Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Outdoor Adventures: Backyard Camping by Erin Uda

Today we’re setting up camp – city style!
(click here to find image source on: The Reed Life)

Put up a tent in your backyard (or garage/living room if the weather doesn’t cooperate). Pack it full of blankets, pillows, flashlights and camp snacks. Set up a picnic or craft table nearby, and make a ‘campfire’ out of colored cellophane and toilet paper rolls. Put a flashlight or small electric lantern in the middle to simulate real fire. If you want a more realistic effect, place a small fan at the bottom to make the cellophane move and crackle.

(click here to find image source and tutorial on: Ape 2 Zebra)

You could keep things simple by reading and playing in your tent for as long as you choose to leave it up, but here are some fun activities to try:
  • Inflate an air mattress or pool float and put it on the grass. Have your children lie on it and pretend to be Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. What do they see as they float down the river? What kind of adventures do they have? This can be altered to fit any storyline.
  • Put two ‘rafts’ next to each other and give each raft a supply of water balloons. Tell the children they’re pirates and see who can take over the enemy ship. If you don’t want to use water balloons, blow up some beach balls and use them as cannons for a unique version of dodgeball.
  • Pool noodle wars are always fun. Use the noodle as a sword and see who wins the battle.
(click here to find image source and tutorial on: Dandee)
  • Go on a trail ride using stick horses. Take turns being the lead rider.
  • Learn some camp craft together – my favorite is the plastic lanyard key chain, but there are a ton of kits out there. Check out Oriental Trading Company or Tandy Leather for ideas. Try making dream catchers, friendship bracelets, bookmarks, wallets, and more. One of my favorite sites is DuckBrand.com, which shows you how to make amazing things like roses and wallets with Duck Tape.
  • Go fishing! Use a toddler/wading pool and fill it with water. Place some fish (made out of duck tape, with a magnet in the center) in the pool. Hang a piece of string from a stick and put another magnet at the end of the string. Let the kids see how many fish they can catch. Another option is to give them all a specific color to catch, and use a few different colors of duck tape for your fish.
It’s always a good idea to learn camp skills. Try working on a few of the following while you’re outside:
  • Learn how to tie some basic knots. The square knot and slip knots are the easiest, but knots like the half-hitch and the sheep-shank are relatively easy to learn and very useful. Grab some rope or cord from the garage, or use shoelaces as a last resort. Once they’ve learned a few, hold a knot relay race, or create some fun situations where they can use their new knot-tying skills.
  • Go on another nature walk and collect a bunch of flowers, leaves and other items. Set up a station at the picnic table where the children can create rubbings, pressed flowers, or collages. If you don’t have much nature nearby, grab some Popsicle sticks and glue them together to make fun camp items like a jewelry box or a bird cage. Or just pick some grass and try to make whistles.
  • Make a flag for your camp out of some fabric and markers or paint. If you don’t have material handy, use a plain-colored pillowcase. Once you’re finished, tie it to a tall stick and fix it in the ground near your tent. You may need to use a pot or a few large stones to make sure it stays upright.
Camp isn’t camp without the food, and who doesn’t want a night without dishes? Try a few of the following ideas when it’s time to feed your campers:
  • Tin foil dinners are easy and can be done in your oven. Check out THIS LINK for a few starter tips, then have dinner outside around the campfire together. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different ingredients; it’s like a single-serving casserole!
  • Grill hotdogs on your ‘fire,’ by putting some pre-cooked dogs on skewers and having your children hold them over the fire until they cool.Then doctor them up with your favorite condiments.

  • Trail mix is a great snack; make it even more fun by telling the children they have to eat it while hiking around the yard. I recently tried some trail mix cookies and they were incredible!We used peanut butter cookies as the base and added in ¼ cup each oats, raisins and mini chocolate chips, plus ½ cup of regular size M&Ms.
  • My favorite camp treats are s’mores. Naomi posted an incredible recipe for BAKED S'MORES earlier, but if you want a few more unique takes on this treat, check out THIS LINK.
Once you’ve eaten, you may be tempted to go inside, but there are so many things about camp that are unique to the dark. Try a few of these ideas before you hit the sleeping bag:
  • Play flashlight tag. Same rules as regular tag, only you ‘tag’ someone by turning on your flashlight and hitting them with the beam. Note: only play this in a safe area, since you’ll be running around in the dark.
  • Tell ghost stories to each other. You can do this sitting around the fire or cuddled up in the tent. Either way, you should have something fun to do afterward or your little ones may not be able to sleep.
  • Take some time to look at the night sky. Being in the city, the stars won’t be nearly as bright as they are in the woods, but you can still find the big dipper, the north star, and a few of the more famous constellations.
  • Watch a movie projected on the wall. If you don’t have a projector, hang a blanket on a clothes line and use a bright flashlight or lantern to make a shadow puppet show.
  • Sing songs around the campfire. There are a ton of songs to choose from, but THIS SITE has all the ones I remember from my years at camp, plus tons more!
  • If you’re worried about losing your little one in the dark, try putting a light stick around his neck. He’ll love the ‘light saber’ and you’ll love knowing exactly where he is. If you’re looking for a light-related craft, try combining a button cell battery, and an LED diode (one wire on each side; there is a right and wrong side) and taping them together with electric tape. Add a magnet if you want to attach it to something. It will work for hours.
Suggested Reading:
  • Cam Jansen and the summer camp mysteries, David A. Adler (Call #: J Adler; ISBN: 9780142407424)
  • The Berenstain Bears Go to Camp, Stan and Jan Berenstain (Call #: P Berenstein; ISBN: 0394851315)
  • Curious George Goes Camping, Margaret and H.A. Rey (Call #: P Rey; ISBN: 9780395978351)
  • S is for S’mores, A Camping Alphabet, Helen Foster James (Call #: P James; ISBN: 9781585363025)
  • The Morrow Guide to Knots (Call #: 623; ISBN: 9780688012267)
  • The Art of Hand Shadows, Albert Almoznino (Call # 791.5; ISBN: 9780486418766)
  • Duck Tents, Lynne Berry (Call #: P Berry; ISBN: 9780805086966)


  1. Love this one too! Totally right up Taber's alley. Maybe I'll have him do some backyard camping with the girls before it gets too cold. (Not that the cold ever stopped igloo boy from camping, ha!)

  2. Greetings!

    Thanks for finding, reading, and enjoying my book, "S is for S'mores: A Camping Alphabet!"

    I LOVE your campfire. Any day that includes camping and chocolate is A+!

    Hugs and Happy Trails to You!

    Helen Foster James
    Author of "Little California" and "Little America"