Getting kids out in nature is not optional, in my opinion; it’s an absolute necessity! Time spent outdoors away from technology can foster physical and mental health, prepare them for the future, and teach them important life skills. But, I think it’s good for kids to have at least some direction from parents on activities they can try, especially on multi-day camping trips. Recently we group-camped for five days in the backcountry with 13 kids ages 10 and under. What follows is a list of ways we adults made the trip more fun for the kids – and not once did I hear anyone say, “I’m bored.”
1. Let kids create their own games (most of which include getting filthy but so happy!).
When left to their own devices kids will come up with the best imaginative games and they’ll usually play happily for hours. Make sure to monitor them, however, and set necessary parameters (such as don’t cross the road, don’t go into the woods alone, etc.).
2. Bring a variety of card or board games.
The older kids on our trip spent hours playing games like S’mores and Chess. Bring an old blanket that you can lay out on the ground and that becomes gaming central (and also keeps them in eyesight).
3. Go for a bike ride. (photo credit: Aldo N.)
If the area in which you’re camping has at least rudimentary roads, consider bringing the bikes. Not only is this a great bonding experience for families, it provides some much-needed exercise and a way to see area sights.
4. Go for a hike. (photo credit: Lea S.)
Speaking of area sights, hiking is a great way to see those too! You don’t even need an official hiking trail. If you’re dispersed camping, pick somewhere you want to explore, lace up those shoes and grab some water, and head out! During the recent camping trip I'd spotted a tall hill that I wanted to explore. So, many of the parents, and most of the kids, headed out one day and we found some amazing views!!
5. Take kids fishing. (photo credit: Aldo N.)
This depends on where you’re camping but if there’s a river, stream, or lake nearby bring your fishing license and poles and have the kids try their luck. You could also make a pole for them out of sticks laying around, and some fishing line – or maybe someone has a compact fishing kit to try out! Fishing with kids is more about the experience, and if no one catches anything there’s nothing to clean (which I think is also a win, just sayin’).
6. Show kids how to safely start a fire, using a variety of methods.
Consider teaching appropriate-aged kids some survival skills, such as how to start a fire. We held a fire-starting contest for the older kids and their parents (every kid was supervised by an adult) and instructed them on safely starting a fire, how to start a fire using tinder, and how to start a few with matches, a fire steel and a spark wheel. Everybody was able to start a fire successfully, so everybody won!
7. Have kids collect firewood. (photo credit: Lea S.)
When dispersed camping in Colorado, fallen trees in the area can be used for firewood (live/standing trees are never to be used or cut down). On one of the hillsides next to our campsite there was a great deal of fallen and very dry wood. A daily activity was taking all the kids up the hill (always with at least one adult) to collect firewood for the evening campfire. We’d brought along our firewood bag and we had the kids fill it with wood while we adults sawed big chunks off the fallen trees.
8. Allow kids to bond with furry friends.
Bringing dogs along to camp is fun for kids (and adults) and aids in protection and safety. Camping is a good time for kids to bond with pets; and dogs will want to tag along with kids during their games and hikes too.
9. Have kids help clean up camp.
At the end of the trip there was a fair bit of garbage laying around the campsite area so we told the kids, “Let’s see who can do the best job picking up trash – everyone pick up five pieces – go!” In a very short time the campsite was completely clean – wow! But that’s why we have kids, right? To do our dirty work for us? (Haha?!)
10. Give kids incentive to exercise.
One day some of the kids were getting into little arguments and it seemed like they needed some direction. What better way than physical exercise to give kids focus and wear them out? My husband led them in some Army-style “front-back-go’s” (pushups, situps, run in place) and said the kid that lasted the longest would get $5. The rest of us parents sat back and made bets on whose kid would win. As it was, they all lasted for over 10 minutes and it was a two-way tie for the winner!
11. Allow some dessert (preferably s’mores!). (photo credit: Lea S.)
Along with other delicious camp food, allow for some treats including the all-important s’mores. We made official s’mores on the last evening at camp, although the kids asked for them each night we were there. As with everything, moderation is key.
At the end of the trip all the kids were tired, ready to go home, and in need of a good shower. But they were also calm, happy, and all-around content. A few days in nature will do that to a person, and it’s important that we teach that to kids while they’re young.
Thanks for reading, and happy camping with those kiddos!!
by Dawn Gallegos
Dawn Gallegos is the founding editor of the Chicks On The Rocks blog. When she's not working to fund her Jeep habit she's thinking up new ways to inspire others to explore the great outdoors!