Summer is the prime time to introduce the fun of camping to the whole family. If a trip to a campground isn’t on your schedule and you’d prefer to remain socially distant, the fun easily moves to the backyard.
What’s the right age to start camping?
The answer to this one depends on what you think your kids are ready to handle. Toddlers make great campers, or you can wait until your kids are comfortable in a sleeping bag first.
If you and your spouse are avid campers, your kids have probably already been introduced, so a move to the backyard is simple to make.
If this is their first experience, knowing that the house is safely a few steps away will help with the transition – and the inevitable potty break at 10:30 at night.
Let kids help pick the spot
When kids help pick their sleeping location, they feel like they have more ownership of the project. They also can feel comfortable knowing how far away or close it is to the house.
Have the mower at the ready so that you know your spot is primed for the size of your tent.
Like a trip in the car, a night in the tent isn’t complete without snacks.
Prep your favorite trail mix or fire up the grill for campfire-free s’mores. Or try this recipe for s’mores in a cup.
(Wildlife note: if you eat snacks outside of the tent, be sure to clean up before bunking in or you’ll make friends with local critters that also like snacks.)
Campfire stories (without the campfire)
You don’t need a campfire to enjoy a few campfire stories. Have a contest to see which family member can tell the scariest story, funniest story or best tale about the other members of the family. Use this trick from the Chicago Children’s Museum to make story stones to help kids create characters or events.
Or read Bailey Goes Camping, by Kevin Henkes, the perfect bedtime story for smaller campers.
Include a wildlife scavenger hunt
For kids who are excited all day about the coming campout, prep with a wildlife scavenger hunt. What nature can they find in your backyard, or take a walk (call it a “hike” to set the camping mood) to find which birds can be found in the neighborhood.
Make a whole night of it
Plan a night of outdoor movies to prepare for your camping “trip.”
Pick up a copy of your favorite camping movie (Troop Beverly Hills, RV or Meatballs) or let your kids find one (Camp Rock or Holes). Watch inside before heading out or borrow a projection player from your local library to project the movie off of the side of your house, garage or shed.
If your older kids are sleeping out alone, make sure you cover some ground rules first, keeping them away from open fire pits or grills that are still cooling. Let them know where you’re comfortable keeping the boundaries.
For younger kids, feel free to keep your regular go-to-sleep routine and read some of the same books and sing the same songs. It might mean an early night for the parents, too, snuggling in sleeping bags next to snoozy toddlers.
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