishing or tubing.
  • Hiking and nature trails – While the idea of just walking around may be unappealing to small hikers, many campsites offer a list of animals or plants that could be found on the site, or adults could write up one of their own. A scavenger hunt to find the plants and animals on the list may be more enticing.
  • Events, museums or exhibits – State and national parks often have an exhibit that campers can visit to learn more about the area or the creatures that live within the park’s boundaries. Some of these special activities can be included in the fee required for camping or may cost extra.

Free Games and Activities

When looking for fun outside of the campground’s prescribed activities, Linda White and Fran Lee suggest in Sleeping in a Sack: Camping Activities for Kids (Gibbs Smith, 1998) that young campers can create their own games with a little inspiration from home.

For instance, kids often play “the floor is lava” in which they climb on furniture in an attempt to not touch the floor. Camping provides an even more challenging version requiring participants to jump from rocks, logs and other materials and avoiding falling or stepping on the ground. Shallow, slow-moving rivers where stepping stones are prominent could also be an option if a parent is around to supervise.

A traditional part of any group camping trip is the theatrical activities – ghost stories, shadow puppets and skits. Kids and young adults on a camping trip can plan together to have a scary night of ghost tales, learn how to make supporting characters through inventive shadow-hand puppets (just a flashlight and the back of a tent needed) and come up with a show to entertain the others through playacting. Encourage the kids to really get their creative juices flowing with prompts and characters to include.

Prepared Games and Activities

The great outdoors can create lasting memories, but why not help those memories along? Buying a scrapbook before the trip will give children a place to preserve pressed flowers and leaves as well as their memories and photos of the trip itself.

Just a little preparation – paper, glue and markers – can give children the materials necessary for endless hours of creative work. Encourage the young campers to experiment with nature in order to find the perfect art materials – from berries (know what they are first, to prevent poisoning) and flowers to smooth stones and rocks, many items at a campground can be used to create beautiful works of art.

Finally, origami can be a fun way to spend the time. Buying a pack of origami paper and instructions will give children the foundation to create shapes and designs of their own. Eventually, kids may figure out how to make origami from leaves and flowers they find at the campsite.