How to Have a Fun Backyard Camping Experience with Your Family
Backyard camping, because it's better than no vacation at all, right?
But it doesn't have to be a matter of just "settling."
Backyard camping can be excellent.
Just because the van broke down; dad got called into work; the tent got eaten by some critter in the garage.
Whatever canceled your original plans is no reason this can't be the best backyard camping trip ever.
For the kids. For yourself.
So what if there isn't a lake in the backyard.
Or boat rentals.
Or mini golf.
Sure, the kids are disappointed.
No doubt about it. They were REALLY looking forward to the weekend at the lake.
But life happens.
And lemons become lemonade.
It just takes a little IMAGINATION!
Build the excitement a bit.
It's time to tell the kids that they about to embark on the...
BEST BACKYARD CAMPING TRIP EVER!
Say it. Mean it!
This is happening. Right here. Right now.
Oh, and the best part?
Everything you need is right there in the garage!
Backyard Camping Can Be Awesome
Getting the kids involved in a backyard camping excursion might be challenging at first.
But the key is to get them excited.
Overwhelm their initial disappointment with optimism.
Let them know that you are not about to let a little change of plans ruin their vacation.
Get them involved:
Everyone gets a camp job.
Assign jobs based on a child's abilities. They can work independently or pair younger children with an older sibling. This makes ALL the difference!
Because making them feel useful:
Will increase their optimism and excitement.
Setting up Your Camp
Figure out your backyard camping layout.
Where will you pitch your tent?
Make sure that it is a sufficient distance from your campfire. Do you have a fire pit or fire bowl already in your yard? If not, figure out where your fire will be.
Please note that there may be local regulations about backyard fires. Check with your municipality before lighting that colossal bonfire.
If city offices are closed, contact the fire department using the NON-EMERGENCY phone number, which should be listed in directories or available on the city or fire department website.
If you are in a drought area, you may need to opt out of the campfire.
This is also a perfect time to teach the kids how to be responsible "Leave No Trace" campers.
Show them how to remove the sod and set it aside.
Your yard can be returned to normal with no scarring when you're done.
More on that later.
The seven principles of the Leave No Trace program:
- Plan Ahead and Prepare
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
- Dispose of Waste Properly
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Tent, sleeping bags, and flashlights
It's time to pitch the tent.
Here's what to do:
- Remove it from the bag and lay the pieces out.
- Work with your children and teach them how to set the tent up.
- Explain how the poles fit together to support the main tent and rain fly.
Make sure that you stake your tent down, and snug the guy lines on the rain fly.
QUICK PRO TIP
Use pool noodles, with a lengthwise cut, to slip over guy lines to mark them clearly.
This avoids the obvious trip hazard, especially with little ones in camp.
Pool noodles are available at many dollar stores.
They are easily cut with a standard utility knife.
If you make small slices in the outer side of the tube,
you can insert glow sticks at the top and bottom for added visibility.
Once the tent is set up, grab the sleeping bags and toss them inside.
You're not done yet:
Find the flashlights and check all the batteries.
Toss those in the tent too -- you'll need them later.
No tent? No problem!
If critters eating your tent is the reason your weekend got canceled...
You can make a tent (or tents) with a standard tarp and some 550 Paracord (or regular clothesline if that's what you have).
If you have a couple of trees (or even fence poles) in your yard:
The larger your tarp and higher your ridgeline, the larger your tent can be.
For a quick and easy lean-to style cover that works great with larger tarps:
You are limited only by your imagination here.
Think about this:
Depending on what type of poles your tent had, you might be able to use them to create something truly unique. Backyard camping is a perfect time to experiment.
This guy added a tarp over his tent for rain protection.
This concept will work just as well as a canopy to make an open-air covered area for your family.
If you want to make tarp-tent-making an activity, you can explore some of the creative designs online and challenge older children.
Best of all:
We'll have some rainy day options for indoors camping later too.
Setting up the campfire
If you already have a fire bowl, pit, or portable fire pit system, you are ready.
If you don't, you should consider digging a small pit for your fire.
We know, we know...
Your yard. It's beautiful, and you spent hours grooming it to be perfect.
You can use a method that removes the sod and allows you to replace it after your backyard camping trip is over.
Grab your spade or garden shovel out of the garage.
Mark the area where you want your fire pit.
Gently use the shovel to break up the sod in a circle.
Then cut out sections, lifting them out with the dirt still in the roots (you'll be digging down about four inches) and set them aside.
Check this out!
QUICK PRO TIP
If you set the sod aside on a small tarp, in the order you remove it, creating your "circle" on the tarp, you can pull the tarp over the hole when you're done, then pull the tarp out.
This allows you to gently tamp the sod back into place quickly and easily. It is a huge timesaver.
Water the grass after you return the sod.
Once you have the sod removed, you should have a flat spot with a soil base.
Clear any visible roots from the area, as these can catch fire and burn underground.
Lay your firewood out, starting with tinder and kindling. You can add some newspaper if you have it, to help get your fire going.
If you have landscaping bricks, you can lay them around the pit to create a temporary fire ring.
Don't forget fire safety! Awwww... MOM!
Make sure that you discuss fire safety with your children. Even if this isn't their first campfire.
Reinforcing general rules never hurts.
General Fire Safety
Set up a play-free zone around the fire pit
No sword fighting with the roasting forks or sticks
Keep small children from straying too close to the fire
Have a fire extinguisher, hose, or bucket of water nearby
Make sure your fire is at least 10 to 15 feet away from any structure including wooden fencing
Now is a perfect time...
To send Jack and Jill to fetch a pail of water.
Making dinner and S'Mores
Once you have your fire set up and lit, it's time to think about dinner (or lunch).
This is another activity that the kids can help with.
Fun Foil-wrapped Veggie Packets
- Cut an assortment of your children’s favorite vegetables.
- Let them select the amount they want of each and place them on a tinfoil square.
- Add a couple of pats of butter (about a tablespoon) in each and seal the packets.
- Wrap a second layer of foil around each packet and use a permanent marker to note each child’s name on their packet.
- The packets can them be cooked directly on the coals.
- Cooking time is 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how hot your fire is, the thickness of the veggie cuts, and how much is in each packet.
- Use tongs, an Ove-Glove, or another heat resistant, non-flammable tool to remove the packets from the fire.
- Once out of the fire, the foil will cool fast enough to allow unwrapping them with ease.
CAUTION -- Escaping steam will be HOT, so please use caution, especially with the younger children.
Burgers go well with the veggie packets, or the kids can roast hotdogs over the open fire.
After dinner (or lunch), you can have S'Mores or another family-favorite campfire dessert. Or save those for later.
Let the Fun Begin
There is an infinite number of games that can be organized and played in your backyard to make the weekend great for your kids.
We've included some old favorites and some new creations of our own.
The bottom line:
The name of the game is FUN!
Setting up a scavenger hunt can be done in several different ways.
You can provide a list of backyard flora and fauna. The players find and collect the items on the list.
The first person or team to find everything wins the game.
How's this for stealth parenting?
Adding a quick twist can transform it into a learning game:
Send players out for a set period. They collect as many different items as they can. Players must be able to identify the items by their common name.
Suggestions of items can be:
- Tree leaves
The person or team that collects and identifies the most items within the time limit wins.
And stealth chores!
A third variation can be used to clean up your yard -- have the kids collect bits of trash. The team with the most after a specific period wins.
Bingo is a perennial favorite game for all ages.
Adapted for a backyard camping trip, game cards can include all things camping.
Making your own is a great option:
It allows you to change the order of items on the cards, giving more variation to the game.
Backyard bingo combines bingo with a scavenger hunt.
Kids collect the items on their card until they have five items to complete a row on their card.
Catching fireflies has been a favorite activity since forever.
It's fun for adults too!
While they can be placed in jars, it is just as fun to catch them and let them crawl around on your hands, then release them.
Fireflies can be captured in small, light nets, or simply by holding a hand out.
Remind younger children:
Don't squish, smack, or slap at the harmless flying flashlights.
Twister is a fun family game.
But playing it outside can present some challenges:
- The plastic playing surface doesn't sit flat on the grass
- A slight breeze can move the playing mat, or cause corners to fold up
- The uneven surface causes problems for smaller, lighter children
So, how do you fix that and play in your yard?
Making your own playing board is pretty simple.
What you need:
Four cans of spray paint in different colors
A circular stencil (You can make this with cardboard and scissors)
A piece of string (to align your circles)
Measuring tape (optional)
What you do:
- Make a circular stencil out of cardboard (10 inches is a good size)
- Using your string, paint six circles in one color, each about six inches apart
- You can use the measuring tape to make them all equally spaced or just “eyeball” it
- Continue until you have four colored rows, with six circles in each
If you don’t have a spinner, you can find plenty of printables online to craft your own, or you can use the example below, your spray paint, and employ a glass bottle as a spinner
Just to let you know:
Contractor's paint will wash right off.
But if all you have is regular spray paint, it will grow out, and your lawnmower will remove it shortly.
Backyard movie theater
If you have a projector, this is always a fun activity.
Hang a sheet on the side of your garage as a screen.
Project right onto a light colored garage or door.
Set up chairs, or blankets on the ground, and let the movie begin!
Best of all:
Jiffy Pop popcorn can be made over the backyard camping fire (or you can sneak in and hit up the microwave if you don't have Jiffy Pop).
We won't tell.
Campfire songs are a great way to have some fun.
As long as you are considerate of close neighbors while backyard camping, a sing-along can be incredibly fun.
What's that? You don't know any campfire songs?
Here: You can check some out online.
You don't need instruments as these little ditties are just fine without them.
They are easy to learn and engaging for all ages.
Some have interactive games you can use to keep the kids active:
You probably remember many camp songs from your own childhood.
Scary campfire stories
As with camp songs:
You probably remember telling scary stories around the campfire too.
A gentle word of caution, though:
If you have younger children, you might opt for funny rather than scary.
There are many variations for this if you don't have a target.
Traditional Corn Hole is always an option if you have that in the garage.
If not -- pool noodles to the rescue!
Assign points to each "target" such as:
- Orange = 10 points
- Green = 20 points
- Blue = 30 points
Using bean bags, have the children toss them into the target and keep score.
Highest score wins that round. You can play any number of rounds or have a mini-tournament.
You can use long (10 to 12 inch) bamboo barbecue skewers to stand the triangle upright to add a more significant challenge for older children. Simply poke the skewers through the noodles and into the ground.
Cleaning up Responsibly
When your backyard camping adventure is over, you still have to clean up the yard and put all your gear away.
As with setting up, get the kids involved.
Assign specific tasks for each of them that are within their level of ability.
Camping is a family activity. Backyard camping is no different.
Show them how to fold the tent or tarps.
Have older kids check and make sure the fire is completely out.
If you removed the sod to make a temporary fire pit, they can move the charred logs out of the pit and pull the tarp containing the sod back into place. Gloves are a good idea for this task.
Younger kids can help with:
- Sleeping bags
- Trash round-up
- Putting smaller chairs away.
This is a great time to teach about responsible camping and taking care of the areas we use for recreation.
Indoor Options for a Rainy Day
If your camping trip was canceled because the weather wasn't cooperative, you could still have an indoor camping adventure.
We promised you some indoor options:
Rain is the pits when you're backyard camping. But it can be great for some indoor activities.
You can't have a campfire, but you can pretend if you have a pillar candle with three wicks. Fire safety rules still apply to the young ones.
Check this out:
S'Mores can be made in the microwave!
Campfire songs and scary stories are just as effective around a candle in a darkened room as they are around a campfire outside.
Your large screen TV can become an indoor movie theater in a snap. Or your projector can send the movie to an open wall.
And guess what?
Jiffy Pop tastes just as good if you make it on the stove.
Blanket forts can replace your tents as you huddle under them with flashlights.
Even games like the bean bag toss can move indoors, although you have to watch for those wild tosses.
And that's not all:
Bingo can be played with toy cars, lego blocks, and other small items to find instead of flora and fauna.
Likewise the scavenger hunts.
Another inside option is playing regular board games. You have a closet full of them, and the kids haven't pulled them out for months.
Let Your Imagination Run Wild
Whether you have a backyard camping trip outside or you're stuck inside, a thought-to-be-ruined weekend can be saved.
The secret to a great backyard camping adventure is...
Whatever you and your kids can imagine can happen.
They can sail the seven seas on a pirate ship in your dining room.
Hunt ghosts in the forests of the sunroom.
Hide in the forbidden caves of the living room.
Climb the Andes Mountains looking for Bigfoot in the yard.
Or just have fun together.
As a family.
Yeah, they won't have mini golf at the campground.
But seriously, who needs it?
Have you had a camping adventure at home? Do you have any tips to share? We would love to hear about them in the comments!