I've been camping with my kids since my son was four and my daughter was one. They're now 14 and 12 years old. And because of this, I have many tricks up my sleeve to help make our time out in the "wild" more enjoyable. I've already shared the camping products that I am personally obsessed with, in addition to few pro packing (and unpacking) tips. But here's the deal: if you're going camping with kids (I'm talking tweens and teens, too), you need to be prepared. Mother Nature provides plenty of material for playing (so put away the iPhones and iPads), but you might also want to arm yourself with a few other items, like these below, to make your time even more enjoyable.
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If you plan on hiking or taking a long walk, be prepared for some complaints. (Well, depending on your child, I suppose.) I discovered long ago that giving my kids a wood walking stick makes the trek much more exciting for some reason. Maybe it actually helps them move along; maybe it's just fun to carry a big stick; maybe it's both.
We go camping with a friend who is way into birding, so whenever we go on walks or hikes, we like to be near her as she identifies new birds along the way. And then we clamor over who gets to use her binoculars. Letting your kids have their own pair allows them see wildlife up close and personal, without having to actually get that close. Good luck getting anywhere when you first break them out – they'll want to stop and look at everything. (And will you, too, so get your own pair of binoculars.)
Don't even think about going camping without bringing stuff for making s'mores. Specifically, extendable skewers so you can keep precious fingers away from the fire. Honestly, it's not camping without roasting marshmallows around a fire. These come in a handy bag with protective covers.
OK, hear me out on this one. Whittling wood while camping is an activity we discovered a couple of years ago and we fell hard for it. We all love this activity. Yes, it involves knives, so you have to take that in consideration with the age of your child and your comfort level. (Not appropriate for little ones, of course.) What's great about this set is that it includes cut resistant gloves and leather sheaths for the knives, so some protection is offered. Sometimes we whittle to make a particular object such as a spoon, sometimes we whittle nothing in particular, but either way it feels so satisfying. I recommend bringing your own wood to carve if you have the room. The minute we break out the tools and wood, everyone wants a turn.
Sitting at the picnic table playing cards in the late afternoon is good old-fashioned fun. Especially when the card games are catered to kids. Of course, you can also keep it simple and just pack a standard deck because the amount of games you can play is endless. Time to teach your kids some new tricks.
Two words: walkie talkies. I don't think I need to explain how cool these are to kids, but imagine them using while on a trail walk, talking to their friend in the next tent, or helping them stay in contact with you when you let them (the older kids) have some freedom to go off and explore. Remember to bring plenty of AA batteries.
I don't know what it is about this game, but kids just love playing charades. And what's nice about this family version is that the categories are set up according to ages, which is genius. (They have pictures for the littlest ones to act out.) Set up after dinner around the campfire, get into teams, and have a flashlight serve as a spotlight for the person who's up. Get ready for some serious cuteness and silliness.
One year, to encourage my kids to get out for a long walk while camping, I created a scavenger hunt. At the time, it was something I wrote out on scrap pieces of paper ("Find something that looks like an X"), and it was a HUGE hit. Now we do it every year, and if you check off all the boxes, you get a prize. (Plan ahead and pack something fun for them to win, like a cute flashlight. Or, honestly, marshmallows always work, too.) This scavenger hunt in a bag makes it easy for everyone and gets imaginations going.