My family went on several camping trips up and down the east coast when I was a young child. At the end of the trip my parents would often ask us kids what our favorite part was. Was it the roller coaster park? Kayaking down the river? Hiking up the mountain? Much to their dismay, our answer was usually something like "roasting marshmallows" or "jumping on the air mattress." The moral of the story: If you have young children you don't need to take time off from work or plan expensive vacations for them to have a great time and build lasting memories. One of the best ways to mix things up at home and spend time with your children is to camp out in your own backyard. Here are some fun ideas to include in your backyard camping trip. My two pieces of advice before you start:
- Get the kids involved in the planning to build their excitement
- Leave the electronics in the house; it will take away from the camping experience
Backyard camping ideas
- Be prepared. Make sure you have everything you need outside before you start your "trip." Bug spray, sunscreen, food, fire fuel, sticks for roasting marshmallows, etc. You don't want to have to keep running inside the house.
- Make your tent a fortress. With blankets, pillows, and poles (like a broom or rake) you can build a vast fortress inside your tent that the kids will love.
- Fun and games. Unless you live on a mountain you probably aren't going to be doing much hiking to fill the daylight hours. Plan outdoor games that are age-appropriate for your kids. Examples: bean bag toss, I-Spy, bird-watching with binoculars.
- Rough it. Don't take any shortcuts when it comes to camping at home. To you it might seem like a pain to have to bring everything outside, but for your kids it's exciting. Set up the tent together, build your fireplace and fire together, cook food outside together, and so on. Not only is it a fun way to teach your kids outdoor skills, but it will also be good preparation for your next real camping trip.
- Explore. We take the little things for granted. Odds are your backyard has some small parts of nature that you've never even noticed. Have your kids collect leaves, flowers, and whatever else they find and make a collage.
- Night time fun. The most exciting part of camping for children comes when the sun goes down. It's usually a time they're not allowed to be outside, so they'll probably be full of energy. Take advantage of that by playing games with flashlights. Flashlight tag is fun, but if your child is very young you might want to do a flashlight hunt instead. Hide an object in your yard somewhere while you and your child try to find it with flashlights.
- Food and fires. Cooking on a fire is very exciting for kids. The classic example is making S'mores, but if that's too messy or you can't have a campfire where you live, you can always cook on a grill. Put some marshmallows and chocolate inside an ice cream cone to make less-messy S'mores cones.