When I think of summer, I think about camping! I remember camping trips with my family when I was growing up. Not only did we enjoy spending time together, but I learned so much on those trips. I never thought of those trips as educational, but as a homeschooling mom, I look back and realize that they were. My parents didn’t necessarily make them educational intentionally, but they easily could have. In fact, if you’re looking for ways to make camping educational, I have some tips to share with you!
FYI, if you are new to camping, our friends at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park have a great blog with tips for first-timers. Click this link to read the article and start preparing for your first camping trip!
1. Look for family-friendly campgrounds that offer activities that are fun and educational.
Many campgrounds offer activities that not only help keep kids entertained but are also educational! They may not advertise their activities as educational, but many of them are. When we went camping at Jellystone Park in Western New York, we participated in bingo games, arts and crafts activities, tie-dying shirts, and even strategy games (such as an extra-large game of Connect Four!) that were all offered by the campsite. We brought our own educational board games to play by the campfire, and we even made etched glass lanterns! And of course we let one of the teenagers cook for us because, well, we wanted him to enjoy the full educational experience of meal planning and prep while we enjoyed eating what he cooked! 😊
2. Involve the kids in planning and managing the trip.
Part of the learning experience is allowing your kids to help with researching campgrounds, setting the budget for the trip, and buying necessary supplies. And once you’re at the campground, let your kids help take care of the RV or the cabin and associated responsibilities. To be honest, many kids love to handle responsibilities like these because it makes them feel grown up! And these are life skills our children will need in the not-too-distant future!
3. Make sure the campground has good Wi-Fi.
If you plan to use online lessons during your camping trip, be sure to call ahead and check to find out if the campsite offers sufficient Internet service. If not, Inseego can help you! They offer mobile hotspots to make sure you have enough bandwidth to do online lessons, stream movies, or keep in touch with friends and relatives through social media while you’re away. Good Wi-Fi may also be needed to keep parents connected to work.
4. Incorporate online educational lessons into your camping activities.
Click this link to watch a video showing an example of a homeschool mom and her children using an online lesson on a camping trip. Do you want to study leaves, trees, rocks, or flowers on your outing? Use an online lesson about your topic as guidance. There are even apps that are designed for outdoor learning. The great thing about online lessons is that you usually don’t have to do any prep work! The lesson is done for you. You may need to gather “supplies” for your lesson, but these will be things like leaves, rocks, or flowers that can easily be found around your campsite. (Be sure you don’t pick the flowers! Just observe them and leave them to grow for everyone to enjoy.) Let the online lesson be your guide while you enjoy observing and learning together!
A few of the educational apps we love for encouraging kids to explore and learn outside are listed here. (Keep in mind that there are lots and lots of wonderful educational apps out there!! We’re only sharing a very few to give you an idea of what’s available.)
- Star Walk – Explore the Night Sky – This app can be used by kids and adults of all ages! It uses GPS technology to tell the user exactly what he/she has found in the night sky. Aren’t sure if you’ve just found the Big Dipper? Point your phone up to that area, and the app will tell you. You can even point it down to find out what people on the other side of the globe are seeing at the same time!
- Pl@ntNet – This app allows users to identify plants with pictures. It’s actually a citizen science project that’s available as an app that helps you identify plants! Citizen science projects are a wonderful way to get kids involved and enthusiastic about science! (Citizen science is simply scientific research that is conducted in whole or in part by non-professional scientists.)
- Geocaching – If you’ve never tried geocaching, you should! It’s a lot of fun! Geocaching is done by using a GPS or mobile device (such as a cell phone) to find containers called geocaches at specific locations. A geocache might be a container (usually waterproof) containing a logbook and pen for the finder to use to record his/her code name and date. Some geocaches might contain toys or other items for trading.
- Audubon Birds – A Field Guide to North American Birds – This app (and other similar apps for different areas of the country or the world) allows kids and parents access to information about birds while you’re out and about at a campground, on a nature walk, or in your own community! You can search for birds by identifying color, size, body shape, and wingspan.
- Plum’s Creaturizer – This is a fun app for young children! It allows children to create their own creatures and then “take photos of them” in outdoor locations. (The app actually superimposes the creatures onto photos to make it look like the creature is in the outdoor location in the photo.)
5. Take advantage of printable games and activities.
There are lots (and lots!) of educational printable games and activities you can do on your camping trip. You’ll probably want to print these out before your camping trip and make sure you have any needed supplies. These may include cooking activities (like making Cat in the Hat pizza or a delicious pizza casserole), printable camping games (including games like Camping Charades and Camping Scattergories), and printable nature walks and scavenger hunts (see #7 below for links).
6. Read together.
Whether you have very young children, teenagers, or in-between ages, reading is something you can do at any time and any place! Read aloud together taking turns reading pages as a way of encouraging reluctant readers to improve reading skills and to enjoy reading. Read books independently as a fun “down time” activity when everyone needs to take a break. These tips for reading aloud may come in handy! Or you may want to include these ideas and book suggestions for reading aloud with kids or reading aloud with teens. Yes! You can read aloud with teens! I read aloud with mine until they started working and were so busy that it was impossible to coordinate our schedules. We still enjoy reading and discussing books even if we aren’t able to read them aloud together.
7. Go on nature walks and scavenger hunts.
There are lots of fun and educational nature scavenger hunts available online! Just print them out ahead of time to take with you on your trip. Or you may want to use some nature-related notebooking pages while you’re camping. Some examples are these wildflower notebook pages, bird notebook pages, and insect notebook pages.
8. Do some fun outdoor science activities.
It doesn’t have to be difficult to incorporate some fun outdoor science activities into your camping adventure! It’s easy to have your children paint or draw landscapes of the campsite or surrounding areas. This encourages your children to pay attention to their surroundings and really look at what’s happening in nature by observing the landscape, plant life, animal life, and even the weather!
If you’re camping in the spring, incorporate these spring science project ideas.
If it’s fall or winter during your camping trip, you can still incorporate some fun outdoor educational activities into your days! Here are some fun natural math lessons for fall. Or, if it’s winter and you’re camping someplace where it gets very cold or where there is snow, you may enjoy doing lessons including these salt and ice experiments for kids or studying the science of snow!
9. Check out local-to-you attractions.
On our Homeschool Road Trip to Jellystone Park in Cave City, Kentucky, we participated in a variety of educational activities that were local to the campsite where we stayed. It’s a wonderful idea to look for local-to-you attractions when you’re camping! You just may find that there are quite a few to choose from.
We explored Mammoth Cave, Diamond Caverns, Lost River Cave, Hidden River Cave, and Crystal Onyx Cave with knowledgeable guides who made our tours lots of fun! We learned the differences between wet and dry caves. We learned about cave wildlife and ecology, the history of caving, and more! We experienced a cave crawl, and some of us even went zip lining and rappelling! (Does testing your adventurous spirit count as an educational activity?!)
10. Encourage your children to document and share what they learned.
Kids love to tell stories, take pictures, and produce videos. Encourage them to document their activities and be creative. This doesn’t have to be complicated! Here are some suggestion you may want to consider:
- Have your children use a cell phone to make a video of the camping trip. They can record the weather, the plants and animals they observe, the activities they participate in, ways they help take care of the campsite, and even campfire stories and poems about the trip. Encourage them to have fun and include all kinds of fun ideas and observations. They’ll enjoy themselves, stay busy for hours, and have something fun to share with friends and family after the trip.
- Encourage one child to “interview” the other while pretending to be a news reporter. (Or have them take turns.) Have the “reporter” ask questions about the local activities, weather, and wildlife. Have them look up information about questions they can’t answer from memory. If there’s something particular you want your children to learn about while on the trip, be sure to include it in a list of suggested questions for the reporter to ask. This is a great way to get your kids to dig into learning without realizing what they’re doing!
- Give your children some blank art journals and colored pencils to use to create their own nature journals. Consider printing a scavenger hunt list to encourage them to look for various kinds of plants and animals. They can find and sketch the plants and animals and then look up additional information to add to their journals. (You’ll find links to scavenger hunts and nature walk information in #7 above.)
- Have them create a trip journal. This can be as simple as writing down what the family does each day and including drawings or photos to go along with the notes. Have them include notes about where they went, what they did, and what they learned or experienced at each event. They might include brochures or maps they used too. This is a wonderful way to practice writing, handwriting, and observation skills, and it’s a fun way to preserve those memories!
If you want to make your camping trip an educational experience, we think these tips and ideas will help you. Not only will your whole family learn a lot, but you’ll learn without lots of stress, lesson planning, and trouble. You’ll be able to take advantage of ideas and activities that are easily available to you, and you’ll be able to spend time enjoying your family