The Mobile Classroom

Educational Camp Activities for Kids

Sandra Peña's kids run around outside on a dirt road in front of her Jayco Class C RV.

Our family was living in Silicon Valley, California, when the tech industry began its booming ascent. My husband Julio and I had lived there for decades, but it was quickly starting to feel too crowded, too busy, and too financially straining. There were moments when I felt like I had to choose between spending time with my children and getting a paycheck. The demanding working culture had hit hard, and we wanted out.

So, we started looking at our options. We knew we wanted to raise our kids with a deeper sense of exploration and fun, but we also wanted to have more financial freedom. And luckily for us, RVing was able to give us exactly that. In 2017, after much research and consideration, we bought a 32-foot Jayco Greyhawk Class C, left Silicon Valley behind and our little family of six became full-time RVers.

Choosing our 2018 Greyhawk was easy—it offers just enough space for our family, while allowing us to access some hard-to-reach places. Anything smaller and our four kids (who are all under the age of 10 and growing quickly) would’ve been on top of each other. Anything bigger and we might not have been able to explore some of our favorite hidden, remote locations. Our initial plan was to drive out to the middle of the desert in New Mexico, park the RV and explore until we felt compelled to move on. That was three years ago and we haven’t looked back.

Where Are We?

For us, traveling, adventure, and learning are all one lifestyle that perfectly blend together. I had been homeschooling our kids for a few years before we moved into the RV, but this new way of “roadschooling” has been completely unparalleled in the best way. One of my approaches when teaching our kids on the road is to not seek out specific learning opportunities but rather allow the learning to spark naturally and organically. It sounds simple but one of my favorite questions to ask is, “Where are we?” We are constantly surrounded by new things and unknowns, and I want to encourage my kids to stay curious about their whereabouts. Asking a simple question like that leaves much room for interpretation and creativity, and can be answered in many different ways.

Write It Down

Soon after we hit the road, I created a little booklet for my kids to write and draw in. It is mostly a collection of facts and statistics about the various states we visit—everything from the state flower and flag to major moments in history that took place there. Any question my kids might have about a place, I have them write it down and then encourage them to find the answer. It becomes almost like a scavenger hunt while we’re there. Over the years, I’ve developed a collection of these booklets that are filled with questions and answers. Not only is it amazing to see how many questions can be asked about a particular place, but it’s also amazing to see how the kids’ writing and critical thinking skills have evolved over time.

Learn Through Food

Another one of our favorite things to do when we reach a new campground or city is to immediately look for signs that will tell us about the local fruits, vegetables and agriculture. Through the lens of food, I’m able to teach my kids about things like weather, geography, even business. For example, while we were touring the Pacific Northwest, we got really into mushroom foraging. My eight-year-old saw a sign on a small café that read ‘We Buy Mushrooms’ and—being the little entrepreneur that he is—he wanted to find some to sell. That kicked off our initial interest in mycology and we’ve been hooked ever since. We’ve learned to identify different species, note which mushrooms are edible and understand why mushrooms are so important in an ecosystem. We use various foraging books, as well as a mycology app to help us identify specific types and how to cook them. Our kids absolutely loved finding the rare chicken of the woods mushroom and then getting to eat it! Experiences like that make the lesson so much more valuable and meaningful.

Let Your Location Guide You

Because we get to see so many different places and have a lot more flexibility being in the RV, we try to stay open to different teaching methods. We’re not limited to a classroom or a set school schedule, so we don’t always stick to one specific learning style or tool. We adjust how we learn based on where we are. A simple walk through a nearby forest can turn into an “I Spy” or memory game. Collecting shells on the beach can provide a hands-on lesson about ocean tides. Spending the day at a famous battlefield is a great opportunity to write a detailed recap of the visit. What’s important is that we keep the learning interesting. Marrying our own personal interests with learning makes it fun and exciting for the whole family. We are all students. No matter where this journey takes us, we will keep our minds, eyes and hearts wide open.

Over the past three years, we’ve found a few tools and resources to be particularly helpful when it comes to teaching our kids and developing new, fun educational activities.

  1. Shroomify: This is our favorite mycology app and the one we regularly use whenever we go foraging. It is full of beautiful pictures and detailed information about all kinds of mushrooms. It even goes so far as to list where and when certain types of mushrooms appear, and provides detailed illustrations to highlight minor differences between species. It also gives advice on when to harvest certain mushrooms and how to prepare them. It’s like a nature scavenger hunt and cooking app in one!

  2. Nature in America from Reader’s Digest: Although this book is from the early 1990s, we still find it to be one of the best resources for understanding various plants, animals and land formations across the United States. There are thousands of detailed entries with lots of pictures, and it’s a great way for our kids to learn valuable researching and reading skills. It brings back the days of looking things up in an encyclopedia.

  3. Thousand Trails Membership: We’ve been Thousand Trails members for two years and we absolutely love it. Not only do we get access to resort-style amenities at some of the most beautiful locations, but our kids get to experience a broader range of physical activities. RVing is great for staying active and getting outside, but sometimes we want our kids to just get on a swing or shoot a basketball. Pickleball is one of the activities offered at most Thousand Trails campsite and our family has fallen in love with the sport. Since our kids are not part of any organized sports or leagues, games like this help show them the value of teamwork and sportsmanship.

  4. Pinterest: I love searching Pinterest. To me, it feels much more relevant and tailored than a broad Internet search. You can create a free account and find a seemingly endless list of campground activities for kids that feel unique. I also like to create different boards and save ideas based on specific categories or criteria. Plus, I can easily pull things up in the app on my phone. Ultimately, Pinterest helps me find unique activities that can be organized exactly as I need.

Sandra Peña and her family travel in a 2018 Jayco Class C Greyhawk.