Girl in a treeWhat’s the best thing about camping? These days, I’d say it’s getting away from my car and my computer for a few days.

When I was a kid, I would have made a different list. Setting up house in a tent. Picking wild raspberries by the handful. Eating dinner outside. Flashlights. S’mores. Watching a campfire’s mesmerizing flames. Star-gazing.

Guess what? It all still applies!

The Great American Backyard Campout® is coming up on June 28, and many more summer days–and nights–beckon beyond that date. Pitching a tent in the backyard? Planning a backpacking trek in the mountains? Choosing the middle road with a car-camping trip? No matter which option you pick, you’ll find plenty to delight kids.

So. You’ve arrived at your destination and set up the tent. What next? Check to be sure everybody’s attitude is properly adjusted. The point of camping is not comfort and convenience. Your living room provides that perfectly well. The point of camping is to have an adventure. You’re here to see and do things that are different, exciting, and inspiring. With that in mind, you’re ready to have some fun. For example:

  • Have a nature scavenger hunt. Bugs, leaves, seeds, rocks, flowers, animal tracks–many treasures await you at your campsite. Divide into teams and keep a list of what you discover.
  • Meet the neighbors. Bring some field guides and get to know a few trees, wildflowers, or birds nearby.
  • Walk by the water. Wander on a beach, hike a trail by the river, or follow a stream as far as you can. Then stop and dip your toes in to cool off.
  • Pick a reading rock (or a reading tree or meadow). Bring a family read-aloud book to enjoy outside. Another good reading spot: in the tent in the rain!
  • Watch fireflies. If you spot one flashing, try blinking a flashlight in the same pattern of flashes. Will the firefly blink back? Or even come closer?
  • Listen to night sounds. Tune in and you might hear frogs or toads trilling, crickets chirping, katydids buzzing, or even owls hooting.
  • Star-gaze. When it’s really dark, lie down and look up at the stars. See if you can find some familiar constellations. Or make up your own–and stories to go with them.
  • Wake up early the next morning and watch the sunrise.
  • My own favorite camping memories are all about the unexpected surprises. The mega-shower under a waterfall in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. The lunar eclipse in Utah’s so-starry Canyonlands. The bison outside our tent in the Badlands. A few planned activities can be helpful, but even better is keeping your eyes open for whatever amazing things present themselves. Happy memory-making!