Backyard camping: Pitch a tent and get the kids outdoors

Kathryn Sucich

If your kids aren’t quite old enough to go on a camping trip or are a little too scared to spend time in the wilderness, try planning a night of backyard camping. It’s a great way to get younger kids used to the idea of being outside and a fun family activity without any distractions like cell phones or televisions. Here are some ideas for your backyard camping trip.

Pitch a tent

Tents come in all sizes and prices, so before buying one, think about how many people will be camping outside and whether you’ll eventually want to use your tent for a wilderness camping trip. Pick a flat, grassy area on which to put up the tent. If you have a big backyard, younger kids might be happier if the tent is closer to the house.

Don’t forget snacks

A camping trip with kids always has to include s’mores, right? You can also make trail mix with nuts and raisins, and jazz it up by adding other dried fruits, chocolate or butterscotch chips, plus crunchy items like pretzels or tortilla chips. Wood also advocates buying an ice cream maker and making your own ice cream.

Build a fire pit

If you’re going to build a fire in your backyard, the safest way to do it is to buy a fire pit. You can buy some for less than $100 at stores like Walmart. T.D. Wood, expert advice editor for, writes on the Web site to make sure to keep all flammable items away from any outdoor fire. When extinguishing the fire, pour water on it and mix the water with the ashes until they’re cool to the touch. Never leave any fire unattended.

Calling it quits

The outdoor noises or the pitch dark might scare some kids. If your children get too scared, they can always go inside and sleep in their own bed. And you can be thankful you don’t have to drive home for two hours to get there.

Fun activities

The backyard fire is the perfect place to tell ghost stories (or non-scary stories if the kids are too jittery). Wood also recommends marshmallow launchers (shoot them into the air, not at each other), animal-shaped flashlights for the dark, and educational games like “Why Knot?” — a card game that teaches kids how to tie knots.