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How to Have a Backyard Camping Adventure with Your Kids

Two kid camping out in a tent in the backyard.

As the weather warms up, families are tempted to head outdoors. Why not keep it simple with some backyard camping fun? Plus, you can avoid the headache of hauling equipment to a campground.

Your next family vacation doesn’t have to involve complicated plans, expensive equipment, or a long car trip. If you have a backyard, an outdoor adventure is right at your fingertips. Plus, with COVID-19 still putting a damper on travel, a staycation might be essential to keep everyone from going stir-crazy.

In the end, being together as a family is what it’s all about. So, pitch that tent, dig out those flashlights, and chow down on some delicious s’mores. Just don’t forget the bug spray!

Tenting 101

Here’s a basic guide to selecting the best tent for your family. Consider all aspects, such as do you want to be cozy and crammed, or have extra space for sprawling out? It’s often worth getting a tent with hanging walls to allow some privacy for dressing or to prevent the kids from crawling all over you while you sleep.

You might want to consider separate tents—one for the kiddos, and one for the adults. That’s if you can trust your kids to actually stay in their tent, of course.

Make sure your kids participate in every aspect of setting up and packing down the tent. They can clear away stones and sticks to create a flat surface, hammer tent stakes, or sweep out the inside.

Next, you want to explore sleeping options. You can get your kids their own self-inflating camp pads, or an air or roll-up mattress. Resist the urge to haul a regular mattress out there, though—they’re cumbersome, heavy, and no fun if they get wet.

Don’t forget about sleeping bags, warm blankets, and pillows. Dress your kids in layers, with fleece shirts, wool socks, or even a snug hat since nighttime temperatures can still drop significantly in the summer.

For babies and toddlers, you can set up their pack-n-play right in the tent—just lay a tarp underneath to protect the tent floor. Many families love this Lotus Travel Crib for camping with youngsters.

Not ready to buy a tent? Some alternatives include setting up sleeping bags on the back porch or sprawling out in the living room with a starlight projector lighting up the ceiling. Better yet, you can inflate a bounce house in your backyard for a crazy sleepover adventure—just make sure rain’s not in the forecast!

Campfire Basics

Kids sitting around a backyard campfire.
Tomsickova Tatyana/Shutterstock

Sitting around a campfire is an iconic part of any childhood summer. You can build a fire from scratch, or use a designated fire pit to keep things contained.

Spend some time brushing up on fire safety with your kids. Don’t assume they naturally know to be cautious around flames. Some kids are drawn to fire like moths and even scream if you try to hold them back.

Next, keep a fire extinguisher and water source nearby at all times. You don’t want to have to go searching for the garden hose if a few sparks land on the grass. Have your kids practice extinguishing the fire with the hose when you’re finished.

Set up chairs or stools around the fireplace. Sing songs, tell stories, play music, or just cuddle up and relax.

Outdoor Cooking Ideas

Preparing a meal outdoors is a great experience for all. Start by whittling down some sticks for roasting. You can roast practically anything on a stick, including hot dogs, veggies, and marshmallows.

Kids are generally more inclined to eat something they cook themselves. My 3-year-old, who detests all veggies, recently chowed down on some grilled zucchini slices only because he cooked them over the fire himself.

If you’re not ready for your kids to attempt open-fire roasting yet, that’s okay. Bring out the grill and have an adult cook everything. Then, set up an outdoor picnic blanket, or invest in this folding picnic table and bench set.

Don’t forget the marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate for some s’mores. Alternatively, you can make them in the oven, and then enjoy them outside under the stars.

Slow Down with Some Stargazing

Life outdoors is all about slowing down and being one with nature.

If your kids don’t know about stars and constellations, check out this fun video, and then search for them.

Take it a step further and get a kids’ telescope. You never know—you might have a budding astronomer on your hands.

Catch Fireflies

A boy holding a jar of fireflies.
Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock

If you’re lucky enough to be blessed with fireflies in your backyard, catch some to witness their magical glow up close.

Your kids can catch them with nets, and then look at them in mason jars. Just make sure to set them free after they’ve enjoyed their sparkle—there aren’t many left, and who wants a jar of dead bugs, anyway?

Struggling to keep away the nasty bugs and buzzing mosquitos? Make sure to stock up on bug spray, including some of the natural kind for babies.

Use Those Flashlights

No overnight camping adventure is complete without a flashlight. Make sure every child has their own all loaded up with fresh batteries. We recommend this six-pack, so you’ll have some extras on hand.

Your kids can read books, tell ghost stories, create a strobe light show, or just keep them handy in case they hear a rustle outside the tent. It’s probably not a bear, but then, that depends on where you live.

Just make sure to set a “lights off” time to ensure that everyone gets some solid sleep. Otherwise, you’ll wake up to a blinding light in your face at 3 a.m.

Enjoy Tech-Free Time

It’s so beneficial to unplug from our fast-paced, chaotic lives whenever possible. We’re so used to technology being interwoven into everything we do.

So, make an effort to leave all the phones, tablets, and other tech-based entertainment behind. You can even go as far as switching off the Wi-Fi or putting everyone’s phone in airplane mode. That way, you can still snap some family-fun photos without being tempted to check your Facebook messages.

You can also spend some time making nature-inspired crafts with pinecones, flowers, or stones.

Avoid rushing back to normal life the next day, as well. You can make campfire oatmeal, serve up some hot cocoa, and even make yourself some coffee—all outside. Relax and soak up the slowness of outdoor life.

Forget the pressure of extensive packing and hours of driving! Backyard camping is a great way to experience the outdoors without venturing too far from your familiar comforts. You can still use your indoor bathroom while enjoying campfire-toasted marshmallows, twinkling stars, and a crisp night snuggling close with your family.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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