As part of our June Activity Calendar and in celebration of the annual Great American Backyard Campout, we've published this DIY guide to camping out—whether it's in the back yard, the deep woods or just in the living room, let's kick off this summer with some camping!
If you do not yet have your free copy of the calendar, get it here.
Step 1: Decide where you will camp out.
Camping out is a fantastic experience whether you are in the woods, on a campsite, in the backyard or even in the living room!
Step 2: Set Up a Shelter.
If you have a tent and can keep it up, pitch it today! If not, drape a bed sheet to create a tent or fort for your little one. Kids can enjoy picnics, cozy story time, flashlight play and all kinds of pretending in the new shelter. Kids can also enjoy making cozy shelters for stuffed animal friends. Place two sticks in the ground and drape a piece of fabric on top to create a tent for a stuffy friend. Or, create a lean-to by leaning sticks against a tree trunk or other structure. Add leaves, grasses and other materials to make the shelter extra soft and cozy for friends.
Step 3: Add to your campsite!
Here are some of our favorite ways to extend the play and the memories at a real or pretend campsite:
Build a "Fire"—Wonder, what do we need to make a pretend campfire? Challenge your kiddo to gather and arrange sticks and nature treasures to build a fire. Place balls of forest putty on one end of a stick to roast pretend s’mores.
"Cook out"—Head to or set up your mud kitchen to whip up some camping food. Give kids dirt, water and kitchen items, or just “cook” over your pretend campfire. Learn how to set up a simple mud kitchen here.
Want to make some real campfire treats? Try out some of our favorite kid-friendly recipes that can be cooked over a campfire, backyard grill or the kitchen stove.
Make your own sky!—Place a light bed sheet or piece of paper on the ground and offer kids frozen berries, spices and water, or ice paint (i.e. ice and food coloring on a stick) to paint a sunset. Or, use chalk and water, shaving cream or cornstarch to create "stars" on a dark sheet. Enjoy a super sensory satisfying way to paint your pretend sky, then "camp out" under it! Read more here.
Go "Fishing"—Drop large blocks of ice into a bowl of water and offer scoops to “fish” them out. Or, freeze one end of a piece of twine into a large ice cube, then tie the other end to a stick. Voila! Your fishing pole is ready for action. Get more fishing play ideas here.
Enjoy your campout, whether it's in the woods, the backyard or in the living room. Share photos and stories in our free Outdoor All 4 Facebook group. Younger kiddos may not make it to see the summer stars, but you can revisit play activities your child enjoyed throughout the week and enjoy some of the special camping rituals like eating in your campsite, singing and building a fire all summer long!
Why is this activity great for kids?
Camping is a super experience for the senses and a way to build a family culture around our connection to the outdoors. But, you don't have to start with deep woods backpacking—you can start small and get there whenever you and your kids are ready. Plus, no matter where or how "hard core" your camping turns out to be, you can get kids excited about camping by teeing up ways to play that have a camping theme. Whatever camping looks like for you, happy camping this summer!
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By creativity, we mean the ability to both imagine original ideas or solutions to problems and actually do what needs to be done to make them happen. So, to help kids develop creativity, we parents need to nurture kids' imaginations and give them lots of chances to design, test, redesign and implement their ideas.
"Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
Why, you ask? For one, it is through being creative that a person is able to get senses, sensibility and spirit working together. Simply put, without creativity, we don't think our kids will live a full life.
On a more practical level, it's also the means by which humans of all ages make an impact on the world and other people around them. A lot of heavy stuff is going to go down in our kids' lifetime, and their generation will need to imagine and implement solutions to big and very complicated problems. Although our kids are still far from public office or the boardroom, today's political and business leaders worldwide are already pointing to creativity as the most important leadership quality for the future.
Although years from the art studio or design lab, little kids can learn to think and act creatively if you give them time and the right practice.
What is a Naturalist?
The oldest and simplest definition, “student of plants and animals,” dates back to 1600. The term has evolved over time, it's importance changing as the values of dominant culture have changed. 400 years after that old definition, Howard Gardner, the paradigm-shifting education theorist, added “naturalist” to his list of “multiple intelligences.” Gardner challenged the notion that intelligence is a single entity that results from a single capability. Instead, he recognizes eight types of intelligence, all of which enable individuals to think, solve problems or to create things of value. To Gardner, the Naturalist intelligence enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment.
A true naturalist has not simply Googled and learned the names of plants, animals, rocks, etc. Rather, he or she has had direct experience with them, coming to know about them and using all senses to develop this intelligence. A naturalist also has a reverence for nature, valuing and caring for living things from the smallest mite to the tallest tree. A naturalist comes to not only knowing the creatures and features of his or her environment, but treasuring them in thought and action.
Why does it matter?
In the process of becoming a naturalist, children become stewards of nature, a connection that is associated with a range of benefits, including greater emotional well-being, physical health and sensory development (not to mention the benefits to nature itself!). In a world in which primary experience of nature is being replaced by the limited, directed stimulation of electronic media, kids senses are being dulled and many believe their depth of both their interest in and capacity to understand complicated phenomena are being eroded. To contrast, the naturalist learns about the key features of their natural environment by using all of his senses and be interpreting open-ended and ever-changing stimuli.
What is Sensory Development?
Although some scientists classify as many as 20 senses, when childhood educators talk about "developing the senses," we typically mean developing the five standard senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In addition to honing these senses, educators care about sensory integration, which is the ability to take in, sort out, process and make use of information gathered from the world around us via the senses.
Why does it matter?
The better kids are able to tune and integrate their senses, the more they can learn. First, if their senses are sharper, the information kids can gather should be of greater quantity and quality, making their understanding of the world more sophisticated. Further, until the lower levels of the brain can efficiently and accurately sort out information gathered through the senses, the higher levels cannot begin to develop thinking and organization skills kids need to succeed. Senses also have a powerful connection to memory. Children (and adults) often retain new learning when the senses are an active part of the learning.
So, if kids have more sensory experiences, they will learn more, retain better and be better able to think at a higher level. Makes the days they get all wet and dirty in the sandbox seem better, doesn't it?