Nothing says summer like camping. Unfortunately, nothing says chaos like camping with kids. Enter the backyard campout: low on stress, high on thrills, chock-full of the fun stuff that camping's all about (including plenty of dirt), all within shouting distance of clean bathrooms and a stocked fridge. Add in a few of our easy games and treats -- perfect for kids of all ages -- and you'll have a camping trip to write, er, home about.
Squirrel Tag One person is the squirrel catcher; everyone else is a squirrel, clinging to his own tree (if your yard is treeless, you can use lawn chairs). When the catcher shouts "Squirrel scramble!" the squirrels have to dash to another tree without being tagged. Once you get tagged, you're the new squirrel catcher.
Hop and Crawl Turn backyard paraphernalia into an amazing obstacle course. You can have kids leap over the garden hose, army-crawl under the patio table, do a lap around the flower beds, then hop through a hula-hoop back to the beginning. Older kids can race each other, but littler ones might prefer to best their own times. Once they have, break out a celebratory glass of lemonade.
Bucket Brigade Divide your family into two teams and give each a pitcher of water. At the word "Go," each team races to transfer all the water in their pitcher to a kiddie pool. But you can only use small paper cups to do it. Whether you work willy-nilly or form a bucket brigade, everyone will end up sopping wet -- and have a blast.
Dance Mania Plop the family down in patio chairs (one for each person), turn up some music, and then have your littlest family member stand up and dance. As she taps others on the head, they get up and start boogying, too. When the dance leader cries "Dance-off!" everyone has to dance as fast as they can. When she says "Dance over," players race for their seats. The last one to sit down becomes the new dance leader.
Catch the Bunny Start passing a small rubber ball -- the bunny -- around a circle. After a few seconds, toss in a beach ball to pass around, too; that's the farmer, who's desperate to catch that darn rabbit. If you're holding the bunny when the farmer catches up to it, you're out. To make this game even trickier -- and more hilarious -- have the rabbit go in only one direction around the circle, but allow the farmer to travel any which way in his attempt to snare his nemesis.
Great Things to Eat
Grilled Nachos Your little campers will love this make-your-own meal. For each guest, place a handful of tortilla chips in the center of a sheet of aluminum foil. Have kids add their choice of pinto or black beans, diced tomatoes, avocado, black-olive slices, salsa, and grated cheddar. Fold in the corners of the foil to create a pouch; place on the edges of the grill for 10 minutes, or until cheese has melted.
Berry Coolers Quench their thirst with strawberry lemonade. Using a blender, puree 2 cups frozen strawberries, and pour into a pitcher. Add 2 cups lemon juice and 2 cups water, then stir. Sweeten to taste with simple syrup (add equal parts sugar and water to a saucepan, and bring to a boil, stirring until dissolved; allow to cool).
S'mores on a Stick Try this twist on the campfire classic that's super easy, even for little kids. Warm up your favorite chocolate sauce and pour into a shallow bowl or plate; put crushed graham crackers on another plate. Roast marshmallows, dip in the chocolate and then the crackers.
Grilled-Cheese Tents with Campfire Fries Prepare grilled cheese sandwiches and frozen shoestring fries (as directed). Cut the sandwiches in half and stand them up lengthwise on plates so they lean into each other to form the tent. Secure with a toothpick on each end. Place a dollop of ketchup near the sandwiches and stack fries on top in a pile for the campfire. Drizzle with an extra squirt of ketchup.
Breakfast Banana Splits Wrap up your backyard adventure with this a.m. treat for four. Combine 1/3 cup light-brown sugar and 3 Tbsp butter; stir until crumbly. Add 1 cup granola, mix, then set aside. Split bananas lengthwise with the skin still on (be careful not to cut all the way through). Place on sheets of foil and stuff with the granola mixture. Wrap the stuffed bananas with the foil, and roast on the grill for 10 to 15 minutes. (Rainy-day alternative: Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes.) Serve with a scoop of vanilla yogurt.
Ghost in the Graveyard Introduce your kids to this ghostly game -- it's like tag with a spooky twist. Designate one ghost to hide in the backyard while everyone else waits on base (like the back porch) and counts: "one o'clock, two o'clock..." When you get to 12 o'clock, shout "Midnight! I hope I don't see a ghost tonight!" Then go hunting in the backyard for the ghost. Whoever spots the ghost first cries "Ghost in the graveyard!" Everyone then scrambles back to base while the ghost tags runners. If you get tagged, you, too, join the "ghost" gang, and the game begins again. Keep playing until everyone's been caught by the ghosts and the graveyard is full.
Flashlight Finders Hide a prize, like a plastic bag filled with the makings of s'mores, in your yard, and challenge your kids to find it. No luck? Help them along by saying "It's getting lighter" when they near the loot, and "It's getting darker" when they move away.
Grab the Spotlight Toddlers love this one: Shine a flashlight onto the grass or a tree, then urge your little one to try to grab the light. When she does, pick a new target.
Belt One Out It's not camping if you don't sing a few bars. Don't remember any songs from your own camp days? You can find tons of lyrics online at bussongs.com. Or share a fun story chant, like "Going on a Bear Hunt" -- no carrying a tune required.