Campfire games for kids of all ages
After sunset, camping can be magical. The fire sparks and dances and everyone gathers to watch. But after the s’mores have been cooked, and the fire ceases to mesmerize, what is there to do?
The littlest ones become restless and eager to explore — sometimes a little too close to the fire. The older kids want to disconnect. The mystical togetherness that the fire created seems to have burned out before the embers have stopped glowing.
To keep the magic going, our team has collaborated to create a list of our favorite fireside games and activities. Most of the activities and games have been tested by our team members’ families, and some are from my days in youth group.
While this list is loosely split by age group, many of the games can be appropriate for a wide range of ages.
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Fireside games for kids of all ages
While I think many of these games can appeal to people from multiple age groups, a couple stand out as hits for nearly every age range.
For this game, you will need flashlights, paper, a pencil, and an optional timer. Divide the number of players into two teams. Have one team write a name of a movie, book, person, item, or phrase on a slip of paper. If you are playing with very young children, select simple topics such as the zoo or movies like Frozen.
A player on the opposite team will attempt to act out whatever is on the card while his or her team guesses the answers. No talking aloud! Usually, the team has three minutes to guess the correct answer, if they do, they earn a point.
You may play that either the team with the maximum correct guesses wins or whichever team was fastest at solving the charade wins. To play for the second version, use a stopwatch to time each team’s charade challenge. Track the times. After several rounds, the team with the shortest total time wins. For young children, skip the competition and the timer. Instead, celebrate each correct guess.
To enhance this game, have the team that is not guess use their flashlights to create a spotlight on the person miming.
Valerie’s family loves this nighttime game. Place lit glow sticks in 3-6 water bottles partially filed with water and arrange them as bowling pins in the camp’s driveway. Using a soccer ball, try to knock down as many sticks a possible.
Fireside games for young children
Singing is a classic fireside activity and many songs are verbal games in disguise.
Going on a Bear Hunt
A great one for camping is “Going on a Bear Hunt.” This call and response song has hand motions and teaches problem-solving. The leader sings a line and the listeners repeat it while copying their actions. Through the course of the song, the singers will climb imaginary trees and skirt rocks to seek a bear. When they spot the bear, they turn and “run,” passing each obstacle on the way to safety.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear
Another fun singing game is “Brown Bear, Brown Bear.” Each child should hold a stuffed animal, blanket, or object for this song based on Eric Carle’s picture book. The group begins by saying the name of the object held by the lead singer.
If the leader were holding a pine cone, the group would sing, “Pinecone, pinecone, what do you see?” Then the singer with the pinecone responds, “I see a teddy bear looking at me.” The group repeats the chorus, using the words “teddy bear” instead of “pinecone.” The song ends when every person has a chance to sing.
Create a Rhythm Rainstorm
A rhythm rainstorm can create a fun atmosphere and explore the effects of a sound on our imaginations. The “storm” begins with a gentle patter when the participants tap one finger on their palm. The drizzle becomes a steady rainfall once the players tap all for fingers against their palm.
To make a downpour, the players switch to clapping. Finally, the storm has arrived! Players stomp their feet to mimic thunder. After the thunder, reverse each step — from clapping to tapping and then to silence.
The circular seating arrangement and simple tune make this slapping game perfect for fireside fun. Participants stand or sit in a circle and rest their hands palms either under or over the other participants’ hands. One palm will receive a slap from a player on the right that hand will then slap the hand of the next player. The rhythm of the song jumps from player to player like frogs in a pond.
At the last note, the player about to be slapped tries to move her hand away so that the slapper slaps his own hand. If she is too slow and receives a slap, she loses. If the slapper contacts his own hand, he loses! For young children, don’t require them to sit out after they are out.
Pass a stuffed animal, spoon, or another object while singing or playing a song. Whoever is left holding the object when the song ends loses!
Catching fireflies can be a joyful activity after dark. Poke small holes in the lid of a glass jar and place the fireflies inside. The air holes allow the fireflies to breath while you and your kids can watch their lights flicker.
In this guessing game, one player thinks of an object and then tells the other players if the object is “animal, vegetable, or mineral.” The other players then may ask no more than 20 questions to identify the object.
Would You Rather?
This game may reveal something surprising about yourself and the other players. Each player takes turns coming up with two options and asking the other players which they prefer. For example, one question might be “Would you rather fly or be invisible?”
When the only light is firelight, flashlights, and starlight, it’s time to make shadow puppets. Have one person use their flashlight to illuminate the puppeteer’s hands while they try to produce a shadow puppet. The walls of a tent make the perfect stage for shadow puppets. With a little practice, you can create the illusion of a goat, rabbit, dog, or squirrel.
Use a flashlight beam as a limbo stick to see how low you can go!
Fireside games for older children
Children over five years old love story telling and memory games. Some may be ready for something a little more competitive — and they all love silliness.
In this storytelling game, someone starts the story with “Once upon a time …” Then they introduce the basic premise with one sentence. The next player must continue the story with a sentence that begins with “Fortunately …” The following player then adds another sentence that starts with “Unfortunately …” The players alternate between fortunately and unfortunately until a good resolution is found.
Pass the Drawing
This silly drawing game can be a lot of fun. Each player receives a piece of paper which they fold into thirds (or half if you only have two players). Then they secretly draw the head of a monster and then fold the paper so that only a tiny portion of the drawing is visible. This will give the other person the lines they need to begin their picture. Players exchange drawings and without peeking at the other person’s art, draw the middle of the monster. Then they fold again, leaving only a ¼ inch of the drawing exposed. Next, they exchange papers and draw the monster’s feet. Once complete, they display their joint artwork and enjoy the goofiness!
Use glowsticks to create impressions of animals while everyone else guesses which animal you are trying to mimic. For example, if you wanted to mime a bull, place two glow sticks on your head, grunt, and kick the ground. You could impersonate a puppy by creating a tail from a glow stick and wagging it enthusiastically.
Use a star chart or app (such as Sky View) to identify the constellations in the night sky. Stardate provides information on 88 different constellations and the stories behind their names.
“I’m Going on a Picnic”
To begin this guessing game, one player comes up with three items that follow a secret rule. The rule could be anything — the three items may all begin with the letter A, be square objects, have four letters, or be red. Then the player announces that they are going on a picnic and taking those three times.
Other players suggest items that the person should bring to the picnic. The first player will tell them if they are taking the item (i.e. it follows the secret rule) or they are not taking it. The game continues until the players guess the rule.
Captions and Illustrations
Begin this drawing game by writing a phrase on a piece of paper. It usually works best if you have both an adjective and a noun, for example, the snoring dog or the lonely tent. The pass the paper to the player on your left.
This player will try to illustrate your caption and then fold down the top of the paper, hiding the caption and only displaying their drawing. They then pass the paper to the next player who writes a caption for the drawing. The exchange continues until the papers have returned to their original owners. Open up the paper and see how the original idea changed over time.
To play the Name Game, all the players write a bunch of names of people — real, fictional, famous, or not. The names are then placed in a hat, and the players divided into two teams. A player draws one out one name and tries to get their team to guess the name by describing the person. Once they complete one name, they draw another until a minute is up. The team that can guess the greatest number of names in a minute wins.
Going to the Store
Jackie’s family loves playing this memory game. It begins with one person saying “I’m going to the store and buying …” Then they name something they will buy at the store. It can something actually available at the store or something ridiculous. The second person repeats the phrase, “I’m going to the store,” the first person’s object and something of their own.
The list gets passed along the circle until someone forgets an item. A variation to this game is requiring each person to name an item that begins with the next letter of the alphabet. For example, the first person might be buying an alligator (A), while the second person is buying an alligator and a bubble (B).
These dice have simple drawings on each side and are designed to spark story telling. To play have a person roll the nine dice and using the dice tell a story. The story should begin with “Once apon a time …” and it should use all nine images. Ideally, you should use three dice for the story set up, three for development, and three dice for conclusion.
To play as a family, consider having one person begin the story with three dice, and each subsequent person continues the story, using three dice. Listen and laugh as the story morphs with each new narrator.
The classic story cubes set is a great place to start but there are many other themes available, including a Harry Potter theme and a mystery theme.
In this guessing game, players attach a card to their foreheads with a headband. Then they attempt to figure out what the card is by asking yes or no questions before the timer runs out.
A math version of this game requires only a deck of playing cards. All players select a card without looking at it and hold it to their foreheads. Like Headbaz, players may ask yes or no questions to identify their card. For example, they may ask “Do I have a face card?” or “Is my card a multiple of 3?” The first one to correctly identify their card wins.
Campfire games for teens
This age group is ready for more complicated games and loves a challenge. They are also most likely to still be up later in the night. While we say they are for “teens”, these fireside games are also great for tweens and really any kid over age 10.
Concentration is a rhythm game occasionally played as an icebreaker in groups. Usually, all the players of the game sit in a circle. One player is the leader and sets the rhythm. The game begins with the players slapping their knees twice and then snaping their right fingers and finally their left. It should sound like “Slap, slap, snap, snap.”
Some versions of the game have players chant, “Concentration 54, No repeats, Or hesitations.” Then the leader says his or her name on the first set of snaps, and someone else’s on the second. The person whose name is said continue the pattern on the next set of slaps and snaps by saying his or her own name and then someone else’s. The names must be spoken during the correct snaps.
If the player maintains the rhythm correctly, the game continues. If the player does not say the names with the beat, that player must move to the seat to the right of the leader. Everyone else shifts up a seat, closer to the leader’s spot. The goal of the game is to become the leader.
This cross between hot potato and Taboo requires players to guess a word shown in the window of a plastic disc. Once their team says the word, they should pass the disc before the timer runs out. The player who is holding the disc went the timer buzzes, forfeits a point.
A similar game, Poetry for Neanderthals requires players to get their teammates to guess a word or be hit with a giant inflatable stick!
While this is definitely not a fireside game, it can be played after dark in a campground before quiet hours begin. Many campgrounds have a large common area, which is perfect for this game of tag.
To play, the person who is “it” receives a flashlight and then closes their eyes and counts to twenty. The remaining players scatter and hide. The person who is it tries to find them and tag them by illuminating them with their flashlight.
Campfire games for adults and teens
I love the quiet campground after bedtime. It’s an opportunity to chat with my husband and others joining us on our camping adventure. While adults can play all of the games listed earlier, some games are more complicated or require advanced writing skills.
Make up your definition in this fun word game. Every player must have several scraps of paper and a pencil. You will also need a paper for scoring. One player begins the game by reading an unusual word. If you own the game, then use the words and clues provided by the game. If you don’t own the game, Wordnik has a list of great game words to select and their definitions.
After giving the word, the first player — called the Dasher — writes the definition of the word on a piece of paper. All other players must either write the definition of the word if they know it or a convincing definition of the word. The Dasher collects all the definitions and reads them aloud. Then players vote on which definition they believe is the correct one.
The Dasher records the votes and then assignments points. Each player receives one point if they selected the correct definition during the voting round. They also receive one point for every person who voted for their definition.
Two points are awarded to a player who wrote a definition close to the original definition, and the Dasher wins two points if no one selected the correct definition. If playing with the board game, the first player to cross the finish line wins.
No board game? Select a number of points as the goal, and the first person to receive that many points wins.
Skull is a poker-style game where players place bids and try to bluff other players. While this game is best played at the picnic table, it requires few components and can be easily stashed into a suitcase.
This party game is perfect for a crowd but can be played with as few as five people. You’ll also need a deck of playing cards.
Select a creative and dramatic storyteller to be the narrator — sometimes called the Town Mayor. This person will narrate the game but not participate.
The other players are assigned roles based on a random selection of playing cards. Some of the players will belong to the Mafia and others will be townsfolk. The Mafia’s goal is to kill off as many of the townsfolk as possible while escaping detection and possible relation from the town. There are multiple modifications to this game and for more detailed instructions, read the description on Instructables.com.
Unplugged Fun After Dark
Campfires create a cozy central location for families to gather and relax after a day of camping and hiking. Even after the s’mores have been consumed, and the children have stopped feeding the fire with pinecones, people love to linger by the fire. It’s the perfect opportunity to play games to keep the fun going.
While we have listed some of our favorites, there are many more! Which games does your family enjoy playing at the campfire?
Fun campfire games
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