Indoor camping is the perfect way to introduce young children to the idea of camping before their first actual trip. It’s also a great way for parents to conduct a kind of test run to better anticipate potential problems or setbacks before embarking on a real outdoor adventure.
Likewise, indoor camping is an excellent family activity for when the weather isn’t really conducive to camping outside. These ideas should help you get your indoor camping trip off to a good start.
1 – Sleep in Your Real Tent
If you plan to sleep in a tent on your first real camping trip, make sure you do the same while indoor camping. This can be particularly fun for children, and it also is a helpful way to iron out potential problems in your nighttime plan for camping.
Is your tent big enough to sleep everyone comfortably? Are your sleeping bags itchy? Is there a toy or blanket that you forgot and your little one simply cannot do without at night? An indoor trial run is a great way to answer these questions.
Initially, many children sleep poorly in a new environment. This is a great way to acclimate them to the experience of sleeping in a tent and hopefully will lead to more restful nights when you do embark on your first camping trip.
2 – Watch for Animals
Young children love imaginative play, and this one is particularly fun. Hide some of your little one’s stuffed animals around the living room, then let your child go looking for these “wild animals.” It doesn’t matter if these toys don’t represent the kinds of animals you are actually likely to see on your trip, just take a few moments to talk about what animals are prevalent in the area of your future camping trip.
If this activity goes off well, try switching roles and letting your child hide the stuffed animals and watch while you hunt them out.
3 – Prepare Special Camping Meals
Indoor camping generally works especially well if started in the early evening and carried over through the next morning. This means your first meal will be a campfire dinner and you can wrap things up with a special breakfast. There is no need to worry about cooking over an open fire, just improvise and let the kids know that when you go on your first outdoor camping trip, the cooking process will be a bit different.
The Adventure Bite has a huge list of easy camping meal suggestions that should work equally well for indoor cooking. Also, consider preparing indoor s’mores ahead of time, so you can pull them out for a fun dessert after dinner. They won’t taste quite as good as s’mores made over an open fire, but that leaves something special to look forward to on your first real outdoors family camping trip.
4 – Spread Out a Tablecloth and Have Dinner on Your Living Room Floor
Although it might be tempting to head over to the kitchen table once dinner is ready, try keeping mealtimes as different from your normal routine as possible. You want to replicate the scene of a real campfire meal as closely as you can.
Some families bring chairs camping, so if this will be the case for you, go ahead and put out some folding chairs for dinner. If you’ll be sitting on rocks or logs during your real camping trip though, consider sitting on the ground and spreading out a tablecloth on the living room floor. Most camping meals are rather simple, so setting up and cleaning afterwards shouldn’t be much trouble.
5 – Enjoy Family Time Around the Campfire
Again, a real fire isn’t at all necessary for this one. If you have a fireplace and the weather is chilly, by all means build a fire. Kids are great at pretending though, so if there are any impediments to building a fire, there’s no need to worry. You can make a small pretend campfire out of blankets or pillows and then have everyone gather around in a circle. If you’re crafty and want to go all out, you can make a DIY felt campfire, but this definitely isn’t necessary.
Use just enough candles or flashlights to mimic the illumination of the stars and moonlight around a fire. Sing campfire songs together and read a nature or camping-themed picture book. Check out My Mommy Style’s 15 Picture Books About Camping for some great book suggestions for young campers. This is also a great time to use a flashlight and make shadow puppets with your hands.
6 – Discuss Fire Safety
Young children often learn best by repetition, so it pays to bring up important lessons and topics regularly. Indoor camping is a great time to talk about fire safety, especially since this will be even more important during your first real camping trip.
FireRescue Magazine has some great pointers on how to introduce the topic of fire safety to children, and you can easily adapt their suggestions to suit your child’s age and developmental level.
7 – Talk About How This Camping Adventure is Different
Very young children won’t always immediately understand that most camping trips actually occur outdoors. This is something you can discuss throughout your indoor trip. During each activity, try asking open-ended questions about how this might be different if it took place outside.
8 – Stay Unplugged as Much as Possible
Since our kids are growing up in a world where the use of technology is so prevalent, it’s great to take opportunities to unplug and allow them to appreciate the simple things in life. Indoor camping is the perfect time to really focus on getting back to nature. Consider putting your phones on airplane mode and make sure to keep the television, computers, and such turned off.
Literally unplugging all unneeded lights and devices can remove that constant humming of electricity, allowing everyone to better focus on the sounds of nature, as discussed in the following activity.
9 – Listen to Nature Sounds
The best way to go about this one varies a bit depending on your own circumstances. If you live in an area with crickets around and the weather is warm enough, you may be able to do this just by opening the windows and keeping everyone quiet for a bit. Ask your little ones to listen carefully and tell you what they hear. This is also a great time to talk about some of the enjoyments nature offers such as the calming sound of crickets or the beautiful songs of birds.
If your home is in a location where, even when it’s quiet, you can’t generally hear many nature sounds, consider playing a nature CD in the background. You can choose one with the sounds of crickets, birds, or water flowing. There are also phone apps that will play nature sounds.
10 – Decorate a Little
There are a few simple ways you can make your living room look just a bit more like a campground. Little ones are intrigued by anything new and different, so they will likely appreciate even the smallest decorations. Glow-in-the-dark star stickers on the ceiling can be really fun. Turning out the lights, lying back, and stargazing for a bit can be a great way to settle down before retiring to your tent for the night. Most of these stickers come off easily without leaving any residue.
Other decorations can include simple things such as vases filled with leaves and flowers or small bowls of rocks and pinecones. Hanging up pictures or posters of nature scenes can also work well. Another suggestion, if you’d really like to create an outdoorsy atmosphere, is to light a pine-scented candle or two.
11 – Do a Simple Camping-Themed Art Project
The possibilities are endless here, so feel free to go with any project that catches your interest. If you don’t have any ideas yet, consider making popsicle stick tents or glow-in-the-dark firefly jars. For younger campers, you may need to use hand-over-hand, or at least provide some extra help during some of the more difficult steps, but older kids will be able to do the majority of these projects by themselves.
12 – Get Some Exercise
As most parents of young children know, it is often hard for little ones to keep their energy pent up for long. In addition to calmer activities such as art projects and campfire songs, you’ll want to have some more physically-demanding games as well.
Although there are space limitations when camping indoors, there are still plenty of activities that will get kids up and moving. Playing catch with balloons or small beanbags can be fun. You can also set up a small indoor obstacle course where children can run, skip, climb over and around barriers, and crawl through tunnels.
An animal-themed game of charades can also be a great way to encourage physical activity in a relatively small space. Choose forest animals that live near campsites. You can even bend the traditional rules of charades a bit by encouraging the kids to make the animal noises while acting the part.
Don’t Worry if Things Don’t Go Exactly as Planned
Lastly, remember that this indoor camping trip is about having fun together as a family while helping to prepare your little one for a future camping trip. Don’t let small details or minor setbacks throw your trip off course. Take it one activity at a time and feel free to improvise whenever needed.
Think of this list of ideas and activities as a starting point. Even if you only complete a few of them, you’ll still create a fun and meaningful learning experience for your child.