I grew up in the outdoors. Rural Pennsylvania shaped me into the outdoor woman I’ve become. I was first and foremost a car camper and was six or seven when my parents bought our camper that could be pulled behind our 12-passenger van.
We’d hit the road to sleep at as many state parks on the weekends on weekends we didn’t have sporting events or family BBQs. Having a camper helped my mom pack for a family of six better with space to leave the most used items in the camper all summer until the weather was too cold to camp.
Always fighting over our favorite bunk beds, we had our home away from home. We didn’t take weeklong vacations to the Caribbean, we took weekend trips instead, met the Campground Hosts, and saved money by not staying in hotels. We were able to do more micro trips because of the money we saved from camping.
Fortunate to have three siblings, we did our best at making up games and passing time at the campground with loose supervision from our parents. We took turns inviting friends on our trips, which made the games and adventures even better and more creative.
Campgrounds were a big part of my childhood, and here are five ways we played on our mini family weekend trips–maybe this is why I’m always going on the weekends and have a hard time sitting still.
1. Building a home in the woods
Growing up in the country, there was never a moment when I wasn’t trying to play in the woods. We would build teepees or forts out of branches. We’d build pretend fire pits and would cook imaginary food until dinner time or my mom’s voice could be overheard.
It was like playing house but so much more fun. We’d make up stories on how we’d get to living in the area. Our friends would join in the fun if they were on the camping trip.
2. Made-up games on the playground
The bigger and more impressive the playground, the better. Jumping between structures without touching the gravel or pebbles was a game in itself. Or pushing each other on the swings and seeing who could swing the highest or jump off the furthest.
We were gymnasts in the Olympics competing for the gold medal. We would divide to team and play tag adding the obstacles around us to hide or avoid the opponent. We’d meet other kids and let them join into our antics.
3. Examining fossils
One campground stands out to me where the sticks and rocks had fossil markings on them. I always thought I’d end up being a scientist, marine biologist, or geologist with the amount of rocks and sticks I’d examine under a magnify glass. Leave-no-trace practices recommend taking memories and not objects from nature, but it doesn’t hurt to play and imagine what the place was like before you.
4. Making sand sculptures or mud pies
Most the campgrounds I grew up visiting had lakes or even beaches with sand. We’d spend hours building or playing in the sand between dips in the water. We’d make a mess and make mud with the dirt to create mud pies. We probably swallowed pounds of dirt in the process, but we didn’t care.
5. Camp chores
Just because we weren’t at home didn’t mean the picnic table didn’t need set, firewood needed collected, or dinner needed to be made. My mom would rattle out chores on how to feed 6+ mouths a night. We’d run in and out of the camper getting the supplies she needed for the camp stove or fire. If we’re lucky, we were able to cook our own meals over the fire.
6. Go on a hike
Most campgrounds have hiking or nature trails to walk around. What better way to tire out a kid than let them run down a wooded pathway. Walk slow and stop and point out the various trees, plants, and viewpoints. Marshy areas may have unique birds to watch or creatures to see. Make a game of it.
Camping brings a family closer
Camping was a way to bring our family together. We’d travel a couple hours, which felt further and more of an adventure now that I’m grown up. I realize it was a way to have family members a few towns over visit for dinner and watch us grow.
My parents still have that old camper and still camp to this day. It’s not as frequent as we did when we were children, but now they have grandchildren (not mine) to join in on the fun. I only hope that future generations continue to share in the outdoors.
Heck, I’m still trying to escape every weekend to find outdoor adventure, and I thank my parents for their commitment and dedication on packing us all up in a small camper and hitting the road.