backyard summer camp


It’s been an unusual summer to say the least. As the school year begins for many of us, we’ve gathered some ideas to give the kiddos one last hurrah…a backyard summer camp!

Use the toys and supplies you already have on-hand to create a special afternoon or evening that the whole family can enjoy. By simply presenting things in a new and different way to your kids and really embracing the theme, you can help them relax and be present in the moment.

So go ahead—get silly, let your mind wander, and have fun!

backyard summer camp portrait orientation


Whether you use a real camping tent or sticks and sheets, it doesn’t matter! Bring out as many blankets and pillows as you’d like to make it cozy. Set up a snuggle zone, a picnic area, a stage for performing…get creative! The more areas you set up, the more time you can spend outside. Choose to set things up as a surprise, or enlist the older kiddos to help decorate the space. By letting your teens have some say in the process, they may end up enjoying it more. If they want to set up a screening area to watch a scary movie? Let them go for it! You just might get even the surliest of teens to crack a smile.


Let each kid pack their own backpack with their favorite luvies, toys, or snacks. Grab a compass, flashlight, or anything else that may be gathering dust in the garage. Those walkie talkies you thought you’d use all the time? Break them out! Make even the shortest walk from the backdoor to the “camp” a part of the adventure.

painted picnic table


Use baskets, trays, or even plastic tubs to pack plenty of PB&Js, drinks, and snacks. Throw some flowers in a glass jar, and set up a sunshade if needed. We painted an old, weathered picnic table in a colorful pattern to make the picnic area more fun. Let your kids choose the pattern or colors.

before and after picnic table painting project


Band camp time! Bring out real instruments or pint-sized versions and start your own family band. Not sure where to start? Have a playlist queued up with some classic rock and roll to play along with. Or try one of these: 8 Easy Camp Songs for KidsIndie Folk Campfire Songs for Adults.

backyard music instruments


Gather together whatever craft supplies you have on hand. Since you’ll be outside, feel free to get messy! It doesn’t have to be fancy…tie-dye some faded t-shirts, paint some rocks! Create a family camp sign (“Jackson Summer Camp,” for example) to leave outside and encourage you to throw a summer camp again next year.

art supplies on picnic table


Have you ever stopped to notice the birds in your own backyard? Many of us are far too busy to take note in normal times. Make the most of this at-home time to notice the beauty that surrounds you. Keep track of how many different birds you can spot. We love the David Sibley books, and he offers many resources on his website. Check out this tutorial on how to draw an owl!

birdwatching book and binoculars on picnic table


You never know when you’ll need to safely secure something. Grab some rope, twine, or cord, and learn to tie some classic knots. Here’s a video that teaches the Truckers Hitch, Bowline, Tautline, Prusik, and Chain Sinnet. (There are literally thousands of videos and online tutorials. Be sure to double check before you use any of these in a potentially dangerous situation.) 

learn to tie knots



A trip to the moon not in your near future? Grab some paper towels or wrapping paper rolls and create your own “lookers”! Learn about the constellations during the day, then wait until the sun goes down to see if you can spot any.

book about space laying on top of picnic table


We’ll have s’more s’mores, please! If an actual fire doesn’t make sense, pop inside to quickly melt them in the microwave for 15 seconds, or use marshmallow fluff.

smores ingredients on picnic table


Last but not least, what would summer camp be without scary campfire stories? Put the littles to bed and then ask Alexa to play scary campfire stories. Or check out these Scary Campfire Stories. Always read the stories beforehand to be sure they are appropriate for your kids’ ages. Better yet…ask your kids to make up a story to tell each other.

No matter which activity you choose—big or small—have fun with it. Fully embrace the concept and make it a memorable day for the kids. What other ideas do you have for a backyard campout? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!