One of the summertime rites of passage for many families is camping. Some of the longest-lasting happy childhood memories can be made while spending quality time under a starry, moonlit night and then climbing into a tent and drifting off to sleep listening to the nighttime sounds of nature.

That’s the ideal version of family camping. For families with young kids, the reality of camping often involves meltdowns on the car ride to the campsite, shopping carts full of pricey gear, nighttime treks to far-away restroom facilities, and the constant struggle to keep kids from wandering off. Fortunately, there’s a happy compromise that allows families to experience many of the best things about camping while avoiding the headaches: Backyard camping! Here’s a checklist for planning a memorable adventure just steps from the creature comforts of home, not the least of which is running water.

Fun Camping Games

One challenge of a backyard campout is convincing the kids they’ll have more fun outside than they will inside watching TV and staring at their devices. Fortunately, you don’t need electricity to keep kids entertained! Set out plenty of bubbles, balls, water balloons, hula hoops, and bug-catching gear around “camp” to keep kids occupied. When their attention drifts, move onto more structured activities; here are a couple of kid-approved examples.

  •  Create a bucket-brigade-challenge by dividing your group into teams. Each team gets a bucket of water. The object is for each player to sprint to an empty kiddie pool across the yard where there will be a stack of paper cups. Each player empties one cup of water into the pool then races back and gives the bucket to the next player. (When the pitchers are empty, refill them with the hose.) The game is over when the pool is filled. The reward for all players? A dip in that full pool!

Festive Foods

If you’ve got a backyard barbeque grill, you can enjoy campfire staples like roasted hot dogs and marshmallows (for s’mores, of course!) You can also get creative with fire-grilled pizzas (have kids top pre-made mini pizza crusts with their favorite toppings, then grill them up until they’re gooey and delicious.) For breakfast, whip up grilled omelets by combining eggs, cheese, sausage, and veggies in a foil pouch. The key is to choose foods that kids love and can help prepare and/or cook (with assistance!).

Bright Night Ideas

Once the sun sets, the real camping fun begins. In preparation for your campout, string some outdoor lights and set out tiki torches and/or lanterns to set the mood. Just make sure to keep any flames well out of reach of curious little hands. Also, make sure you’ve got plenty of flashlights on hand!

Given a flashlight and darkness, kids will make their own fun. Supplement that with a couple of organized activities. You can create a nighttime treasure hunt where kids use their flashlights to find loot that you’ve hidden. You can also play nighttime hide-and-seek; the darkness adds a challenging element that will be offset by the ability to shine lights into dark corners!

Eventually, you and your kids will be wiped out (in a good way) and ready to hit the sack. After a bathroom and tooth-brushing break (conveniently steps away), snuggle into your sleeping bags and take turns telling kid-friendly spooky stories and singing songs.

If you’re hoping to instill an appreciation for nature and a love of the great outdoors in your kids, why not start early with backyard camping? It’s cheap, convenient, and doesn’t require tons of advance planning. It’s a great way to prepare the kids (and yourself) for the day you brave the real thing!

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