Camping with kids is not only a great family vacation, but full of benefits for children and their favorite grownups. Not only does it allow for time to unplug and enjoy nature, it is also one of the best ways to reconnect as a family. But even with all those benefits (and the promise of s’mores every night) camping with kids can still be a challenge. As seasoned campers, we try to find ways to make the challenges of camping with kids disappear, so that we can just focus on the fun part of the process.
One of the camping challenges to meet is how to entertain the kids while they are at camp, particularly when the parents need to be doing something else. Away from camp, there is always a trail to hike or a forest to explore, but when it is time to make dinner, clean up, or even just (gasp!) rest in a chair for a few minutes, the kids need to stay busy. Camping presents a unique challenge for this common problem because of the need to keep kids extra safe from camping dangers, like fire or wandering away. Camping also generally presents a location where it is harder to tell little kids to go off and play.
To get rid of this problem, we have learned to create a dedicated play space at our campsite where we can safely send the kids to play. Each solution depends on the age of the kids we need to keep busy, but they all work to make camping a little easier for the parents, which makes it more fun for everyone.
Babies and Toddlers-Fence ‘Em In
For the littlest campers, the safest way to contain them is a playpen or play yard. Of course, the typical Pack and Play works for little ones. You can even add a mosquito net to protect them from bugs and other pests. Once they start crawling and walking, they will need more room to roam. We like to use a portable play yard. It can easily be set up anywhere. Add a few toys, and maybe a blanket and you are good to go for at least a few minutes of safe play. I like the use of a play yard particularly because it still gives the young child a chance to be out in nature, but keeps them away from fires and other hazards. Don’t feel like you have to buy an expensive play yard, if you don’t already own one. Check with your mom friends to see if you can borrow for the weekend, or even improvise. We had a friend who created a huge play yard for a bunch of little ones with a roll of flexible construction fencing and some stakes. It was great fun and worked perfectly.
Preschoolers and Early Elementary-A Toy Tent
Once kids are old enough to be trusted to stay in their boundaries, you can graduate to a toy tent. It’s as easy as pitching an extra tent and throwing a bunch of toys in there. It becomes like a happy little toy cave for the kids and it is equally happy for the parents who get a few minutes of quiet while they play. As a bonus, it keeps all the toys rounded up at camp, and if you have a rainy day, you have a place to go to keep the kids occupied until the storms clear.
Just like at home, it makes sense to have some special toys that you pull out just for camping to make sure it will be novel enough to keep their attention.
Elementary Age-Gather it All Up
Even kids who are old enough to play alone sometimes need inspiration for what to do. Create a sort of play station to spark their outdoor play and keep them busy at camp. Include things like insect catching kits, microscopes, and nature cards to give them ideas of how to play. You can also include simple craft supplies that can turn leaves and rocks into works of art. Make a stop at the local dollar store to find cheap options that will give kids fresh new ways to play at camp. Whatever toys and games you choose, the key is to gather it all into one location so that when they are looking for something to do they will know right where to go for supplies.