Indoor activities for kids & parents: Camping indoors for winter blues, rainy summers, or anytime fun!

indoor camping inside tent

It can be one of the most fun indoor activities for kids: Camping at home can have that vacation and adventure feeling with these indoor camping ideas – even a safe, smoky, indoor campfire scent. For all ages but especially great for families with kids aged 4 to 10.

Some of the ideas for indoor camping here can be indoor fun for kids only, but others are for families with adult supervision and continual participation because they involve heated pots and real fire if you don’t have a real fireplace or woodstove.

Custom Jigsaw Puzzles & Playing Cards
Custom Jigsaw Puzzles & Playing Cards
by Countryside Living & Style

Set up the main camping area

As an indoor activity for kids and their families, you don’t need a tent to set up indoors, although they really add to the atmosphere. A makeshift camping fort can also be built by draping old sheets or blankets over the edges of furniture. Be sure to let kids be part of the tent or fort setup. If simply sleeping “in the great outdoors” without a shelter, move furniture out of the way for a nice open space. Then gather and lay out sleeping bags, pillows and flashlights. Place extra blankets, air mattresses or other padding down if you don’t have soft carpet. The rest of your gear will depend on which other indoor camping activities you choose from below.

Indoor camping must have the scent and “fresh air feel” of the woods and mountains

Artificial scents can have a detrimental effect on the air, while scents coming purely from nature can have an uplifting effect on us and the atmosphere. So for this indoor camping activity, we’re aiming for bringing authentic plant scents from the outdoors inside while avoiding artificial ones. Here are some ideas: 

  • Natural food stores often carry true essential oils of pinewood, pine needles, cedar bark, cedarwood, fir needles, and so on. Purchase one or two of the real essential oils of those plants (not artificial “fragrance oil” imitating those aromas) and sprinkle a few drops on some wood chips, on two or three pine cones, in an essential oil diffuser, in a bowl of very warm water, on a few pieces of beauty bark stolen from your garden, washed off and allowed to dry… you get the idea. Put the scent near the camping area. But don’t do the scents until the actual camping begins. As you may know if you have a diffuser, we can get used to scents around us and they won’t impact as much as if we suddenly release them for a burst of the scent of the great outdoors just as camping officially begins.
  • Budget version of the above: Find some fresh pine, fir or cedar needles outdoors, put them in water in a cooking pot in the kitchen, bring it to a simmer or light boil just before the camping begins, and bring the steaming pot into the room to scent the air right before the indoor camping officially begins. Keeping it safe from kids, of course.
  • In addition or instead:  Burn a small amount of pine, cedar, or fir incense for a short amount of time in a well ventilated room as the camping officially begins to release the aroma of a campfire. Too many cheap incense brands use synthetics which aren’t good for breathing, so make sure you use a brand that uses real plant materials. You can even surround an incense cone sitting on a flat fireproof dish with rocks to look like a miniature campfire ring. You can also make your own campfire scented incense here, although it does involve ordering some supplies ahead of time. Another option is to buy self-lighting charcoal disks/tablets meant for indoor incense (NOT ‘BRIQUETS OR CHARCOAL MEANT FOR OUTDOOR BARBECUES… VERY DANGEROUS INDOORS!) After you light these disks, you can then sprinkle on dried fir, pine or cedar needles of your own on top of them for the scent of a campfire. Don’t leave it unattended or let it over smoke, and always have fire safety tools nearby.

Our tea light idea below can be another way of adding the scent of outdoor camping to your activity.

Customozable Winter Scene Family Name
Customozable Winter Scene Family Name
by Countryside_Home

Indoor camping must have nature exploration adventures

Polished stones, beautiful feathers and seashells can often be purchased cheaply from craft stores. Hide the items to be found like an indoor Easter egg hunt once the camping has officially begun. Count the items first and either set a limit as to how many each child can find, or give them each their own indoor territory, to make sure it’s not a competition of who gets the most the fastest, but rather a thoughtful and satisfying exploration.

Budget or additional version: Buy a bag of unshelled nuts such as filberts (which really do grow wild in the woods.) Hide those instead or in addition to. They’re usually less expensive than the craft items above. Crack and eat them as part of your camping meal after they’ve been found and gathered. It's a satisfying “hunting and gathering” activity.

Another version: If you can find many flat stones outdoors on your own ahead of time, wash, dry, then hide those instead. Promise the kids they’ll get a rock painting session the next day for all the stones they find. Something that could happen with real camping… finding items in nature, then making something with them after getting back home. Although the rocks will be free, kids acrylic paints aren’t as cheap as a kids’ watercolor set, and acrylics are needed to be thick enough to cover the stone.

Play campfire games

Play some of the usual campfire games: playing cards, puzzles, telling ghost stories, singing folk camp songs.

Girls' initials to color in with fabric markers
Girls' initials to color in with fabric markers
by Countryside_Home

 The outdoors at night

Once the lights are out, it’s flashlights only, even for trips to the indoor outhouse. For the first hour after it’s officially time to go to sleep, play a CD of outdoor nightime nature sounds (free from libraries) or find an online streaming source that won’t be interrupted with ads or a phone ringing. But do hide the e-devise to where you can hear it but not see it’s artificial light or be tempted to use it for other reasons.

If possible, turn off heat, even crack a couple of windows unless it’s far too cold for that. This can also be a night to save electricity and add fresh air to a winter home. A brave adult can close the windows and turn on the heat later in the night or towards morning.

Indoor camping must have a campfire

The incense described above can mimic a campfire. You can also place a few tea light candles not touching each other in a flat fireproof pan or dish such as a large cast iron skillet. Don’t let the candles touch each other to avoid overheating. Be careful of surrounding them with just any natural stones because some stones explode near heat, and even tea candles can get pretty hot. If you know rocks and stones well, and have granite stones or others that you know are dry, clean and heat safe, pile them around the candles to mimic a low outdoor fire with a stone fire ring. Make sure the stones are dry and don’t pile any over the top of the candles to lessen the chance of stones overheating and exploding.

Other options are natural stone tea light candle holders found at some department stores, specifically made to be safe with the candles. Or, decorative ceramic “logs” that are heat safe, usually found at craft stores, piled around the candles. Always keep tools for putting out fires nearby and never leave the candles unattended or left going while falling to sleep.

Use either beeswax, sustainably harvested palm wax, or soy tea candles to keep your indoor camping air clean. These tea lights sometimes come with natural essential oil scents such as pine and cedar to scent your camping experience. (Avoid the many commercial candles with artificial scents). If you can find these, it will save you the cost of buying entire bottles of essential oils. (The essential oils are nice in homemade house cleaning liquids, though, so they do have other uses.)

For a non-fire no heat version, bury a few battery operated flickering tea candles with preferably orange/gold bulbs up to the bulbs’ edges with any dry, clean rocks and stones to mimic fire rings, and dry clean sticks laying over them as campfire wood.

Campfire cooking is a must for indoor camping

Everyone knows how life-threateningly dangerous it is to light camp stoves or bbq charcoal inside, right? (RIGHT?)

To create the feel of cooking and eating away from a regular kitchen, here are ways to set up a camp kitchen in the camping area.

Place a waterproof tablecloth on the floor, and a large heat proof tray (such as a baking pan) on top of that. Then…

  • Do you have a fondue pot or can you borrow one? If you don’t already know how, learn to cook meat or meat substitute in a fondue pot. Take extra precautions and don’t fill the pot up with liquid much more than one third to keep it from splattering out, keep the lid close at hand to smother any accidental flames, and as with the tea candles, have the type of fire protection nearby for whatever type of ingredients (broth, oil, etc.) you’ll be using. Set it up safely in the camp kitchen area on the tray. Cut hot dog franks in half so the franks will fit inside the pot when dipping them in the pot with fondue forks to heat/cook them, mimicking cooking hot dogs on a scewer over a campfire.
  • Or, got a crockpot? Safely place it in the camping area on the tray and fill it with hearty soup, baked beans, mac & cheese with sliced hotdog franks, or oatmeal with brown sugar or honey to simulate cooking in a cauldron over a bed of coals. You can even put fire ring stones around the pot. Use tin camping bowls or soup cups, not regular household dishes.
  • The no-heat method: Pack items ahead of time picnic and hiking style. Sandwiches, hiking granola, chips, apples, a water bottle for everyone and of course a litter bag. Open and eat your picnic near the indoor camping area. Bring food items already made ahead as you would if camping, or bring the necessities to actually make cold foods in the picnic area as you might if really eating outdoors. No visits to the kitchen allowed.

See also our articles on backyard camping, and backyard movies

Boy's or girl's black & white chef apron
Boy's or girl's black & white chef apron
by Countryside_Home

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