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One of the great things about camping is that it is something the whole family can enjoy. Parents of preschoolers sometimes hesitate to go on family camping trips, however, because of worries about keeping young children occupied.
This is understandable but, fortunately, there are actually quite a few activities that work wonderfully for preschool-age campers.
Not only will the following activities keep the little ones busy, but they are also educational while still being a lot of fun.
1. Going for Nature Walks
If you enjoy camping, then you likely already know the joys of simply walking in nature and taking in the sights. Nature walks are particularly great when you’ve just reached your campsite after a long drive.
After being cooped up in the car, little ones tend to have a lot of energy to burn. Going for a walk provides both exercise and an opportunity to get a feel for the new surroundings.
While walking, it’s great to talk about the beauty of nature and point out different plants, flowers, birds, and even insects you encounter along the way. If you like, you can also bring along a small bug guide or flower and plant guide; this works especially well if you choose one of the guides written specifically for children.
Preschoolers are great at matching activities and will enjoy looking at the plant or insect they encounter and comparing it to a few in the book in order to correctly identify it.
2. Telling Campfire Stories
The age-old tradition of storytelling is never more suitable than when you are sitting together around a campfire. Preschoolers love listening to stories, and it’s a great way to wind down at the end of a busy day.
You won’t want to tell scary campfire stories to young children, but ones about adventure—especially adventures taking place out in the wilderness—should be a hit with preschoolers.
If you are at a loss for ideas of stories that work well around the campfire, check out the Boy Scout Trail website’s suggestions. If you are camping for a few nights, try letting your child take over the storytelling one evening.
Flashlights are also fun if you are telling stories after dark. You can show your child how to make shadow puppets, and you can even incorporate the puppets into the story.
There are a lot of possibilities to choose from, so feel free to improvise as you go.
3. Singing Campfire Songs
This goes hand-in-hand with campfire stories. Sing classic campfire songs or make something up on your own.
Again, it’s great to give children a turn leading this activity as well. Most preschoolers have memorized a few nursery rhymes that they will be able to sing or recite.
4. Collecting Rocks
This can be a great activity that can be carried over and completed once you return home. Talk about the different shapes, sizes, and textures of rocks, then let your little one collect some of their favorites.
Once you get home, with a few simple supplies and a little guidance, your child can make their very own rock pet. Rock pets work best with smooth rocks, so it can be helpful to find a couple samples to show preschoolers and then allow them to find some on their own.
5. Looking at the Stars
Gazing at the night sky can fill adults and children alike with a sense of wonder and awe. Camping is a particularly good time to do this since you’ll likely be able to see many more stars without the glare of city lights obstructing the view.
Older preschoolers who’ve begun learning to count can try counting as many stars as they can. You can also talk about the solar system in general, pointing out the moon and asking simple questions while providing your child with the answers to any of the questions they don’t already know.
Some families even enjoy bringing a telescope along on camping trips.
6. Simple Art Projects
You probably don’t want to bring tons of art supplies along on your camping trip, but there are a few simple camping-related art activities that don’t require too many supplies.
Leaf tracing with crayons is always fun and only requires a box of crayons and a few sheets of thin paper. Another fun art project for older preschoolers is sketching a nature scene.
With just a pencil and a piece of paper, you can ask them to look around the campsite and choose something—a tree, flower, insect—and draw a simple sketch of it.
7. Watching for Animals
Small children are fascinated by animals and seeing a racoon or chipmunk out in its natural habitat can be exhilarating.
Try talking about some of the different animals that are native to the area where you are camping and point out the possibility of seeing them.
You can also talk about animal tracks and looking for signs that certain animals may be in the area. Point out birds as well and teach your preschooler to identify a couple of the most common species.
If you happen to have a pair of binoculars, preschoolers love to use them to observe small animals and birds in the distance.
8. Helping with Food Preparation
Small children love to help out, and it’s a great way to keep them occupied while parents are busy preparing meals. The foods eaten while out camping often differ from the normal fare at home, and this adds to the excitement for little ones.
Simply lay out a small piece of cloth or plastic to create a little food prep station for your preschooler. Then just provide them with simple tasks such as assembling sandwiches or serving individual portions onto each plate.
9. Using a Magnifying Glass
While bringing along a telescope or binoculars when camping can be somewhat burdensome if you’re trying to pack as lightly as possible, a magnifying glass is much simpler to pack and can be a really fun tool for preschoolers.
While camping, a magnifying glass is great for observing small insects and the veins in leaves. You can check out this PBS article for step-by-step directions on helping your child make the most out of using a magnifying glass.
10. Making S’mores
No camping trip with preschoolers would be complete without this classic campfire snack. Although young children aren’t always ready to stand close enough to the fire to actually roast the marshmallows, they can help with assembling the s’mores and will likely enjoy watching and participating in the whole process.
11. Taking Photographs for a Scrapbook
This is another activity which carries over once you get back home. Before leaving for your camping adventure, you can tell your little one about the plan to make a scrapbook to remember the trip once you return home.
At the campsite, provide your preschooler with a kid-friendly camera, and remind them about the scrapbook project. It helps to suggest taking photos of things they find especially beautiful or interesting, but overall this activity works best if you just let your child take the lead.
Once you get back, you can decide together which pictures to print for the scrapbook. This is also a great time to reflect together about the trip and what each person enjoyed and learned. This is a great activity to do over the course of a couple of weeks, in order to keep the work fresh and fun for preschoolers.
CraftCue and Inner Child Fun provide great information on scrapbooking with small children. Obviously, the abilities of younger preschoolers differ from those of older children about to begin kindergarten, but you can easily adapt the tasks to suit your child’s abilities.
Most preschoolers will be able to glue photos in the scrapbook and decorate the borders with crayons or markers.
12. Scavenger Hunts
Children love scavenger hunts, and they can be particularly fun while camping. With preschoolers, you’ll want to keep the hunting area small so they are never out of your view, but this won’t hinder the game at all.
Even within a very small area around your campsite, they should be able to hunt out things like rocks, leaves, twigs, flowers, acorns, and pine needles. You likely won’t want to give young children the whole list of things to hunt out all at once, but rather give them each item one at a time.
13. Helping to Clean the Campsite
When it’s time to clean everything up before heading back home, preschoolers can really enjoy helping out. This is also a great time to talk about the importance of preserving natural spaces and taking care of the environment.
You can talk about how the area looked before you arrived and ask your child to look for ways they can help make the campsite look as if you were never there (or make it look even better if there was any litter when you arrived). Preschoolers can find simple tasks to do such as picking up any trash and packing up all their belongings.
So, these are some suggestions to get you started. If your family has its own unique camping traditions, there are generally ways to incorporate preschoolers into the fun. Young children also enjoy just running around exploring a new environment, so you’ll likely find that they don’t need a huge number of structured activities while camping.
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