With the COVID-19 pandemic in its last throes (hopefully), and vaccinations for young kids still months away, many families are taking to the woods. The CDC notes that outdoor activities are lower risk than indoor ones, so many families are using this year’s vacation as an opportunity to go camping. And why not? You can get together and enjoy beautiful scenery, twinkling stars, s’mores, plenty of fresh air and family bonding time unencumbered by screens.
But how do you fill those hours, especially if your kids are used to having nonstop wi-fi to keep them connected and entertained? It’s time to think back to your days at sleepaway camp, and break out the analog camping activities and games. During the day, you can spend your hours doing lawn games, or find ways to explore the wilderness through scavenger hunts, treasure searches and orienteering activities. Then, when it gets dark, you’ll probably have to stick close to the campfire, so be sure to bring plenty of outdoor-appropriate card and family board games, along with party activities like charades and storytelling activities. And, of course, anything that glows in the dark is fair game for nighttime competitions! When you’re done, they’re not going to miss the wifi.
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Across the country, people hide “letterboxes” in public places, like parks, and leave clues as to where to find them. If you decipher the clues, you’ll find a box with a logbook where you can leave your personal stamp to prove you’ve been there. You can check to see if there’s a letterbox stashed near your campsite, and check out the basics of how to get started.
A good deck of cards can unlock hours upon hours of entertainment. What’s your game: hearts, spades, rummy or go fish? This W + W deck comes with glow-in-the-dark waterproof cards so you can play into the night.
The best thing about cornhole is that anyone can grab a challenger and wander over to start a game. If you have room enough to bring a set with you, can keep a running tally of wins and losses for the duration of your trip to crown an ultimate winner in the end.
Capture the Flag
You’ll need brains, speed and stamina to win at this one. In case you don’t remember the rules: Split up into two teams and designate an area for each. Each team hides a flag in their own area, and the object is to find the other team’s flag and bring it back to your team’s territory. Any player in the opposing team’s territory can be tagged and put in “jail,” and a teammate has to come tag them to rescue them. Get ready to sharpen those teamwork skills!
Pass the Pigs
This game won a Good Housekeeping 2020 Toy Award for its ability to delight kids and adults alike. Players roll two dice in the shape of pigs, and points are awarded based on the position they’re in when they land. It doesn’t require much — just the pigs, a pencil and a scorecard — so it easily slips into a backpack.
It’s like hide-and-seek — in the dark! Whoever is “It” has to shine their flashlight on the hider once they’ve been found. (Just be sure kids are old enough so they don’t get lost too far away from your campsite.)
This ring toss game has more than 4,100 5-star reviews on Amazon for its fun factor and its ability to be packed away easily into a carrying case. To up the challenge, you can try a glow-in-the-dark ring-toss game, or DIY your own with glow sticks and water bottles.
Charades is simple: People write down clues on a piece of paper, and players have to act them out and get their teammates to guess their clue without saying a word. Once you’ve mastered Charades, you can move on to Celebrity, where all the clues have to be a famous person (real, fictional, alive or dead). The game is then played in three rounds.
Round 1: Players can urge their teammates to guess their clue using words as hints, so long as the words are not written on the paper (like Taboo).
Round 2: Once all the clues from Round 1 are guessed, the same papers go back in the bowl for Round 2. This time, players can only use a single word as a hint for their teammates.
Round 3: The same papers go back in the bowl again, and the last round is a wordless charades round. No talking!
Get kids to really notice nature by challenging them to spot different animals, trees, leaves and plants. If you want, you can distribute paper bags and get the kids to collect some of the items, and then make an art project with their findings.
Best of Mad Libs
Mad Libs have been around forever, and yet they never get old. Young and old alike find themselves giggling over the silly fill-in-the-blank stories that result from naming random nouns, verbs or adjectives.
You don’t even need a telescope to try out some stargazing. If you’re not practiced at identifying different planets and constellations, there are plenty of apps that can tell you what you’re looking at — and many of them are even free.
An Exquisite Corpse Story
No doubt, you’ve played some version of “the exquisite corpse” at a party: You write a portion of a story on a piece of paper, then fold the paper down so that everything but the last sentence or so is obscured. Then you pass it on to the next player, who continues writing based only on the words that remain visible. At the end, choose a player to do a dramatic reading of the whole thing, which is no doubt hilariously disjointed.
There’s nothing wrong with the good ol’ marshmallow, graham cracker and chocolate recipe, but this is your opportunity to experiment. Try salted caramel s’mores, Thin Mint s’mores, or come up with your own crazy combinations. See who is able to come up with the tastiest creation.
Toasted or Roasted
This is a easy-to-figure-out family card game where the object is to “toast” three marshmallow cards. Seems thematically perfect for a camping trip, no?
Another lawn game that tests your tossing precision, kubb is like a cross between bowling, bocce and horseshoes. The object is to knock over wooden blocks, which naturally appeals to kids.
Around the Table Games
This activity comes with 50 cards, each containing a conversation-provoking question thought up by kids — you just have to choose one, and everyone can take turns giving their answer. Best of all, this game packs up small and comes with a carabiner to clip it to your bag, so it’s not a hassle to pack.
A game that also teaches a skill: Hide some kind of dollar-store treasure a short walk from your campsite, and then give your kids a map and directions to try and find it. For older kids, you can use a real map; for younger ones, you might have to make your own simplified version. Map-reading skills will stick with them their whole lives, even in this GPS-ready world.
Murder in the Dark
Place one small piece of paper per person in a jar, bowl, or hat. All of the papers should have nothing but a star drawn on them except two: one of those should have and “D” written on it, and the other should have an “M.” Each person chooses a piece of paper, and whoever gets the “D” is the detective, and the “M” is the murderer. The murderer proceeds to “kill” people by making eye contact in winking; the victims get to make a big, dramatic show of dying. The detective is challenged with figuring out who the murderer is before all the victims are killed.
This is another game you can play throughout the weekend. The first person to get five across, up and down, or diagonally wins!
Do you remember this old card game? Place a bunch of spoons (or fork, or twig or pinecone) in the center of a table; there should be enough for every person to have one, except one person. Then deal four cards to every player, and leave them face-up on the table. The dealer than takes cards one at a time from the deck, she can either keep it, or pass it to her left. The player to the left takes the card from the dealer and also can either keep it or pass it to the left, while at the same time the dealer picks up a second card from the deck. The play continues seamlessly until someone gets four of a kind. That person grabs a spoon from the center. Once that happens, everyone races to grab their own spoon, and the one left empty-handed is the loser.
You’ve got lots of room in the great outdoors — take advantage with an oversized lawn-dice version of Yahtzee. Don’t forget the dry-erase scoring sheets!
Obstacle courses and team relay races are great because you can design them with whatever you have on hand. Jump ropes, hula hoops and water balloons can all be strung together in a series of mini-challenges that can be tailored to your kids’ abilities.
Word games like Bananagrams are great because, like Camp Talk, they don’t require much room to pack — sorry, Scrabble — and they can also be a great go-to for rainy days. Bring them. Trust us.
Darkness adds another layer of challenge to some simple outdoor games. You can make a target game out of glow-in-the-dark frisbee, or even attempt an Ultimate game.
Don’t forget Jenga! Of course, this stacking-block game is fun to play in daylight, but if you get too comfortable with your skills, you can try it after sundown.
Morse Code Messages
Morse code is one of those almost-lost skills that’s still totally fun to play around with. Send an adult into the woods with a flashlight, and have them flash a message in morse code for the rest of the family to decipher.
This game is like a cross between Pictionary and Telephone, complete with miscommunication, bad sketches and all-around hilarity. The best part is that everyone is always playing at the same time, for every round, so there’s no getting bored while waiting for your turn.
Sleeping Bag Race
You’ve already brought your sleeping bags with you. Put them to work doubling as potato sacks, and set up a family sack race.
Have extra marshmallows from your S’mores? Everyone should put one in their mouth and try to say the phrase “Chubby Bunny.” No problem? Okay, then get another one, and see if you can say it with two marshmallows in your mouth. Keep going until you can’t say it, either because your mouth is too full, or you’re laughing too hard.
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