Taking your little kids camping? Get ideas for ways to keep them entertained with this list of camping activities for preschoolers and toddlers!
Your outdoor adventures don’t have to come to an end once you’ve got a mini-me in tow! One of the best things about camping is passing the love of it onto the next generation. Camping with toddlers can be a challenge, but is also a lot of fun!
I have taken my three-year old camping five times now and we have always been able to find plenty of fun things to do while camping. Kids are natural explorers with wild imaginations. Get them in nature and their creativity can explode!
Whether your toddler is energetic, adventurous, artistic, or helpful (or all of the above!), there are lots of camping activities for preschoolers to help them fall in love with the camping experience.
How do you make camping for toddlers fun?
We’ve got a lot of ideas about fun activities that will make camping one of your preschooler’s favorite adventures. But first, it’s important to do a few things to set the experience up for success.
Here are three tips for preparing your toddler for a fun camping experience:
Do a practice round of camping
Before you leave for your camping adventure, help your toddler get used to the idea of sleeping in new surroundings by going “camping” in your backyard or living room. It might take a few home-camping adventures to warm them up to the idea. Ultimately, the change of scenery will probably be exciting and intriguing!
Set Clear Boundaries At Camp
Once you arrive to your camp destination, set clear boundaries for your little one’s activities. Not only is it safe to teach your toddler what’s on and off limits, but it helps them feel more secure in unfamiliar surroundings. Consider designating a specific play area, and make sure they know where to find you at all times.
Prepare to get dirty, and let them know It’s okay
Being outside means plenty of ways to get messy. It also means there are lots of new activities your preschooler can do without worrying about messing up the house. It’s a win-win for you both!
Once you’ve prepared your toddler for the camping experience, it’s time to dig in to all the possible fun camping activities for preschoolers!
Camping activities that will leave your preschooler wanting more
The best way to instill a lasting love for camping is to teach your kids to be an active participant in the process. The more you involve your toddler, the more likely they’ll develop a sense of ownership in the experience.
I’ve found that the easiest way to create buy-in for camping with your preschooler is by having them help with tasks around the campsite. Here are some ideas for activities that will keep your little helper busy.
set up a play-tent or picnic table JUST for them
Your preschooler is used to having their own space in your house, so why not give them a similar space at your campsite?
Let them pick some favorite toys or activities from home and have them set those things up in their own special campsite play area. A good place to do this is on a picnic blanket, in a small pop-up tent, or at a picnic table.
Bringing a few Items from home will be comforting for your preschooler. Having those items set up in a new, outdoor surrounding could also make them extra appealing.
2. Build a bug tent—or an entire bug campsite
Have you ever tried to set up a four-person tent with a toddler running circles around your legs? You can take some of the stress out of setting up camp by giving your preschooler their very own job. Ask them to build a small tent or campsite for bugs!
Your toddler can forage sticks, leaves, and other natural materials to make a cozy campsite for their many-legged friends. That should keep them busy long enough for you to get some things settled. It also helps them feel like they’re participating in setting up camp.
3. Gather firewood, kindling, and the perfect s’mores stick
Show your preschooler some examples of what prime campfire wood looks like, and then set them loose around the campsite to gather fire fuel.
If you plan to make s’mores later, ask your preschooler to find an ideal marshmallow roasting stick for themselves. If they’re into it, have them find sticks for the rest of the family, too!
4. Help with meals
If your preschooler is used to helping set the table or clear dishes from the table at home, they can do the same thing while you’re camping. This might also be a great time to introduce them to dish-washing, since dishes will probably be minimal and washing dishes in tubs or campsite water basins is such a novel experience.
You can also involve your preschooler in meal preparation. Let them add water to dehydrated meals, crack eggs, layer sandwich ingredients, or put hot dogs on roasting sticks.
Camping Activities for Creative Preschoolers
If your preschooler is an artist or a creative at heart, help them exercise their creativity with these camp activities.
5. Create nature art
Task your toddler with finding a variety of leaves, flowers, and sticks around the campsite. Use glue and paper to make stick-family art. Place a piece of white paper over different leaves and color the paper with a crayon to make leaf imprints.
6. Paint rocks
Bring some paints from home and paint different rocks you find around camp. You can even hide some rocks along hiking trails for other families to find later. If you plan to return to the same campsite every year, paint a rock with the date and see if you can find it again next year!
7. Make rock stacks and sculptures
Use some of the rocks you’ve gathered to challenge your preschooler to stack as many as they can on top of each other. This is a great activity to work on fine motor skills, too! If stacking is a little too tricky, you can also have them shape the rocks into pictures on the ground.
8. Use a craft box
Find an old shoebox from home and fill it with craft supplies like construction paper, markers, pipe cleaners, tape, and glue. You can also buy themed craft boxes from companies like KiwiCo—this camping-themed box is perfect for your new little camper.
Camping Activities for Energetic Preschoolers
Maybe your preschooler or toddler is super active and needs some camping activities that will burn that energy. Give these things a try!
9. Blow and chase bubbles
Sure, your toddler probably likes bubbles at home. But there’s something about chasing around bubbles in the great outdoors that is extra magical! If you’re going to be at high altitude, save your breath by bringing a bubble machine or bubble wand.
10. Ball or Frisbee toss
It’s never too early to work on that toddler hand-eye coordination, and what better place than in the clear and open air? Bring something soft and easy to catch for your kiddo, preferably in a bright color that won’t be easily lost—we love this easy disk.
11. Go for a swim
In the warmer months, our favorite kind of campsite is one that’s near a body of water. Lakes are a great way to show your preschooler natural bodies of water without having to brave too many waves.
Pack water shoes for the whole family and bring the appropriate floatation devices, especially if your preschooler isn’t a strong swimmer yet.
12. Do some forest parkour
Sometimes a kid just needs to run around and jump on, over, and off stuff. Welcome to nature’s obstacle course! Plot out a path where your preschooler can weave between trees, leap over rocks, and duck under branches. Bonus points if you can teach them to yell “parkour!” while they do it.
13. Bring Bikes or Scooters
Your campsite is a perfect place for your child to practice riding around on their balance bike or scooter.Remind them of the campsite boundaries and allow them to roam within that space.
Once you’re free to join them, take them on a ride through the campsite to get even more practice while riding by other’s campsites.
Camping Activities for Adventurous Preschoolers
If your preschooler is inquisitive and adventurous, these camping activities will let them explore and learn at the same time.
14. Go on a scavenger hunt
Make a list of some things that are easily found around your campsite, and set your toddler loose! Some examples of things you might include on the list: a brown leaf, a green leaf, a bird, a pinecone, a smooth rock, a bug, a stick with two branches, and moss.
15. Play “I Spy” during a nature walk
Even if your toddler isn’t ready for a full hike, most campsites have easy trails perfect for nature walking. Teach your preschooler how to be present and mindful in nature by playing a game of I Spy. They’ll learn to make new observations, and might even learn some new words too!
16. Collect rocks or sticks and sort them into groups
This is a great activity to incorporate some counting and categorization skills. How many rocks can they find? Which stick is biggest or smallest? Can they group things by size or color?
For older preschoolers, this could also be a good time to learn about perennial versus deciduous trees, or which types of geologic rocks are common in the region.
17. Check out the campsite’s visitor or nature center
Some camp areas will even have specific programming geared towards kids. Do your research ahead of time and see if there’s a place to visit with your preschooler to learn more information about where you’re camping.
Don’t Forget to Go with the Flow
There are so many different camping activities you can do with your preschooler. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do all of them to have a great time.
The whole point of getting your family out in nature is to escape the regimen of daily life. It’s okay to be flexible and follow your preschooler’s lead sometimes.
Resist the urge to plan out every minute of the day, especially if this is your toddler’s first camping outing. In fact, you might see your toddler doing more self-guided play than they do at home. There’s so much new stuff to explore!
At first it may seem daunting to figure out how to incorporate your toddler into your regular camping routine, but I promise it can be a really rewarding experience. The more you involve them, the more likely you’ll have a new camping fan on your hands.
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