Summer has arrived! If a trip to Yellowstone isn’t on the family agenda, you can still give your kids a good time in the great outdoors with a backyard campout. It’s an adventure—and a way to create some great memories—without leaving home.
Not too long ago, all you needed to camp out in the backyard was a pup tent and a flashlight. But in the age of smartphones and video games, attention spans are short, so if you want to throw a successful camp-out you’ve got to think ahead and plan some fun activities to keep boredom at bay.
Setting Up Camp
First things first: do you own a tent? If not, look for one that sets up easily and can withstand three or four rambunctious kids. A flashlight is still a must (it will come in handy for ghost story time) but a lantern is a good idea, too.
How many kids? Ideally, no more than four. Make sure all of their parents know that it’s an outdoor sleepover, and remind them to send their child with a sleeping bag and a pillow.
You can make it more comfortable for the campers by putting a couple of air mattresses on the floor of the tent to help everyone get a good night’s sleep. Other essential gear includes a set of walkie-talkies (you get one, the kids get the other), a cooler for water, a few light snacks and something to help keep the mosquitoes away.
Once the sun sets, a few parent-supervised activities are just the ticket to get everyone in the spirit of things.
Activity #1: S’mores
What you need: graham crackers, marshmallows and chocolate bars
What you’ll do: build some S’mores and warm them over a fire or grill
Spread out all the ingredients on a table and make sure everyone gets a chance to play chef. The enduring S’mores ritual has spawned a cottage industry of products (like these S’mores Party Maker gadgets) designed to help you savor every gooey crumb. Once everyone’s ready to roast, it’s time to gather the gang around the fire pit (or the grill, as the case may be).
S’mores only need a minute or two to reach the desired consistency, so this won’t take long. Make sure you have some long forks for the marshmallow roasters in the crowd, and bring out a pitcher of lemonade to wash it all down.
Activity #2: Firefly Expedition
What you need: two butterfly nets and two jars with covers
What you’ll do: catch fireflies
Send the kids out in pairs; one can handle the net and the other can hold the jar. Don’t forget to remind the kids to release their little captives before bedtime.
Activity #3: Star Watching
What you need: a telescope or binoculars
What you’ll do: study the night sky
With luck, you’ll have a clear night. You can keep things interesting by pointing out the planets and constellations (hint: there are great Android and iPhone apps for this).
Story Time & Lights Out
When it’s time to call it a night, make sure the kids know that they are not allowed to leave the backyard. If you have a fence, make sure the gate is latched, and keep the back door unlocked and the bathroom light on for the inevitable “emergency.”
Now it’s scary story time, and even though you won’t be in on it, you may want to contribute a tried-and-true collection, such as Campfire Ghost Stories by Jo-Anne Christensen.
Don’t be surprised if you have to make a trip or two out back (or use the walkie-talkies) to enforce the curfew. Eventually, things will settle down, and before you know it the kids will be banging on your bedroom door for breakfast—what fun!
Are you an experienced backyard camp counselor? We would love to hear your tips –please share your ideas in the comments section below.