I am a huge fan of camping in the backyard. Why? I hate camping! However, the kids love it, so camping close to home keeps us all happy and has become one of our favorite Summer activities. We set up the tent in the backyard, grill out, roast the marshmallows, read comic books in the tent by flashlight, and play flashlight tag. But we get to use our own bathroom and at 11:30 p.m. I can go inside and sleep in my own bed, while Dad and kids enjoy the sleeping bags. Win-win!
After a few years of camping in the backyard, we’ve gathered some good tips for having the most fun camping in your backyard.
Here’s a list of essential equipment we like to have on hand while camping.
- Tent*. Pitch you tent on a dry, flat area. Pitch your tent in the afternoon while there is plenty of light.
- Sleeping bags and pillows. If you don’t have sleeping bags, just use blankets. If you don’t like sleeping on the hard ground, throw some air mattresses in the tent.
- Table. If you are going to eat outside, a table makes life so much easier.
- Insect repellent and citronella candles. No explanation needed.
- Flashlights, lanterns, glow sticks. Not only do they help you see, you can have some fun with these as you’ll see later.
- Portable fire pit or at least a grill. A campfire is essential to the experience. S’mores and ghost stories are best experienced by campfire light. Let the kids gather sticks and twigs for you to use to start the fire, just like they would camping in a park.
- Tarp. Put this down on the ground under the tent for extra dryness.
* Don’t panic if you don’t have a tent. Most of them are on sale this late in the summer or ask family, friends or neighbors if you can borrow one. You can always string rope between two trees, drape a large blanket over the rope and tack the four ends down with weights (bricks) or lawn stakes. Put a tarp or large plastic drop cloth on the ground to keep your sleeping bags from getting damp.
Here are some activities to keep the fun going all night long.
- Roast marshmallows and make s’mores. Have the kids rustle up some really long sticks. You’ll need marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate bars for this wonderful dessert. Here are some variations on the classic S’more recipe.
- Ghost Stories. Have Mom and Dad or the older kids tell ghost stories in the tent, if your kids can handle a little scare. American Folklore has some great inspiration!
- Hide ‘n Seek. Play hide ‘n seek using flash lights. (This might freak out little ones or your family dog, but it’s a lot of fun.)
- Flashlight Reading. Even those kids who say they hate to read seem to love the mystique of reading comic books or favorite bedtime stories by flashlight or candlelight in the tent.
- Flashlight Limbo. If you haven’t already, turn off all of the lights. Have one person hold the flashlight straight to make a “beam” across. Each person then has to limbo under the beam of light.
- Disco Dance. Turn your flashlights on and off quickly to create a disco dance floor effect in the tent. Use your portable boom box to play some dance music. Crack open some glow sticks and wear glow stick jewelry while you dance.
- Flashlight Scavenger Hunt. Make a list of things you can find in the yard or in your neighborhood. Give the list to your kids and send them off with their flashlights to find the items. (To avoid fighting over the objects, you might want to give each kid a different list.)
- Shadow Puppets. This is the perfect time to teach the kids how to make shadow puppets on the wall of the tent with your hands and a flashlight. Check out this video tutorial to get you started.
- Movies. While this isn’t a traditional camping activity, watching movies from inside the tent will be a thrill for the kids. Open the tent flap, let the kids lie in their sleeping bags, keep the lights off, and dish up some popcorn for the movie viewing.
Here are some movies to watch with a camping or nature theme.
a. Open Season
b. Honey I Shrunk the Kids
c. The Great Outdoors
d. Over the Hedge
e. Meatballs –for older kids
f. Cheaper by the Dozen 2
g. The Parent Trap – (the original version)
i. Brother Bear
j. Homeward Bound
Finally, the National Wildlife Foundation has hosted the Great American Backyard Campout for the past two years encouraging families to get outside and enjoy nature. Their site has some great tips on why camping is healthy for your kids, camp stories, recipes, and games & activities.
Did I miss anything that your family finds fun on camping trips? Leave me a comment and let me know. Have fun camping in the backyard!