Camping is one of our favorite activities as a family. With 3 boys who have an intense love for nature, camping is on our shortlist to fill an open weekend in the summer and fall. There is something about taking time away from the busyness of life, unplugging and just being present that fills my cup. We have been camping since our oldest was an infant and through the years have been able to find some of the best camping toys and activities for kids and wanted to share them with you!
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Preparing your Child
If you are planning your first camping trip with little kids I would highly recommend doing a practice run at home. Sometimes it is nice to throw up a tent in the backyard and do a special backyard sleepover. We often will go on short hikes with our kids before going camping to just work out any kinks and make sure we are setting ourselves up for a great camping experience.
There are some fun books to read to your child before your trip including Kids Campfire Songs, Curious George Goes Camping, or, for the kids who love Llama Llama, Llama Llama Loves Camping is the perfect book for you. We have added some items to our playroom to give our kids a chance to “practice” camping. This includes a pop up tent and some great camping-themed toys. Not only do these help with preparing your little explorer for what’s to come, but after the trip you will likely find them reenacting the adventures they had with their toys. These toys are also perfect for birthday or Christmas gifts for the little outdoor lover in your life!
We do a lot of hiking and exploring when we are camping. There is nothing better than being on no time frame and allowing my kids to set the pace for the day. We have camping packs for all 3 boys. We were sure to pick ones with water bladders so they don’t need to lug their water bottles around all day. These Camelbak mini packs are perfect for older kids, they fit my 6 & 8 year old really well. My 3 year old uses one from National Geographic that, unfortunately. is no longer sold. However, he will be quickly moving into the same one as the older two boys.
My kids are in charge of packing their own bags and there are staples we use every hiking trip. We always have a magnifying glass to make sure we can inspect the tiniest of bugs. Kids binoculars are a must have to make sure we can identify the birds flying overhead. We have bug nets for all 3 boys, these may actually be the most used camping item we have. We also have bug houses because I have a strict rule of no bugs in our tent, camper or house! 🙂 If you have a little bug lover in your family I would highly recommend the Backyard Bug Book For Kids. We have two sets of this outdoor explorer kit. It has everything your child would ever need for a perfect hiking adventure.
We have found that even if we are going to a camp site that doesn’t have a lake or water to play in we still pack our water toy bag just in case there is a rainy day. There is either an inevitable, untimely, downpour leading to lots of puddles that are magnets for our kids. Or great areas with dirt which is a wonderful substitute for sand.
Our water toy bag has some staples including sand shovels & rakes, water guns (one for each boy), sand buckets and dump trucks. I know dump trucks may not seem to fit into this category but our boys constantly brought our dump trucks to the beach or rain puddle to play with so they have found a new home in our water toy bag. These toys get played with heavily so I will often search out the Dollar Store for good finds as I know I will likely need to replace many items next season. We also love the brand Green Toys, their toys seem to hold up for years despite rough play and being out in the elements!
Fun Camping Toys
There are a few toys that we save for camping trips. We don’t use these toys at home to make them extra special while we are camping. Glow sticks. Do I need to say more? These things are the simplest, cheapest, most entertaining activity that we always try to remember! I will buy a pack of 100 and it lives in our camping bin for the season. We also love to bring along foam airplanes, a kids archery set or rocket stompers for some simple fun. This summer I’m planning on throwing hula hoops into the mix of toys too! Its always fun to have some good camping toys to play with between hiking and playing in the woods.
Walkie talkies have become a hot item in our house,. My kids use them camping but also at home when they want to play spys or go outside and pretend they are camping. We have a few sets of these because it is fun to let each child have their own when playing. These have proved their worth. They have been dropped, left outside, and played with heavily by a toddler and still are working perfectly.
I asked my 8 year old what the best toys are when camping and he responded “sticks and stuff in nature”. This is such a true answer as we often find our kids are completely content just being in the woods and enjoying the great outdoors. They create stick tents. Find the best skipping rocks to bring to the river. Search for the perfect climbing tree. Create an entire pile of special finds they want to hold onto. Watching my boys playing together without screens or traditional toys and watching their pretend play explode is by far and away my favorite part of camping.
We love to include a few classic outdoor camping games such as bags or washer toss on our packing list. It is so much fun to have an activity the entire family enjoys playing. Our family has started getting into Kubb which is another yard game for all ages. This game is simple to play and doesn’t take a lot of packing space which always is a bonus!
We also have a basket of travel board games and card games for rainy days or when we just need a little down time. Quirkle, Doodle Dice and Yatzee are our favorite camping games. The pieces are heavy enough not to blow away and they don’t take up too much packing space. If we do choose to play a card game we love our card holders. These are perfect for little hands and are really helpful on windy days. If you are a family who loves to play games I would highly recommend bringing a table cloth for your table. I can’t tell you how many times this little trick has saved us from losing pieces to a game in the table cracks.
Our whole family loves a good scavenger hunt when camping. I will make scavenger hunt templates for my kids to refer to (with pictures for the little ones who are not yet reading). It is such a fun activity to fill an afternoon. We often make this a whole family activity and give a reward if everyone works together to find all of the objects. (Our favorite rewards at the end of a scavenger hunt is a refreshing popsicle or s’more.) I have included a free scavenger hunt template for you to use with your kids if you would like!
Another simple activity while camping is rock painting. We have acrylic paint markers that are perfect for young kids. It is really fun to see what they end up drawing on the rocks. I will often challenge my kids to write an encouraging statement or draw a fun picture. We will then go and hide them in the woods around our camping site or take them with on hikes and plant them in places others will see. This is a great way to pass a little time and engages kids of all ages.
Bubbles are an awesome camping activity, they are easy to pack and so fun for kids of all ages! See my post to learn about how to make your DIY bubble solution and bubble wands to make huge bubbles. You will be the talk of the campground with these things!
There are some awesome nature books for kids which are always on our packing list . These are perfect when kids (and parents :)) need a little quiet time. I would highly recommend Backyard Explorer: On The Nature Trail: What Will You Find? and Exploring Nature: Activity Book For Kids. I also just ordered this adorable coloring book for all 3 of my kids! Not only do we uses these for quiet times but they often come with us on hikes and will engage our older kids for quite some time.
Kids love having their own camping gear! Our kids each have their own water bottle for our trips. They have had fun finding stickers at the places we visit to adorn their bottles. When we camp with our tent our boys each have a sleeping bag they have picked out which makes things extra special. They also have their own chairs for evenings around the campfire. We also never forget our head lamps, these are our favorites for our whole family!
Don’t forget to bring necessities on your hike just in case your little adventurer takes a tumble. We always pack a first aid kit and utility knife in our adult pack. Its a good idea to pack a few extra snacks as well. You never know when you may take a wrong turn on your hike and it takes a little longer than expected.