Host family camp in your own backyard

We just spent a long weekend camping in my parents’ backyard. Like, really camping. We’re talking sleeping in tents, grilling our meals outside, wearing sports sandals and getting cool farmer tan lines — the whole thing. Before COVID-19 hit, we had planned to rent a cabin by beautiful Lake Michigan as a family. But with that option removed, we had to get creative. With seven adults and five kids under age seven, we worked hard to plan a camp experience everyone would enjoy, and I wanted to share some of our ideas in case you want to give it a try yourself!

the backyard

If you can, try to recreate a camp setting in your space. For us, this meant picnic tables, a fire pit, and building a new playground set together. It was extra fun building the play-set together, because it was a group effort with a result that will be used and enjoyed for many years to come. We hung a tire swing and set up camp chairs of all sizes, as well as an inflatable pool that may have pulled double duty as a bathtub one night.

We slept in tents, mostly, but there was the option of going inside for those who got too cold, too hot, or found one too many earwigs in their tent. And of course, people could go indoors to use the bathrooms, or to microwave popcorn when our bonfire-popcorn went up in flames.


With two teachers in the family, we had access to a lot of craft materials and even more creativity when it came to activities. We tie-dyed t-shirts with a family camp logo for everyone, from my 60-year-old dad to my three-month-old nephew, and all wore them together on the last day. My husband made a scavenger hunt with rhyming clues leading to a “treasure chest” full of fruit snacks, stickers, and dollar store trinkets. We filled 150 water balloons (the old-fashioned kind that you tie one-by-one) and played games all together — duck duck SPLASH was an especially big hit. We did venture off-site one day for a trip to a local park with a lake and small beach, where we took the kids out for a canoe ride and swim. You can’t have a Michigan summer camp without that!

that’s what family does

Something really special about family camp was sharing life together for four days in this unique way. We shared the load of childcare, cooking, cleaning and emergency trips to the store for supplies. I wouldn’t even see my toddler for an entire afternoon, but I got to play word games with my older nieces, change my nephew’s diaper while his mom chopped onions for kebabs, and witness my brother smash a water balloon on my sister’s head. It was a lot of work, feeding 12 people at each meal and keeping the four walking children safe during s’more making. But it was the sort of work that we all were happy to take on together.

In all, family camp in the backyard was a huge success. With a little planning and creativity, and a lot of water balloons, you can make some great memories right outside your back door.

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