If you’re like our family, you’re looking far and wide for new and engaging ways to beat the stuck-at-home quarantine or wintertime blues. In warmer months, we love to spend time exploring and enjoying the great outdoors, so we decided to bring our favorite parts of summer recreation right into our living room by constructing an indoor campsite! 

Materials:

While our toddler (27 months) napped, we ‘pitched’ our campsite so we could surprise her and jump right into the imaginary play when she woke. To really make it feel special and cozy (an unofficial requirement during these long, isolating, and chilly winter months), we decided to set up our half-dome tent in front of the couch and fill it with ‘sleeping bag’ blankets, pillows, and woodland stuffed animals. Of course, a tent isn’t necessary, but throwing a blanket over some chairs and couch cushions works just as well to get that cozy campsite vibe — perfect for snuggling and sharing stories after more active play! 

To support our toddler’s fine motor skills, tactile imaginary play, and language development, we then laid out the Learning Resources New Sprouts “Camp Out!” set in front of our tent. This kit includes an adorable and durable array of tiny camping gear, including a duffle bag, glow-in-the-dark lantern, s’mores supplies, roasting fork, hot dog, and a miniature pretend campfire. 

Our toddler loved exploring this set, many elements of which she had no previous exposure to in real life. She was excited to discover the name and purpose of each item — especially the squishy marshmallow! Bonus: stacking the s’more ingredients and lining up the hot dog to attach to her roasting fork all required patience, problem-solving, and hand-eye coordination.

After pretending our way through a delicious campfire-cooked meal (complete with a discussion about taking turns and using descriptive language to convey how ‘melty,’ ‘sticky,’ ‘sweet,’ and hot or warm various elements were after ‘roasting’ them on the pretend flame), we paired our play with some books from our home and public library to support and deepen her learning. Depending on the age of your child(ren), we recommend titles like Flashlight by Lizi Boyd (picture book), The Night World by Mordicai Gerstein (picture book), Little Owl’s Night by Divya Srinivasan (board book), and Crinkle Crinkle Little Star by Justin Krasner (board book). 

What campout is complete without some stargazing? Enter the Learning Resources Primary Science Shining Stars Projector. Our little astronomer is captivated by all things space-related, so this addition to our indoor campsite was a big hit and paired well with our book on constellations. Next time we play campout, I think we’ll extend our play with the Stars Projector by using an empty paper towel roll as an imaginary telescope! 

Looking to adapt or extend your own cabin-fever campout even further? Interested in including older siblings in the learning and fun? Here are some ideas to complement these products:

  • Art & Creativity: After indoor ‘stargazing,’ design your own constellations (and any stories behind them). We like to use simple star stickers and white chalk on black construction paper.
  • Sensory & Language Development: Use a free phone app to play nature sounds and set the mood. Lay in your ‘tent’ or on your blankets, listen quietly and identify what you’re hearing. Describe each sound and discuss how they make each of you feel. (For instance, are the rain sounds calming? Do the crackling fire sounds make you feel warm or hungry?) 
  • Gross Motor & Imaginary Play: Grab a ‘walking stick’ and go for a hike through your living space. Have your child follow a ‘trail’ and describe the terrain. Ask: What imaginary plants or animals are you seeing, smelling, hearing, or feeling during our hike?
  • Social & Language Development: Sing or make up campfire songs together. Have older children/siblings make up or share their own campfire stories.
  • Fine Motor & Imaginary Play: Darken the room, set up a flashlight to point at a wall, and use hand or finger puppets to tell stories. 
  • Gross Motor & Imaginary Play: Play charades or ‘guess who,’ acting out animals/wildlife you might come across on your campout. 
  • Art & Creativity: Break out the coloring utensils and design your own camping badges to earn or share.
  • Sensory & Language Development: Source some small items from the outdoors (stones, feathers, pinecones, acorns, leaves, or sticks, etc.) and safely explore and examine them in the Learning Resources Primary Science Sensory Tubes.
  • Language Development: Get out a map and plan your next real campout, hike, or other outdoor adventure together, whether it’s at your local park, forest preserve, state, or national park. Ask your child: What activities will you do? What supplies or snacks will you need? (Let’s be honest — we all need something to look forward to!) 

Based on the joy experienced by our own very happy camper, the Stars Projector and the Camp Out set will result in long-lasting, repeated play sessions in the coming months and years!