Ensure the words “I’m bored” are never uttered during your camping trip with non-tech activities that take up little to no space in the backpack or trunk.
Full disclosure: I’m not saying we’ve never camped with a portable DVD player or mumbled, “Just play Angry Birds on mommy’s phone” on those too-early mornings when watching the sun rise isn’t on the to-do list. But having the courage to ban items like video games, cell phones (except for emergencies), and anything with ear buds will make it more likely that you reconnect with nature, and each other. And isn’t that the point of camping?
1. Scavenger hunt
Kids love scavenger hunts, and the great outdoors is the perfect place to hold one. Have players collect items like pine cones, maple leaves, oak leaves, snail shells, pine needles and rocks of certain colours, or give everyone a camera and conduct a photo scavenger hunt. Each player should stick with an assigned buddy or small group. Compasses and watches are useful, plus cloth bags rather than plastic to store the findings, and small clipboards with pens or pencils attached by string to keep track of checklists. Have the unsuccessful team roast and serve the marshmallows at the fire that night.
2. Camping Olympics
This could turn into one of the most fun days you’ve ever had as a family. Long jump can be done on a sandy beach, relay races in an open area and swimming competitions in the water. Grab a rope and organize a team tug of war. Keep the tone light and organize games that younger kids or not-so-athletic types can enjoy, too, like skipping stones or balancing in tree pose the longest.
3. Campfire story contest
Kids are natural story-tellers, and will also get a serious kick out of hearing you or your spouse make up tales. If you can’t think of anything, just dig up family folklore or share anecdotes about your kid s when they were babies or toddlers. You can also play story games where one person says a sentence and the next person continues it, or bring Mad Libs along for some campfire fun.
4. Cloud watching
An especially good idea midday when you’re wishing your child still napped, all you have to do is spread out a blanket in a shady spot and stare up at the sky. Use the alphabet and try to find an apple, bear, cat and so on. Or play cloud “I Spy.” (“I spy with my little eye something that is crunchy and grows on trees.”)
Pack a micro-kit of glue, scissors, markers and paper, and a pad of paper for each child. Sketch pictures of nature, keep an art journal of your trip or create unique pieces of art with found objects like pine cones, leaves, shells and sand.
6. Rainy day explorers
You may have envisioned endless sunny days for your camping trip and ended up with clouds, drizzle or all-out rain. If conditions aren’t too severe, stay put and embrace the rain! Pack extra socks and a change of footwear for everyone, as well as splash suits and rubber boots. Splash in puddles and walk through the woods (as long as it’s not storming.). Come back to the site and change into the dry clothes you have waiting. You may be surprised at how much fun can be had outside on a rainy day, as long as you have the right gear.
7. Get a nature guidebook
“When you’re in nature, be curious about nature,” says Tovah Paglaro, the David Suzuki Foundation’s Queen of Green. “The kids will love to learn the names and properties of the plants and animals around you. You could even keep a log book and compare the different natural finds in different places you visit.”