Thursday, July 26, 2012

Early Childhood Camping Unit

Last week our church did Vacation Bible Camp, and as director of the program I wound up with a lot of extra decorations at my house. I couldn't quite toss them since I'd spent so much time assembling them, but at the same time most were too big and bulky to keep for another year.

So, I decided to bring them home to do a camping unit with my kids (the theme of VBC this year was "national parks,") and then to donate the compoents of the unit to a local daycare. Everybody wins!

I re-created a scene that I had put up in church last week, then added a few "learning components" to make it a school activity.

First, I turned our lake and waterfall into a fishing for letters game.
 I printed the free camping printables from 2 Teaching Mommies and made a literacy center out of the camp table.
 A look at our living room when the kids came down the stairs: painted scenery from church, reused blue tablecloths and blue cellophane for the waterfall and lake, some sleeping bags, a camp chair and a kids tent (our real tents wouldn't fit in the living room), a tissue paper campfire, and some Christmas garland wrapped around cellophane paper tubes for trees. Everything was adhered with painters tape so it came off without marring the paint or walls.

 I pulled a few real pieces of firewood and stone from the garden for authenticity.
 This picture shows how I adhered the blue tablecloth and cellophane to the painted backdrop with blue painters tape to make it look seamless. The waterfall starts on my lamp, is taped to the wall, cascades over my couch and is given some character by a few throw pillows underneath.
 The forest was created with the leftover cellophane tubes and some Christmas garland. I stuck one end of the garland right into to the top of the tube and then wound it around the tubes, securing with painter's tape if necessary. I re-used a painted pine tree from VBC scenery in the background. Brown tubes are stuck between couch cushions to make them stand up straight.
 Since our real tents wouldn't stand up inside, I used this kids pop up tent for a similar effect. I moved a couple of ferns into the room on the ground for effect, as well. The book on the chest is one of several woods/camping themed books I put out for the kids to check out. I make a reading nook behind the tent with a camping themed quilt and pillow for snuggling.
This is a look at the large background scene, with the lake already starting to fall down. :) The background is painted on a couple of long strips of brown craft paper, taped together. A couple of kids started the mountains at church last week and I finished them, so the approach is a little different. Still, it gets the point across.
Reading nook for snuggling up with camping books... and Mommy.
 Closer look at "trees."
 Kiddos starting a game of fishing for letters to help them learn the names and sounds each letter makes. For details on how to make and play the game, go here.

 I put a few fish under the cellophane so they'd look like they were underwater.
 I put up some Christmas lights under a bit of cellophane to make a starry night sky. (If you try it, don't put the cellophane too close to the Christmas lights as they could be a fire hazard.)
 Using our letter tiles with the printables from 2 Teaching Mommies:
We collected some branches and made some counting sticks and bundles that looked rustic and expressed place value.  I had the kids count out each bundle of ten for practice. You could also use sticks as Maria Montessori used spindles, as expressed in this video. (We do that often as well, to practice one-to-one correspondence and number recognition.)
 Some sample trays I set out on the children's (respective) shelves to go with this unit (all except stick bundles are from 2 Teaching Mommies). I also put out a tray of small blank books for the children to write/draw their own camping stories in.
 Our art project today consisted of a forest collage. We began by using a comb in green paint to create the pine needle look of pine trees.

 Then we added trunks, some blue tissue paper for lakes, brown tissue paper for caves, some green festoon for well, everything, and some forest animal stickers.
For music during this unit we listened to camp songs I remember singing around the campfire as a child. Oh yes, we rocked out to Puff, The Magic Dragon and This Land is Your Land an awful lot. It was pretty spectacular, if I do say so myself.

We also managed to eat a few camping-staple foods, like s'mores and (nitrate free, all natural) hot dogs. I abandoned these attempts by dinner though, and instead made some roasted potatoes with sauteed summer squash and zucchini. Hey- I'm all for themed eating, but I have to make sure we eat a few veggies right? Besides, Garrett brought the veggies in from the field minutes before we cooked them. No one complained.

All in all, this unit provided us with some great learning opportunities, lots of fun, and the interest to go camping "for real" once the weather starts to cooperate!


  1. Thank you for all the great details!! We are having a camping themed vbs this year and I am looking for ideas to decorate. I will definitely use these ideas and look here for further inspiration for sunday school and Cubbies/Puggles.

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