It was day 45 of following California’s shelter-at-home order, and my kids were getting antsy. Every morning they would ask if the virus is gone and if we can go to the playground, meet up with friends, or go camping in the RV. (We normally camp once a month, so I was starting to get stir crazy too!) Not yet kiddos, but the weekend was approaching and I was determined to do something different at home and make it fun for them. So we went camping in our front yard!
The idea is pretty straightforward—pick out a nice spot in the yard, set up a tent, and spend the day (and night?) outside. I resurrected our ten-year-old REI Basecamp tent that sleeps four people. The kids helped Daddy set up the tent, then they hauled in the sleeping pads, sleeping bags, pillows, and a few books for story time.
After the tent was all set up, the fun playtime started! I have two kids; Hannah is five years old and Parker is three years old. They played in the tent almost all day! We ate lunch on the patio near the tent, and I even attempted Parker’s nap time in the tent. (That was never going to happen, but the kids loved laying on their sleeping bags and pretending to rest.)
For dinner that night, the kids made their own foil packets to cook on the Camp Chef Big Gas Grill. We cooked Smartdogs, Beyond Meat brats with onion and BBQ sauce, mini potatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and corn on the cob with butter. They each made their own Smartdog foil packet and then helped with the potatoes and the corn packets. After about 15 minutes on the BBQ, the foil packets were done and they were delicious. (You can definitely swap in real hot dogs or any other kind of protein in your foil packet. If you do use Smartdogs, only cook them until they are hot, about five minutes.)
After dinner, we played until sunset and then fired up the outdoor propane fire pit. It’s not the same as a real campfire, but it gave us the campy fireside vibe we were hoping for. Out came the marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers for s’mores and the kids were beaming with happiness. And roasting marshmallows on the propane fire pit turned out exceptional. The low heat cooked the marshmallows to gooey perfection without burning them to bits.
Next up, Hannah and Parker each got their own camp flashlight. (I found these Melissa and Doug flashlights on Amazon and Parker is especially attached to it. It’s a cute flashlight and it isn’t too bright.) They commenced their outdoor nighttime explorations around the yard, shining their new flashlights in dark bushes and observing shadows created by the light. We never usually play outside at night, and I was surprised how interested they were in playing in the dark.
After we wrangled the kids from their flashlight expeditions and got them changed into their pajamas, it was time to settle down in the tent for bedtime. My husband and I were in agreement that if the kids wanted to sleep all night in the tent, that we would support it and sleep in the tent with them. (Our tent was in our front yard, and our kids are still on the young side to sleep alone in a tent, so we wanted to be out there with them.) We read them their bedtime stories in the tent, and right on cue Hannah (five years old) requested to sleep inside because she was scared. Off to bed she went, and Parker and Daddy remained in the tent for the next twenty minutes. Parker said he really wanted to sleep all night in the tent, but at the bitter end he asked if he could sleep in the house. (Oh well, we tried!)
So the kids both ended up sleeping in their own beds inside the house, but they had such a fun camping day. They helped set up the tent, played outside all day, helped make their own foil packet dinner, roasted marshmallows and made s’mores, played with flashlights in the dark, and read bedtime stories in the tent. It was an easy, stress-free introduction to tent camping and a smart way to engage the kids in one of my favorites pastimes without having to leave home. Hopefully we will be camping in the great outdoors next time!
Interested in hosting your own camp out at home? Here are a few of my favorite camping gear items to make your camp experience memorable, and also to start building up your own supply of quality camping gear for when you embark on a real trip to the great outdoors. For some items, I was able to include a link to the exact same item that is available for purchase from Amazon or REI. And for a couple items, I found comparable items that are highly rated and similar to what I own. Note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Kid sleeping bag
Coleman Plum Fun 45 Sleeping Bag
Disney Frozen 2 Sleeping Bag – My kids each have this Frozen 2 sleeping bag, and it’s great for playing with a sleeping bag around the house and camping in the yard, but it’s not a sleeping bag I would recommend for any sort of cool weather camping.
Adult sleeping bag
Coleman Brazos Cold Weather Sleeping Bag
REI Women’s down sleeping bags and REI Men’s water-resistant down sleeping bags – These down sleeping bags are similar to the sleeping bags that husband and I have owned for about 10 years. We have taken these sleeping bag on dozens of camping trips and a handful of backpacking trips, and they continue to provide many hours of cozy, warm camp sleep.
WELLAX Ultrathick Flex Foam Sleeping Pad – This sleeping pad is comparable to the REI self-inflated sleeping pad that I own, and it’s super comfortable.
REI Co-op Camp Bed Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad – I have camped with REI self-inflating sleeping pad for the last ten years, and it’s very comfortable and durable.
Coleman Sundome Tent– Coleman makes a sturdy tent that’s perfect for family camping trips. This particular model comes in several sizes so you can choose the right size tent for your family.
REI Basecamp 4 Tent – Before my family started RV camping, my husband and I camped everywhere in this tent, and there’s never been a rip, leak, or issue of any kind with the Basecamp 4. It’s very easy to set up, the rain fly keeps the inside of the tent completely dry, and the rain fly also arches over the front door to create a vestibule area for storing shoes and any other items you want to keep dry and protected right outside the tent. REI makes high quality tents, and although they do cost more, they are well-made an built to last.
KingCamp Camping Chair – If you’re looking for a fold-up camp chair that has more support than a standard fabric camp chair, then be sure to give this saucer-shaped camp chair a look. I find that it provides better back support than a typical camp chair, I can sit in mine all day!
Portable propane fire pit
Outland Firebowl Portable Propane Fire Pit – We keep our portable propane fire pit in our RV so we always have an easy campfire that we can set up. It’s so convenient, I am embarrassed to say that we prefer the propane fire pit over a traditional wood campfire. (Plus, there’s no smoke!)
Camp Chef Big Gas Grill – We keep our Camp Chef Big Gas Grill set up in the backyard for grilling, but it also folds down into convenient carrying cases so you can take it camping. We have tent-camped with this grill and we also take it RV camping when we want to set up an outdoor kitchen and grill area. Nothing beats it for cooking for large group camping!
Coleman Extendable Cooking Forks
Melissa and Doug Sunny Patch Giddy Buggy Flashlight
And here are some camp out at home kid activity ideas!
Engage kids in setting up the tent.
Have them bring their own sleeping bags in the tent and set them up.
Make foil packet dinners together. Kids can place their food in the foil, season it, and wrap it up themselves.
Roast marshmallows and assemble their own s’mores.
Give them flashlights for playing outside at night. You could also hide small objects and ask them to find them using their flashlights. Or even hide lollipops for a nighttime lollipop hunt.