Camping with Books

An "outside-the-classroom" learning experience is a type of experiential learning which get students away from the traditional classroom setting and into a new environment.  The potential benefits for teaching "outside-the-classroom" can be enormous. Putting a class into a different physical setting generates a bond among peers and creates a learning community.  

For the first time in my career I find myself working in an environment where we take few trips due to economic limitations. However, trips don't have to involve complicated logistics, great expense or even a bus.  Providing an "outside-the-classroom" learning experience can begin with creatively bringing the outdoor experience inside the walls of our classrooms.

One of my most anticipated units of the year is Camping with Books.  Our campsite provides an outlet for students to learn, spending the majority of the day working at high levels of engagement. My classroom is at a working hum with meaningful tasks that develop my learners and expand their schema.  To ensure a physical setting change, we go on nature walks with specific learning objectives during our weeks at camp. 

Youth development experts agree that children need a variety of experiences in their lives to help them grow into healthy adolescents.  For children to develop positive behaviors, their experiences must produce a belief in themselves to make decisions.  Camp can provide an excellent experience for children to learn self expression, positive social interactions, structure, environmental awareness, and meaningful participation.  So why not camp in class?



My suggestion for teachers who have yet to camp in their classrooms, start simple!  In a day of social frenzy, there is a driving sense that we need to go big or go home.  I find myself getting caught up dreaming big.  I don't regret the evolution but I want to remind you, my camp began simple!

Teachers have an uncanny ability to turn glitter into fairy dust, taking students on a journey using their imagination. My first year, students brought in sleeping bags and flashlights. It was as simple as turning out the lights and finding a cozy spot to read and write. My excitement for camp directly influenced the kids reaction.

By my second year, I purchased a tent and asked parents if I could borrow lanterns.  This was the first year that I put black butcher paper over my windows and poked holes with a pencil to mimic stars beaming into our darkened classroom campsite.  

Don't forget that the small touches are as meaningful as the large. A campfire gave our campsite character while allowing my class the opportunity to transition outdoors to look for resources. Allowing students to assist in creating the fire-pit involved collaboration and problem solving.

As if a tent, campfire, and lanterns weren't enough, the following year I contacted companies looking for a classroom sponsor. You'd be surprised at how many local businesses are willing to support our littlest learners.  What I've learned over the years, primarily through Ron Clark, was not just asking for donations but getting the community involved and volunteer their time in the classroom.  When individuals saw our passion for learning, they didn't hesitate to support financially.  


Today, ten years after I began camping with my kids, my campsite is over-the-top.  It's a labor of love!  It's our final learning celebration of the year.  In lieu of an end of the year party, I request parents to participate in making this celebration one that all my first graders will remember for a lifetime.  

I don't expect teachers to spend their own money. I've opened multiple donorschoose projects to create the themes in my classroom.  Do what makes you happy.  For me, camping allows for me to step away from traditional teaching.  My kids take control of their learning because the topic and activities are engaging, allowing me to enjoy the time we spend together rather than managing behaviors. 


In the weeks leading up to camp, my kids learn about the forest biome with meaningful lessons.  We make discoveries through various fiction and nonfiction books  The artifacts of our learning become the backdrop to our camp.  

One go to resource I've used since 2011 is Cara Carroll's Camping Capers. The unit is filled with book based crafts and centers. Additionally, I have students assist with huge murals.  Teams of students migrate to the murals during early finishers to collaborate in coloring.  

There is a lot of value in hosting a campsite in class with many problem solving opportunities! Camping allows for students to tackle set up while incorporating learning standards.  Have the kids assist you in writing a procedural paper on how to assemble the tent prior to performing the task. After, assemble the tent based on the procedure recorded. Problem solve strategies on improving the assembly and revise the paper.  


I keep camping as simple as possible.  Using camp symbol signs from Oriental Trading makes student transitions easy! My centers are as follows...


River Research-  Students read in the raft which sits on a blue tarp.  Unfortunately, there isn't a sign for this center but it's easy to identify.  All that is needed is a bin full of books on camping, forest animals, and insects. 

I made a decision years ago to keep writing inside the tents and reading in the raft.  Clipboards and pencils inside an inflatable doesn't make a lot of sense. 

Tent Tell-all- Following the research, students move into the tent to record facts about their newly acquired research!  

Campfire Capers- To get the students creative juices flowing, I encourage the kids to begin the center by reading the story: Bernstein Bears, A Ghost in the Forest.  With a word bank of words available, kids work to create their own camp story. 

Fishing for Facts- I have a variety of fishing games I use at this center.  Kids can pick a game that meets their needs.  (See more below).  

Picnic Pictures-  Kids that attend this center will create a take away.  I use a picture frame kit is from Oriental Trading.  In the past, I've used the picnic for insect observations but moved this to the spring, allowing time to watch the life cycle.  


Hiking Trail- This center typically includes word work somewhere off the beating path of camp. The activities in this center change based on my class and their needs.

Camper Boucher-  This center doesn't have a sign but the camper is easy to identify.  I always find this center interesting because of the different personalities in class.  Students create a brochure, developing the camp of their dreams. The brochure includes a camp description, contact information, activities, and pictures.  

Scrumptious S'mores- The final center is teacher directed.  I work with the kids to make s'mores while students record the steps in a procedural paper. 


My kids have been fishing for years but this year I was able to share a new resource that allowed my kids to work on essential math skills while having fun. The Magnetic Numbers Fishing Set is from Lakeshore Learning.

The fishing set comes with four VERY durable, extendable poles with magnetic fishing hooks.  There isn't a reel on the pole so kids will cast the line and pull in the numbers.  The hook at the bottom of the pole allows for the line to be latched and avoid getting tangled. Also included are 20 floating, magnetic numbers. As a primary teacher, I would love to see the kit with a zero. Currently, you'll received numbers 1-20.

To enhance the game, I purchased a toddler pool from the dollar store.  You can add water or simply allow the kids to fish from the pool dry.

Click image above to download!

I created a variety of activities to use with the magnetic fishing set.  The Pond Life freebie file has progressing skills, allowing this tool to be a valuable resource used throughout the school year. For each game, students will pull a card and fish for the corresponding answer.  I prepared half page response sheets for teachers needing the accountability. What's included in the download?


To get you started fishing in your classroom, I want to offer two followers a set of fishing poles shown in the kit.  I will select two winners on Monday July 11th.  Best of luck!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Image Map



19 comments:

rmariemuniz said...

Love your classroom campsite! Very nice!

Jennifer Braxl said...

Thanks for the great ideas!

Melissa Young said...

I have done 2 camping days which was really just dipping my toes in...your post makes me want to jump in! Thank you for the freebies!

Ashley Smith said...

I love the fishing idea! I can't wait to try it with my 2nd graders!

Angie Harbison said...

So many great ideas that I will use and share! Thank you!

Angie said...

Looks like so much fun. What a great idea!

Adriana Cardenas said...

I have this as my classroom theme for my summer school!!! The kids are so engaged thanks for all the ideas.

Shannon said...

Such a fun idea! How do you have room to add all those areas to your classroom?

Breanne Simons said...

I've been thinking about using Schoolgirl Style's camping theme and all of your ideas would work perfectly with that!! I just might have to do it this year!!

Tamara said...

I love using a camping theme for the end of the year in our Pre-K class. This gives me some new ideas to try this year! Love all of the creative ways you have grown your camping theme over the years and getting the community involved in contributing to your program.

Kristi Neill said...

This is fantastic! I've been dreaming of doing a camping unit/theme for a long time!

ksteacher81 said...

I love Cara's camping unit. I've used it for the last two years and the kids have really enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing some new ideas I can add to our unit. This is the first camping experience most of my kiddos have ever had.
Ruthanne A.

Carolyn S said...

I am so excited to try this with my firsties. Thanks for all the tips!!!

ltracy said...

I entered your fishing set give away. My kindergarten students, who call themselves the kindergarten explorers, would so enjoy a fishing exploration station! Enjoyed this post very much!

nikki white said...

Each year during Lakeshore Learning's Annual BTS Sale, I think about purchasing their Magnetic Fishing Poles, but, I don't because I've never been sure how to incorporate them without Administration giving me the "side-eye." Now, I know what to do; thank you for sharing this information!

Karyn said...

I LOVE this theme! So many fun activities to do! I seriously love the "camper tent" you have pictured! I want one for my house! :-)

Mary Love Strange said...

What great ideas! Thank you for sharing!

Anais Novak said...

I love how you explained all the activities. What a great way to integrate learning while engaging the kids! Love it!

Ellen said...

What a fun activity, working on hand -eye coordination along with learning!