The Joy of Camping – Right in Your Backyard

Camping_Kid_JasonPratt_219x219Besides being economical, what’s the best thing about camping? When I was a kid, my list would have included: 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!

Camping is all about memory-making, and you don’t have to hike deep into the wilderness to enjoy a campfire and a night under the stars. Whether in your backyard or away from home, preparation is key to a successful campout. Here’s a list of important things to have on hand:

For Comfort: 

  • Tent (Don’t have a tent? Use a blanket, tarp, or big sheet of plastic draped over a clothesline, with the corners held down by rocks.)
  • Sleeping bag (or a sheet and blankets)
  • Sleeping pad or air mattress (or just a plastic sheet over old newspapers to keep out the chill)
  • Warm clothes (wear layers)
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • Insect repellent
  • Bottles of water

For Fun: 

  • Binoculars
  • Camera
  • Cards, games or toys
  • Something to read
  • Musical instruments and song books
  • Bikes and helmets
  • Camp chairs
  • Popcorn
  • Marshmallows, graham crackers, chocolate bars (S’mores)

Now that you’ve got the gear, you’re ready to have some fun. Some suggestions:

  • Get inspired: Have the kids visit Ranger Rick’s Camp Zone for inspiration.
  • Go on a nature scavenger huntBugs, 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.

A few planned activities can be helpful, but even better is keeping your eyes open for whatever amazing things present themselves. Don’t forget to register for the Great American Backyard Campout—once you do you’ll have access to more tips, crafts and activities.

Happy memory-making!

Kate Hofmann is a contributing editor for Ranger Rick magazine.