As we are getting into our camping routine once more I’m realizing that introducing my toddler to the outdoors isn’t as simple as just showing up. Yes, we did spend some time collecting sticks and kicking dirt. We go for walks and play at the playground.
However, I learned the hard way that simply being in the outdoors doesn’t automatically create fun.
In my head was this vision of us sitting around our campsite and her playing in the dirt. Happily getting muddy for hours while she scrounged for bugs and other hidden delights.
The reality is that like anything else, she did that for awhile and then got bored. Realizing that she needs some help understanding how to interact with nature is kind of that “Duh” moment.
When I first handed her a crayon or a pair of scissors, I showed her how to use them. After she understood how they worked, I left her to her own creativity. We also spend a lot of time with materials I set out for her. While the creativity is her own, I create the opportunity.
Realizing I wasn’t creating the opportunity, or showing her how to use the different materials available in the woods was an aha moment. I’ve never gone unprepared before.
Toddler Camping Activities
Now when we go camping, I am armed with a list of activities for her. I ensure that she has plenty of time to be bored, wander and get dirty with no purpose.
Then, when she’s clearly at the end of her fun, or I need to make dinner, I start pulling out activities for her. I knew that I wanted her to be screen free as much as possible and interacting with nature…you know, since we’re in the woods and all…
Here are some of our favorite activities so far…mom tested, kid approved…
Preschool Nature Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger Hunts are some of my favorite options as they get her to explore and look more closely at her surroundings. So much, that I have an entire Pinterest Board dedicated to nature scavenger hunts. psst…follow me here if you’d like more inspiration.
If you are fortunate enough to live in Texas where we have an AMAZING Texas State Park System, you can get one at most of the Ranger Stations. Recently we visited Lake Ray Roberts and were offered the scavenger hunt when we checked in. After finding a minimum of 7 items, we visited the Rangers on the way out.
This has the added benefit of getting your kiddo’s to interact with the incredibly kid friendly rangers. She got a little prize for completing the hunt and was able to proudly tell the rangers what she found.
Preschool Nature Arts and Crafts
While this does require a little bit more pre-planning, it is so incredibly worth it. Be prepared for mess and the need for a bath afterwards though.
I am a big believer in leave no trace. We emphasize that we should only use those items that are already fallen, and we don’t leave any of our paper or craft supplies in the woods.
For inspiration I frequently visit the tinkergarten site. They constantly have a generous list of ideas for interacting with nature in creative ways. One of my favorites is painting with nature. Creating colorful paint out of colorful nature items is the ultimate art lesson.
Go a step further and create paintbrushes from nature items.
Looking for something more educational? Create shapes out of nature with this guide from the fabulous Bee-ing Mommy blog.
Create a Tree Bark Rubbing. Here’s an easy to follow tutorial for your inspiration.
Why not create a little woodland fairy friend or fairy home?
Mud Pies are the Ultimate Activity
If you really want your kiddo to freaking love nature, bring along a bucket and some water, create a mud pie.
Make an entire mud kitchen. Gather pebbles and make mud soup. The mud play possibilities are almost endless.
Preschool Camping Science Activities
With a little pre-planning, you can create an amazing experience for your toddler or preschooler while your camping. Keeping them busy while you’re setting up or tearing down camp, or cooking over an open fire will create an amazingly serene experience for you as well.
How do you occupy your preschooler when you’re out in nature?
- 1 Tube Refrigerator Biscuits
- 1 Cup Sugar Optionally add cinnamon to the sugar for more yum.
- 4 Cups Canola Oil
- Add your oil to your dutch oven and place over fire for about 5 minutes.
- While your oil is heating use a biscuit cutter to cut out donuts. For ease of preparation, you can also use an empty soda bottle. Simply wipe some oil around spout for easy donut holes.
- After oil is heated drop biscuits in oil. It's okay if oil is not completely hot, your donuts will just take a little longer.
- Flip donuts after approximately 5-7 minutes or when they turn a golden brown. Heat of fire will determine timing.
- Allow 2nd side of donuts to brown before removing donuts carefully with a spoon. Donuts holes are most easily removed with a slotted spoon.
- Place sugar inside of mixing bowl or Ziploc bag and add donuts while hot. Shake to fully coat and then enjoy!