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12 Backyard Camping Ideas The Whole Family Will Love (Because S'mores)

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When it comes to embracing the Great Outdoors, you can’t beat backyard camping. It's got everything you could ever want from traditional camping (like grass, the stars, and s'mores), but with all the benefits of being close to home — literally. Like if your kiddo suddenly gets spooked by sleeping outside and wants the cozy comfort of their bed, well, it’s right there. But with these fun backyard camping ideas, you'll probably have a hard time getting them back inside.

Sure, in theory, you could schlep a tent, a grill, and a ridiculous amount of gear to a camping site many miles away, but really, why bother? Instead, you can set up shop right outside your back door and be able to run in and out of your house for anything that you might need (like extra ketchup, blankets, or your kid's favorite teddy bear). And if all that weren’t enough, the lure of having your own private loo (instead of dealing with a nasty, stinky, and ew, sticky Porta Potty) a few feet from your tent should have you sold.

So instead of staying at home on a Saturday night, grab some gear and plan to party al fresco with your family. And don’t forget the marshmallows!

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1. Pitch A Tent

Unless you plan to sleep solely on the grass, you’re going to need a tent. Putting up a tent can be a little tricky, so you might want to practice ahead of time so that it’s easier to assemble when you’re ready to start your backyard bash. Even amateur campers can handle pop-up tents like the Coleman Sundome 4-Person Dark Room Tent ($80, Bed Bath & Beyond), which customer reviews call "lightweight" and "easy to put up."

2. Serve Up S’mores

Can you really even say that you went camping if you don’t make some s’mores? You can make them the traditional way, or look for s’mores options (ha) that are just as delish. For example, you can grill them in an ice cream cone wrapped in aluminum foil, or even inside of a banana for an ooey gooey good time. Check out the above video from Tasty for a variety of options (including some indoor recipes in case you get rained out).

3. Create A Campfire

If you want to truly camp outdoors, you’re going to need a campfire. Whether you use a fire pit or take two sticks and start scratching, making a campfire is an unforgettable experience. Plus, once it’s roaring, you can cook on it, or simply gather around it when the temperature drops at night and snuggle with your little sweeties. If you don't want to actually dig a pit or make a ring of stones to build a fire (as explained by R.E.I.), a propane-powered burner like the one above from R.E.I. can make the process a little easier.

4. Sing Songs

You can’t beat the acoustics when it comes to singing outside. Come up with a pretend playlist to sing, or just belt out some classics, like “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” or “Country Roads.” Singing together will make for an unforgettable evening.

5. Watch A Movie

Watching a movie al fresco is a great way to enjoy some quality time with your kids. But instead of setting up the laptops on the picnic table, try using a portable movie projector like the Cinemood (above). It comes with 5 hours of rechargeable battery life and no internet connection is needed to make it work, so it's perfect for the great outdoors, and it comes packed with 120 hours of kid-friendly content including Disney videos and books (you can also access streaming content or play videos from your phone). Grab a white sheet from inside your home and hang it up or project the movie on the side of your tent, and don't forget the popcorn (see #9).

6. Catch (And Release) Fireflies

Catching fireflies is a summer staple. Wait until it’s just about to get dark, and then grab mason jars to contain those delightful critters. Watching fireflies light up never ceases to be amazing. Just make sure to handle them gently and release them afterwards so they can continue to shine brightly. (If the lightning bugs aren't out yet, try stringing up some lights around the yard for an extra twinkly evening.)

7. Fire Up Your Grill

Flame-grilled food is what’s on a typical backyard buffet. But beyond burgers and dogs, think about other fun foods you can fire up—literally. You can enlist your kiddos to come up with creative foods that help celebrate summer. Cast iron skillets can be your culinary best friend, and allow you to make almost anything — maybe campfire nachos (check out the recipe from Princess Pinky Girl above).

8. Tell Spooky Stories

Telling family tales might be fun for you, but save the stories about Great Great Grandma's voyage to the new world for the dinner table. Camping calls for creepy tales told around a campfire when it’s really dark outside. Depending on your child’s age, you can bring it up or tone it down (if you don't want to deal with nightmares later). Check out the 17 Kid-Friendly Spooky Campfire Stories on the Kampgrounds of America (KOA) blog for inspiration.

9. Make Old Fashioned Popcorn

Move over, microwave. Pop some fun into your background camping experience by making popcorn over the campfire. What you’ll need to make campfire popcorn: some popcorn kernels, some vegetable oil, and a pie tin for cooking them in, Delish reported. Just be sure to use tongs to shake the tin so that you don’t burn your hands.

10. Use Your Telescope

Sitting under a sky full of stars might inspire you to understand exactly what you’re looking at. Certain constellations are only visible during the summer, EarthSky.org reported, and so you might want to spend some time stargazing. Armed with a telescope, you might be able to spy The Summer Triangle, a pattern of stars that appears while the weather is warm.

11. Set Off Fireworks

Even if it’s not July 4, you can still set off some fireworks to make your fiesta more festive. You can have your kids hold some sparklers (with lots of parental supervision, of course), and watch the fireworks together as a family.

12. Give A Nature Lesson

So often we don’t get to truly appreciate nature. So while the grill is warming up, take your kids around your property and point out some fun facts. You might want to show them an ant hill, or gaze at a birds’ nest (with some new hatchlings inside), or even help them figure out what kinds of trees are in their backyard. The Terra Kids Exploration Magnifying Glass (above) is super sturdy and includes a mirror so they can scrutinize their fascinating finds from above and below. An backyard nature hike gives them an opportunity to see their home in a whole new light.

13. Play Some Games

There are so many fun games you can play while camping in your backyard. You might host a scavenger hunt, or even play glow-in-the-dark games, like ring toss or capture the flag. Or you can even pick up a special nighttime activity set like the Glow-in-the-Dark Science Lab from Thames & Kosmos (above), which comes with ingredients to make glow-in-the-dark chalk, glowsticks, and more. And before you cut your grass, you can always spray paint some circles on it for an impromptu game of Outdoor Twister.

Creating a backyard camping experience gives you the chance to enjoy nature, but still be close to home in case you just want to crash in your own bed. And that's what makes it a win/win for everyone... naturally.