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Relax at Home: Backyard Camping Ideas

Studio 5 Party, Ideas and Holiday Contributor Alisa Bangerter shares fun camping ideas that can be executed in your own yard.

Keep it Safe

" Backyard camping is fun to do as a family or for grandparents to do with grandchildren. Make sure that if kids are camping alone there is adult supervision nearby.
" Assess surroundings and any hazards or dangers to children, especially toddlers.
" Remember to have adult help and supervision if using a real fire. (Make sure you know your city fire code for open fires.)
" Have a night light of some sort on after dark for trips that may need to be made inside the house.
" Have a plan B incase of bad weather.
" Make sure to have plenty of blankets so everyone sleeps warm.
" Keep noise low at night as to not disturb neighbors.
" Keep bug spray handy for mosquitoes and other pesky bugs.

Create Atmosphere

" A fun touch might be to place large potted plants or artificial potted trees around the tent and camping area to make it feel more like a forest setting. Artificial pine trees used at Christmas also would be fun to place around.
" Other ways to create a "tent" might be to hang a blanket over a clothesline or a table (this makes a great "indoor" tent as well). Sleeping under a big beach umbrella or trampoline might also be fun. Another great idea might be to have a homemade tent contest.
" Use a picnic table near the tent(s) to create a "campground" feel.
" Make a real fire in a portable fire pit (with adult supervision) or create a "fake" fire to create atmosphere. Make a "fake" campfire by piling firewood around a battery operated Halloween cauldron with flames or pile twigs over flashlights and place in a ring of stones. A lantern could even work as a "fake" campfire. You may also use a grill as the campfire.
" Set up camp chairs around the fire or camping area.
" String patio lights or stands of Christmas lights on trees and bushes for extra atmosphere.
" Place clotheslines around the camp area and hang towels or large outdoor or nature photos on them to help add to the atmosphere.
" Have kids bring their items needed for camping in actual duffle bags or backpacks. This lets them feel as if they are really going somewhere besides the backyard.
" Cook food/treats outdoors if possible.

Plan Fun Activities

" Assign kids and adults each a job to be in charge of. For example assign someone crafts, set up, food, games, songs, etc. Put everyone in charge of clean up.
" If setting up multiple tents in your backyard, turn it into a contest. Time each group to see who can set their tent up the fastest.
" Have a neighborhood backyard camping adventure in a large backyard. This can be fun for several families to do together.
" Create some fun signs for the tent(s). You could have kids make a sign to name their campsite or make individual nametags for their tent. A fun option might be to have a tent decorating contest.
" Take a tape recorder and let children record nature sounds. Play sounds back around the campfire and turn into a guessing game if desired. Tape sounds such as rustling leaves, running water, birds chirping, etc. and any other backyard or neighborhood sounds.
" Use glow sticks for fun after dark. These can be found at most dollar type stores and kids love them.
" Bubbles are fun to do outdoors. Create bubble wands out of various items from small to giant.
" Have bug races. Let kids gather small bugs (potato bugs work great) and set them on a starting line on some cement. See whose bug can cross a determined finish line first.
" Make simple crafts or pictures from nature items found in your backyard.
" Play flashlight tag. Other outdoor games can be played using flashlights. (Make sure to alter rules and set boundaries if necessary so safety is the first priority.)
" A short flashlight nature walk or neighborhood "hike" might be fun - just make sure the area you are walking in is safe and well known to you.
" Create/decorate backyard family camping shirts. Pull these shirts out only when you are backyard camping. Camp pajama pants could also be a creative idea.
" Create a shadow show. Hang a sheet over a clothesline or use the side of a tent. Have a lantern behind you or have someone hold a flashlight. Make shadows with your hands or other items to create fun shapes. Have children create a "puppet theatre" like show. Another option for very young children is to hold up die-cut shapes or other simple items to see if they can identify the items from their shadows.
" Give children a simple digital camera to use. Teach them some simple tips about night photography and let them take photos. This could be a fun contest. You could also have them take daytime photos of whatever they want around the backyard. Teach them how to use macro camera features and you will be amazed at what they see through the lens.
" Catch bugs, butterflies or fireflys.
" Personalize flashlights or make colorful flashlight sleeves.
" Gaze at the stars and learn about constellations. There are many great books at the library or online sources for help with this. A telescope would also add fun.
" Give a child a magnifying glass and mark off an area with some string to explore. Have them look carefully at everything in that area.
" Give the children binoculars to bring things in your backyard up close.
" Hang a sheet over a clothesline or use a garage door to create an outdoor movie theatre. Project the movie onto the sheet or door.
" Do some cloud gazing. It is amazing all the shapes that clouds can make. This can be very relaxing and small children enjoy this.
" Play board games or card games.
" Start an add-on campfire story. Start with a line such as: "One day I went camping. I was setting up my tent in the middle of a forest when all of a sudden"." Have the next person add a couple of lines. The story keeps going around the circle until each person has added to the story. Another option could be to have a bag of items and each person would have to pull out an item and use that somehow in the story line they add.
" Divide up into small groups and create campfire skits. Give a bag of props to each group with the instructions that they must use them somehow in their skit. Make sure to have some funny and creative items.
" Play the game "I am going camping and I am taking"." Each person adds an item according to the alphabet and must repeat what was said previously each time or they are out.
" Bring a book of ghost stories to tell around the campfire. Check your local library or online for some fun options. Small children might be scared by ghost stories so other bedtime stories might be more appropriate. This would be a fun time for grandparents to tell stories about when they were little.
" Play the "I Spy" game. Each person takes a turn describing something in nature they are seeing by giving clues and the first one to guess correctly gets a point.
" Have a nature themed scavenger hunt for items found in your backyard or a treasure hunt.
" Sing silly songs. Change the words to a popular song and create a family camp song. Make it fun and silly and include something about everyone in the song.
" Use a CD player to play music, songs and/or stories as kids go to sleep.
" If you have a pond nearby, fishing might be a fun activity to do along with a backyard campout.
" Give camping themed prizes for games. This is a great way to give kids their own equipment such as flashlights, whistles, rain ponchos, compasses, pocketknives, canteens, etc.

Serve Yummy Food and Treats

" Use a portable fire pit with an actual fire or an outdoor grill for cooking.
" Have coolers around the "camp" filled with cold drinks and snacks.
" Eat on paper plates or camp dishes.
" A flashlight treasure hunt might be fun with the prize being makings for s'mores. S'mores are the number one camping treat and kids love them.
" Purchase an old fashioned popcorn popper or hobo pie maker and make some fun treats over an actual fire or grill.
" A fun treat is to wrap biscuit dough around the end of a stick and to cook over a fire or grill until golden. Brush with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar or fill center with jam. Many items can be cooked on a stick and don't forget a kid favorite: hotdogs!
" Make tin-foil dinners and cook them in an oven or on a grill if you don't have a fire.
" Because it is not always possible to have a real fire when backyard camping, pizza is a great choice that can be enjoyed in a tent.
" Make banana boats. Simply slit a banana peel and insert chocolate chips and mini marshmallows between the banana and peel. Wrap in foil and place over coals or on a low grill. Serve with a spoon.
" Dutch oven cooking would be great for a backyard camping adventure.
" Have packets or a big bowl of trail mix for everyone. Homemade trail mix might be fun to let kids make and help prepare. Simply combine your choice of dry cereals, nuts, dried fruits, candies, pretzels, tiny crackers, etc.
" A fun idea (especially for grandparents) would be to make little packets for each child filled with snacks, treats and other items. (A camping pillowcase, t-shirt, hat, flashlight, etc. in addition to treats would be a fun surprise.)
" Serve hot chocolate before bed if it is a cool evening.
" Have an outdoor breakfast. It can be simple with bagels, yogurt, muffins, etc. or actually pull out the grill and make a hot breakfast of pancakes, bacon, eggs, etc. Kids love waking up to this!

Check your local library for books on camping with kids. There are also many camping activity resources available on the internet. Scouting Web sites are great places to find ideas. Have fun and take photos!

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