Tech-free play time, dinner cooked over an open fire, and sleeping under a blanket of stars. Nothing says summer like camping. But with all the packing and prep required, nothing says hassle like camping, too.
Enter the backyard camp-out: full of all the fun stuff camping is about, but without all the work (and within a walking distance to your bathroom). Camping in the yard is a cheap and easy alternative to a family getaway (and a good way to ease younger children into the idea of sleeping in the woods), but still a great way to create lasting memories. Instead of trekking gear miles into the woods, carry some stuff outside and let the fun unfold.
To get the most out of it, you'll make your backyard adventure as authentic as possible. This means gather your gear: a tent (borrow one if you don't have one), sleeping bags or blankets, pillows, flashlights, snacks and beverages. Even though you're close to home, have the kids pack anything they would need for a real trip (pajamas, a change of clothes, favorite toy, etc.) into a backpack.
Have children help set up the "campsite." Let them pick the perfect spot to pitch the tent, and unroll their sleeping bags inside. If you're going all out, set up a fire pit, or keep things a little simpler with our DIY idea and make your own personal flowerpot fire pit.
Entertain the kids with some outdoor games. Try a Backyard Scavenger Hunt (look for things like an anthill, a mushroom, a pine cone, the biggest rock you can find), or a game of "Squirrels." For this, one person will be the catcher, and the rest will be squirrels, clinging to trees (if you don't have trees, pick another stationary object). When the catcher shouts "Run!" the squirrels have to dash to another tree without being caught (tagged). Once caught, you're the new squirrel catcher. After dark, flashlight tag, or some good old fashioned stargazing is always a hit.
If you opt for a real campfire, you can cook up quite the feast for dinner. Go for the classic food-on-a-stick, like hot dogs, or make a foil packet recipe, which you cook in the hot coals, not in the fire itself. Try this easy foil dinner: Combine ½ pound ground beef, ½ can mixed vegetables, ½ can cream of mushroom soup, salt and pepper. Place mixture in the center of a sheet of foil, wrap it up, and place in the hot coals for 25 minutes. (This will be very hot when you open it - definitely a job for mom or dad.)
When it comes time for bed, remember you might not get the best night's rest, but still encourage the kids to stay the night in the tent instead of venturing back inside to their bed. Don't worry about bedtimes and routines - you're camping, after all!