Life lessons learned outside but close to home

Backyard Camping

We all remember the days—the ones where we set up camping tents in the backyard or laid sleeping bags on the trampoline. Perhaps you were lucky enough to have a more permanent shelter such as a playhouse to call home for the night. Regardless of what your backyard camping setup entailed, it’s likely very few people ever went their entire childhood without the experience, whether it was with a sleepover and several friends or your siblings and maybe even parents, too.

Those memories are invaluable, and ones that blur the divides between generations as grandfather tells grandson of his tree fort he and the neighbor kids would tell ghost stories in at night, and mother tells daughter of the makeovers she’d give friends in their own cozy, makeshift abode.

Backyard camping isn’t just an experience worth having because it is memorable, however. There are life lessons that can come along with pitching a pop tent on the lawn. For some, it can be their first experiences with camping—a good jumping off point for learning how to set up a campground or brave the outdoors for a night. For those who have been camping with family before, backyard camping can offer an opportunity to foster independence with big reward for little risk since scared youngins can scramble back inside if the night gets too cold, dark, or eerie.

Let’s be honest, backyard camping is also easier. A lot of preparation goes into a distance camping trip, while setting up outside offers more ease. Whatever you forgot is just steps away and dinner doesn’t even need to be cooked fireside. Plus, there are no reservations to be made, and with campgrounds filling up at record speeds again this summer (as Californians find ways to travel safely during the pandemic), your backyard may be the only accessible place you can count on.

While prep work is minimal, it can also be part of the fun because it mimics much of the excitement of a vacation, without leaving the comfort of your home. Let kids get excited by packing a bag with snacks, entertainment, flashlights, extra blankets, and any other creature comforts they need. Check out our sample packing list for ideas on what to include (sidebar).

To make the experience extra, turn it into an event. Set up a backyard scavenger hunt, play capture the flag, or make smores at a fire table. Bringing in some of the routines from traditional camping lends to the overall memorability of the experience and will bring a smile to your kids’ faces.

You can also turn backyard camping into a family affair, with a bigger tent and some board games. Grill up burgers and hot dogs or whatever your family would traditionally eat on a camping trip and commit to staying outdoors all night. You can even string up fairy lights across the back fence or bring a telescope out to look for constellations and planets. Tell age-appropriate scary stories by flashlight or read a book together before falling asleep. If it gets cold, grab an extra blanket from indoors and cuddle up. And don’t forget to invite your dog for the fun. He’ll likely enjoy the outdoor adventure just as much as your two-legged kids.

DIY Backyard Packing List
Don’t forget these essentials

Snacks and drinks (including plenty of water)

Camping chairs

S’mores supplies

Plenty of blankets


Sleeping bags


Bug spray


A notebook

Cards/board games

An important stuffed animal or other comfort item

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