I’m going to be completely honest here: I love the idea of camping with kids, but I hate actual camping—with kids or without. Which oddly, doesn’t pose as much of a problem as one might think because I’m a mom and I have solutions!
But first, my issues with camping. They’re numerous, but I’ll narrow it down to my top 5 for the purposes of this post. I like having a hair dryer. I’m a fan of running water. I am not a fan of bugs. Bears frighten me. Serial killers frighten me even more. (What, have none of you people ever watched Friday the 13th?)
But the idea of camping? It’s wonderful. I mean, nature is pretty great (in theory), as are interesting animals (who might try to eat you), the local plant life (which may poison you) and curious toddlers and preschoolers who love all of it (and have a tendency to wander off without giving a single thought to their own personal safety).
That’s why I’m all for having a campout at home. It lets children embrace their imaginations, explore their surroundings and learn about nature, and it keeps them very, very busy. This is a great activity for whenever you want the kids to get creative and stay away from screens. (For more affordable, kid-friendly activities that you can do from the comfort of your home, check out 25 Ideas for an Amazing Staycation with Your Kids.) Plus, you can do it inside or outside, depending on the weather and how cooped-up you all feel.
Here are a few adorable ways to add to the ambience of a kiddie campout at home, enhance your kids’ imaginative play, and experience the awesomeness of camping…without any of the unfortunate side effects of actual camping.
The Building Blocks of Your Campout
These plush camping items from the Land of Nod are just about the cutest things I’ve ever seen, and they’re what actually inspired this whole idea. The S’more the Merrier Campfire Set is the focal point of this pretend campout. I particularly love that all of the pieces are separate and you have to put them together, much like you would if they were real. And maybe I’m cynical, but I also love that when siblings inevitably bonk one another over the head with the sticks (which will also likely turn into lightsabers), they won’t actually get hurt.
There’s also the Over Easy Breakfast Set, which—God willing—just might inspire picky eaters to try real eggs sometime soon.
The Secret Hideaway
If you have the room, this is the play space that keeps on giving. These little hideouts give your little ones room to be creative and independent—for having campouts, creating kingdoms, playing house and reading a book in a nook. I’m kind of obsessed with the Land of Nod’s adorably patterned teepees and playhouses, and here are two that go perfectly with this theme. The nautical teepee…
…and the Jetaire Camper Playhouse.
Now, rustic is cute and all, but if you’ve got a superhero-obsessed kid, this is the way to go. My 5-year-old would definitely approve of this Avengers sleeping-bag set. It comes with a few extra fun bells and whistles—including an actual whistle, a glider, a water bottle, and a projector that features different members of the team.
This Spider-Man set features a sleeping bag and a tent—particularly good if your kids want to set up camp in the backyard.
For little ones who dream of Ariel, there’s the mermaid-tail sleeping bag. To be honest, I might get one of these for myself.
Explore the Deep, Dark Woods
As your kids venture out into the woods—even if it’s strictly pretend and the woods are actually your dining room—they could use some proper gear, like a hiking map, a compass and a (plush) hatchet. Through their play, they’ll learn about directions and destinations and how to survive in the wilderness. Give them a little guidance and explanation, and then let them go off on their expeditions.
I’m going for an affordable four-pack of flashlights for a simple reason: Every kid will want one, and they won’t necessarily want to pass it around, conch-style. Kids can use these to explore the recesses of your house—er, campground—and, of course, to tell ghost stories around the campfire.
My son has been a fan of these colorful “kidnoculars” from Educational Insights since he was a toddler. I’m also a fan because they’re indestructible—and trust me when I say that he’s tried to destroy them over the years.
If your kids are actually exploring the great outdoors, you might want to invest in a bug-collecting kit like this 18-piece Backyard Exploration Kit from Kangaroo—which comes complete with magnifying glasses, tweezers and collection containers. Make sure that they also write down their findings in a journal, practicing their writing and fine-motor skills along the way.
Kids can play catch and release—without ever touching an actual slimy fish—with this Felt Fishing Set from Etsy, which comes with a magnetic fishing pole and fish toys.
What’s a campout without s’mores? I don’t know, but it’s not a campout I’d want to be at. This Family Fun S’mores Maker can be used indoors and outdoors, but of course, make sure that an adult is supervising at all times. Now this is the type of supervision and hands-on parenting that I’m all for!
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