The Big Q - What To Do When Camping in Your Backyard With Friends

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Time spent with friends and family is priceless. I know that sounds corny but it is so true. My Mom used to say, “I don’t want any presents for holidays, I just want to spend time with you.” Time… make some for your loved ones. Time away from video games. Time away from social media. Time away from your phone. Time with them – eye to eye! Time spent with your young ones will benefit you and them.
Some of my childhood memories that make me smile the most are nights in the backyard rolling around in the grass with a few friends looking at the stars, eating junk food, and waiting for my folks to come out and tell scary stories. For some folks, the thought of a camping trip triggers visions of endless packing, preparing lots of meals ahead of time, trips to the store for this or that, concerns about whether the kids will whine all weekend, and if the weather will be too hot or cold.

Backyard Camping Benefits

  1. No commute time – Seriously, this is a huge benefit! Forget something? Head to the house. Weather turns foul? Head inside.
  2. It’s easy to pack in. You only need gear for the night.
  3. Can invite as many folks as you want. There are no campground restrictions
  4. Don’t have to worry about water quality or lugging it
  5. Probably have a nice gas grill handy for making supper
  6. You can decide last minute if you want to sleep under the stars
  7. No money spent on fuel, purchasing camp wood, or a campsite (which can be expensive these days)
  8. You have handy access to a bath if s’mores get messy or a wee one has an accident in their pants
  9. Nervous Nellie kids will feel more secure in their own backyard
  10. You can insist they leave technology in the house and even if they bring it, Wi-Fi probably won’t reach their tent
  11. It’s a great first-time experience for kids (and adults too)
  12. You can still sit by a campfire (if it’s allowed on your property – get a permit) and stargaze too Even though you’re in your own backyard, you better plan some fun activities for younger kids so they don’t throw in the towel (or sleeping bag) and head indoors. If you have a small tent, set it up and fill it with their favorite stuffed animals, toys, games, lots of pillows, blankets, and creative stuff like paper, crayons, tape, glitter stick if you’re feeling wild, dress up – costume items, a cd player. Amazingly, a simple tent can be morphed into a castle, fairy house, dungeon, treehouse or teepee!

Kid Made Shelters are the Best!

Your kids might be game to creating their own shelter using branches, tarps and other items. If it’s sturdy enough, it might last for entire season of play. The kids have probably played in the yard many times, but have they ever taken the time to look at all the woodland creatures and bugs and birds and flowers there?
Check out some age appropriate books from the library if you don’t have any and equip the kids with bug jars, magnifying glasses, a camera, and binoculars to help in their exploration

Gather Interesting Things

Give the kids buckets or grocery bags so they can save anything they find that is interesting to them. Maybe a shiny rock, or an arrow head, or a four-leaf clover might inspire a young one to be outside more. They can even glue their favorite finds onto a piece of cardboard and use it as a decoration in their treehouse or castle!

Findsies Keepsies

Most folks call this a treasure hunt but in my day we would all just yell, Findsies Keepsies! You can play this game before dark or using headlamps after dark. I always hid things that the kids could play with later in the evening. Jacks, pick up stix, dice for dice games, a pack of cards are just a few ideas. If you’re really feeling creative turn the game into a treasure hunt. Create a map and place clues at various places with the booty being a few snacks and a fun game.

Backyard Bingo

I know some kids play a version of this in the car but you can adapt it for a backyard game. Make cards with pictures or words describing things in your backyard plus a few items you hide here and there. First one to find a row of them wins.

Move Your Bootie

Get the kids active with games like badminton, croquet, hide and seek, frisbee, touch football, whiffle ball, or tag. Little ones love playing with bubbles and water balloons.

Everyone Pitch In To Cook

An adults can cook all the hot dogs and hamburgers while the kids can decorate them with condiments, make chili dogs, and dish out the potatoe salad. Later, the kids can be responsible for making s’mores or my personal favorite because I’m a purist – toasted marshmallows.

Belt Out a Tune

Did you ever go to camp? Kids get so silly when they sing songs like “100 Bottles of Pop on The Wall”, or “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”, or “This Land is Your Land”. If someone can play a guitar or other instrument, all the better!

Scare the Heck Outta Them

My folks had the talent of telling unique scary stories and were famous in my neighborhood for telling them at night, in our backyard when I had a sleep-over, and then going in the house. I think secretly they would peek out the windows chuckling after they tucked us in.
I never heard the same stories twice and they were long and full of characters and lots of mystery. The endings for me, were a let down because I always was waiting for someone or something to jump out of the dark but they never ended that way.

Have You Ever Stargazed?

A trip to the library will save you some money on age appropriate books to identify what you will see at night in your location. Kids love looking up at all the stars at night. You can even lay on your back and see if you can find pictures in the stars – kind of like what you can do during the day with clouds. It’s so fun for kids to be able to identify what stars and constellations they see. My son discovered he has Orion’s Belt on his right cheek during a neighborhood stargazing sleep-over. Flashlights to the Rescue Did you know that flashlights have more than one use? They can help you safely find the bathroom in a campground but in your backyard, they are perfect to create shadow puppets on the tent. The kids inside the tent can put on a shadow puppet play for the kids outside the tent. Flashlight tag is a great game for the older kids.
Homemade Ladder Cornhole Grab a ladder from the garage use it like a cornhole game. Assign whatever points you’d like for each hole and use rocks, pinecones, seashells, sticks or whatever you’d like instead of beanbags. Homemade Fire Starters Plan ahead and save toilet paper and paper towel tubes. Fill the tubes with dryer lint or used paper towels and save them for your backyard campout. Make sure an adult is present when they are dropped into the fire. The paper and lint are very flammable. Light the Path Use glow sticks from the dollar store to light the way into the backyard. They can be reused as jewelry for your guests!

Bugs Out!

Keep bugs out of your drinks by poking a straw through an upside-down cupcake liner. Slide the liner down over the top of the glass. Genius! Johnson’s Baby Creamy Oil will help if mosquitos love you! It’ll keep you bug free and your skin soft!

To Sleep or Not To Sleep – That is the Question

Forget your usual bedtime when you host a backyard campout. If there are more than one child per tent, expect giggling, tickling, and whispering to continue late into the night. Hopefully, you planned your overnight campout on a night with not specific time to get up in the AM. The kids will fall asleep late and hopefully sleep much later than usual in the morning. For those kids that want to quit camping and head to their own beds, encourage them to tough it out. If they’re cold, bring more blankets, if they’re uncomfortable, get a yoga pad for under their sleeping bag. If they make it the entire night, they’ll have stories to tell others about their brave night outside. If they insist on going inside, let them. Camping isn’t for everyone. Hopefully, all the kids will have had lots of fun and have made great memories that they will smile about for years to come.

feature image credit: Photo by Eric B on Reshot