The Great Backyard

Outdoors! The peaceful beauty of nature is one of the greatest perks on Earth — so they say. But the noise, headache and time it takes to plan a camping trip can be difficult or nearly impossible for some families. Skip the crowded campsite, and experience the nature that’s right outside your back door.

There are a lot of reasons to go camping in your own backyard, says Misty Mitchell, director of conservation programs at Springfield’s Wonders of Wildlife museum.

“I believe that people feel comfortable in their own backyards so it is a great place to introduce the family to camping and the outdoors,” Mitchell says. “The benefits are that if you forget something, you can just walk back in the house and grab it. And if bad weather becomes a factor, your shelter is just inside.”

Here are some great tips for making your backyard camping memorable — just don’t forget the bug spray (but if you do, it’s just a quick dash away).

1. Prepare a simple campsite.
You’re venturing out, but not too far out of your comfort zone. Don’t spend hundreds on unnecessary camping gear. Instead, set up a simple campsite featuring a tent, sleeping space and fire pit, Mitchell says. Be sure to prepare your sleeping space first. If you don’t have sleeping bags, old blankets and comforters can be a fun substitute.

2. Have an adventure.
Your kids can’t go very far in your backyard, so encourage them to use their imaginations and explore their backyard at night. Don’t enforce a bedtime; instead, encourage stargazing or campfire stories. Make your backyard camping experience as authentic as possible, and reserve warm beds inside only as a last resort.

3. Get creative as a family.
Ball gloves and Frisbees are fun, but Mitchell encourages backyard campers to get creative with their activities. “You can actually make lots of games from just household items,” she says. “Bring out a variety of balls, large utensils like spoons and spatulas, a couple of boxes, some tape, and anything else that looks interesting. Then, as a family, create a game and just play. Make it fun for everyone!”

4. Make it an unplugged evening.
Smartphones and Game Boys are entertaining and sometimes essential, but for one night, make a pledge as a family (that includes you, Mom and Dad!) to leave all electronics in the house. “This should be a no-technology night,” Mitchell says. “Unplug and get outside.”

5. Make classic campfire food.
Any camping experience requires a campfire, s’mores and hot dogs. Mitchell recommends cooking the classics for your family outside over a controlled fire. “I would suggest buying a metal fire pit, as this will control the fire and make it safer,” Mitchell says. “The last thing you want to do is create a fire that you cannot control.”

6. Keep your kids outside.
Air conditioning, soft couches and cable TV are modern conveniences, but don’t make them convenient to your campers. Keep your kids engaged by planning several activities throughout the night, and have everything you might need already in your tent. A first-aid kit, lantern, extra shirts, pajamas, a few snacks and necessary medication should all be outside.

7. Get artistic.
If your children are artistic, bring their art supplies outside and cover a patio table for a fun time of outdoor artwork. Encourage them to paint, draw or color what’s around them. Put their masterpieces on display; they will serve as reminders of a fun night under the stars.

8. Relax and enjoy the outdoors.
As your family is winding down and the giggles in the tent start to fade, take some quiet time and reflect on your surroundings as a family. “I love the outdoors and just watching the wildlife and smelling the fresh air,” Mitchell says. “There is so much to encounter in the outdoors and in our busy everyday lives we miss it, so take a moment to slow down and just relax!”