Keep the kids busy on your next campout with these fun ideas! You can keep them occupied on the campsite or out on the trail.
Of course, appropriate and fun activities will vary with age, and they need to be suitable for the number of children involved, too. This list is grouped roughly by age level, from things suitable for younger kids on up to ideas that older children will enjoy. Each includes information about what supplies and equipment are needed and the number of kids that can play together. And the younger the children are, the more supervision they will need. Be sure to watch kids carefully to protect them from natural dangers, traffic, and unhealthy contact with strangers.
A magnifying glass can provide lots of entertainment even for the youngest explorers. Provide your child (or children) with a small plastic magnifying glass and send them off to check out the details around the campsite, like different types of soil, the structure of plants, small insects, rocks, sticks, or other natural treasure. Take a close look at the picnic table to see the grain in the wood and find out how knotholes are different from the rest of the wood.
Use a piece of string tied in a circle to mark out a small area for each child to explore. The string should be at least three feet long. Your scientist may also want paper, pencil and crayons or colored pencils as well as a magnifying glass to look at the small wonders within the circle and record their findings. Or, try a One-Hundred Inch Hike. Cut pieces of string to one hundred inches long (eight feet and four inches). Give each child a string to lay out on the ground and have him or her get down on hands and knees and discover different plants, bugs, and evidence of wildlife along the path they marked with their string.
Rubbings can make nice souvenirs, so be sure to pack crayons or colored pencils and some blank paper. Your child can collect leaf rubbings by gathering fallen leaves and placing them vein-side-up under the paper. Carefully rub the crayon over the paper, and an image of the leaf will appear. Rubbings can also be taken of tree bark, stones, or other textured items. Be sure to label the rubbings so that everyone will remember where and when they were taken and what they represent.
Try playing Nature Bingo: before you leave on your trip, make up several bingo cards with pictures or words that represent things one might find in the woods (or whatever environment you are camping in). Make each card different. Challenge the kids to search for the items on their bingo card and cross them out when found. You could also make up a scavenger hunt for the kids. Send them around the campsite or other play area with a list of nature items to find. Traditional scavenger hunts require items be gathered and brought back for judging, but you can change those rules to have players check them off of the list or even take pictures of the things they are searching for.
Play Alphabet Nature Hunt. Challenge each player to find something that begins with each letter of the alphabet around the campsite or while out on a hike. Make sure the words are specific instead of general: "tree" is not an acceptable answer for the letter T. "Toad" would be a lot better.
Make an edible campfire for a snack. This activity is a delicious way to teach fire building and fire safety. You'll need a paper plate, spoon, fork, and a cup of water or clear pop for each person. You also need raisins, red hots candies, shredded coconut, pretzel sticks, and licorice. The plate is the fire site, the fork is a rake, the spoon represents a shovel, and the cup is a bucket of water. Build the fire ring using raisins, and lay the coconut for the tinder (the smallest wood used to start the fire). The pretzel sticks are the kindling (medium-sized wood), and the licorice represents the fuel (the large pieces that are added last). Sprinkle on the red hots and pretend they are the coals after you get your fire going. Now, eat and enjoy!!
Trail sign paths make a nice diversion when your children are old enough to go off a little ways by themselves. Send your youngsters off to mark a trail using sticks or rocks that show which way to go. Make trail signs with whatever is at hand. For example, sticks can be arranged in an arrow shape that points toward the next trail sign. Two rocks can be piled on top of each other with a third rock on the side showing which way to go. Small stones can be arranged into arrows, or a forked stick can be put into the ground and another stick leaned into the fork to point in the direction intended.
Make a nature trail! Use field guides, baggage tags, and a marker. Have the kids choose an area to explore and find natural items that interest them. Use the field guides as a resource to learn about a tree, plant, animal home, rock, etc. and make a tag for the item on the baggage tag. Leave the tag near the item for others to see, and invite guests to enjoy the trail with its information. Be sure to pick the tags up when you are done, unless you have permission to leave them from the landowners or park management.
Try this memory game at the picnic table: Use four sticks or pieces of string to make a tic tac toe board with nine open squares. You'll also need a towel and paper and pencil for each player. Arrange the sticks into a tic tac toe shape that has nine squares. Send the players out to find a small item to put in each square. Place everything on the board and allow a brief time to study the arrangement. Cover it with the towel, and challenge the players to draw a diagram of the arrangement and name all of the items in their correct places.
Some kids enjoy trying to revive old-time skills. See if they can start a fire by rubbing two sticks together or make a sundial out of sticks and rocks. Use cooled charcoal from last night's fire to make some artwork. Try making a broom from a large stick and dried grasses tied with string. Can your child figure out a way to make a shelf or other furniture using sticks and twine? You'll probably want to pack the scissors or a suitable knife for these activities.
With just a little bit of planning and a few everyday materials, you can have a ready answer when your young campers complain of boredom. Equip yourself with activity ideas to pull out of your bag of tricks, and you will be the hero of the campout!