These simple games are well liked by all kinds of kids, no matter what their different interests or abilities, and you can play them all without any special materials or equipment.
1. Scavenger Hunt
Here are a few ideas for your list:
• a rock shaped like a heart
• a feather
• a bird’s nest
• a maple seed whirligig
• a red leaf, a green leaf and a yellow leaf
• a pinecone
• a slug
• a snail
• a frog
• a fish
• something a raccoon would like to eat
• a flying insect
• a crawling insect
• animal tracks
• scat or manure
• a snake or a worm
• a squirrel
• a flower
• a mushroom
• a tiny pebble no bigger than the fingernail on your pinkie
• something purple
• a deer
• a piece of garbage (to take with you and throw out)
2. The Alphabet Game
This game is a particular favorite with our family. The kids search the campground or trail for things that start with each letter of the alphabet, in order. It’s a fun way to explore and get the kids moving on an overcast or cooler day.
3. Marking Trails
Kids can put bent sticks in the forks of trees or place brightly colored leaves or rocks at strategic places along the trail. They can also make arrows with stones along the trail pointing the way (at a curve in the trail, for example). Kids figure out all kinds of ways to leave markers, and it’s fun to come back the next day to see if the markers are still there.
This is an old parenting trick; using a competition to get the kids to put their socks on or clean up their toys. At the campsite, it’s fun to see who can collect the most kindling for the fire, or who can drag in the longest stick. On the trail kids can compete to see who can find the biggest rock, or who can jump and touch a tree branch, etc.
5. Fairy Houses
Little kids like to make houses to lure in homeless fairies. On a nature walk, collect interesting leaves, rocks, sticks, shells, feathers and other pretty things, and then build a tiny fairy house in the woods or brush near your campsite. A fairy house has to be built someplace secluded because fairies are shy, and it has to be attractive because fairies are very picky, aesthetically.
6. Obstacle Course
Kids love obstacle courses. Set one up using everything in the campsite plus whatever you brought from home that might be fun.
A typical course might look like this:
• Crawl over the picnic table
• Hop three times on each foot
• Walk around the fire pit one whole time around
• Walk to the tent only on tree roots
• Sing happy birthday
• Hang off of a tree branch
• Do 10 jumping jacks
• Bring a log to the fire pit
• Tell a knock-knock joke
7. Hide and Seek
Hide and Seek is a different game at the campground than at home. The kids explore all the nooks and crannies of the campsite, find weird places to hide and get to know their surroundings.
Here’s how to play, in case you don't know:
• The person who is “It” covers her eyes and counts to 10 (or whatever number you decide on).
• After she is finished counting she yells, “Ready or not, here I come!” and runs around and finds everybody in their hiding places.
• The last one to be found is “It” the next time (or the winner, depending on how you look at it).
8. Duck, Duck, Goose!
Another classic game that makes kids laugh and scream.
Here’s how to play, in case you don't know:
• The kids all sit in a circle. The kid who is “It” walks around the outside of the circle patting each kid on the head and saying “duck” for each one.
• When the kid who is “It” gets to the kid he wants to chase him, he yells, “goose!” and runs around the circle, with the “goose” chasing him. If the “goose” catches him, the “goose” gets to sit back down. But if he doesn’t catch the first kid, the second kid is now “It” and starts around the circle again, patting heads and saying “duck, duck, duck…”
9. Bug House
Make an insect terrarium with a big piece of Tupperware or a large, glass jar. I prefer the Tupperware, because it’s easier to see everything, but bugs escape less from the jar.
Here’s how we do it:
• Use a large container, like a big piece of Tupperware or a large, glass jar.
• Put some dirt in the bottom.
• Dig up some worms and put them in the dirt.
• Go on a bug hunt. Step off the trail and turn over the layer of dead leaves to the soft, half-rotted layer underneath. Sift around and you will find tons of bugs.
• Make the Bug House homey. Add some sticks, leaves, grass and couple of stones for crawling under.
• Give the bugs some food, like a little piece of fruit, and a dish of water.
• Keep the Bug House in the shade and keep the dirt moist.
• Take care of the bugs and set them free at the end of your camping trip.
10. Build a Fort
Build a special, kids-only hideout at the campsite. Here's how:
Pick a spot.
• Find an existing support you can build your fort against. This might be a tree, a bush, a fence or a big rock.
Gather materials from the woods and campground.
• long sticks and logs
• lots of dead branches of all sizes
• old lumber
Gather materials brought from home.
• a tarp or two
• sleeping bags or blankets
• rope or string (or jumprope)
Build the fort.
• You can use a tarp as the floor, but if you don’t, sweep out and clear a nice floor for your fort.
• Take your biggest pieces of wood and figure out how to make a frame for your fort, along with a supporting structure, like a tree or fence, or even without it.
• Tie the pieces together with rope or string.
• Fit and tie lots of thinner branches in for the walls.
• Make sure to plan in some windows and a door.
• Make a roof out of branches, or use a tarp as the roof.
• Hold secret meetings in the fort. This is also a good place to keep a Bug House.
Variation: Or just build a quick tent - run a rope between two trees and sling a tarp over it. Weigh down the edges of the tarp with rocks. Done.