Summer arrives every year with a touch of nostalgia: the long days and warm nights may have you dreaming about past outdoor adventures and wondering how to recreate the fun for this season. Here's the good news: you can have a family camping vacation as great as your memories without leaving home. Teach your kids how to use their DIY skills and imagination to transform your backyard into a fun-filled getaway. These 13 projects — from a colorful teepee to play in to s'mores to make around a fire — will get you and your family ready for a weekend in the great (contained) outdoors. And if you want to get out in the actual wilderness before summer's end, you can pack up some of these ideas for the real thing, too.
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Accompany a Tent With a More Creative Backyard Hangout
Step one to creating a magical backyard campout: make a gathering place. While a tent is the most practical option for sleeping in your backyard, it also leaves room for more creativity in where you'll spend the rest of your time. Make a teepee that you can customize with your favorite fabrics, blankets and pillows, and the biggest problem of the weekend will be convincing the kids to seek shelter in your home again.
Light Up the Night With Tin Cans
Get the kids even more excited about the outdoors by making your own lanterns out of tin cans. They'll be able to pick their own stencils to use for the patterns and they won't be able to wait until sundown to see candlelight bring their designs to life. As a bonus, they'll make charming decorations after the campout is over.
Build a Fire Pit the Kids Can Help Design
What's a campout without a campfire? Make a fire pit for the backyard and let the kids help by choosing what colors to paint the bricks. It'll be a customized spot that the whole family will enjoy this weekend and all year long.
And Then Make Naturally Matching Seats
Once the kids have helped choose paint colors for the brick fire pit, they'll be thrilled when you tell them that your next task is making fire pit seats to match. Keep the look natural by making tree stump seats, but add your family's unique personal preferences by letting all members choose their own colors.
Prep for Campout Dinnertime With a Homemade Soda Can Stove
Because it wouldn't be a campout if you had to run into the house to use the stove (even for a minute). Keep your camping experience authentic and make your own soda can stove, using it to heat up dinner at night and water for morning cocoa. As a bonus, you can stash these portable stoves in your emergency kit and sneak in a lesson about emergency prep during craft time.
Make it a True Campout With an Outdoor Shower
It's safe to assume that if you can't use your kitchen stove for a true backyard campout, you definitely can't use your indoor shower. Teach the kids what it would be like if they were camping far from home by making an outdoor shower. They'll love the novelty of it, and they'll probably be planning for a faraway camping trip as soon as the weekend ends.
Make Room for Quiet Time
Alongside the more classic outdoor activities that go along with camping, you and your family might enjoy some quiet time with nature, too. Fill the teepee with books to read, keep art supplies on hand for coloring and make your own journals so that everyone can have a chance to reflect and relax, whether lounging in the teepee or sitting by the fire.
Bridge the Gaps Between Science, Nature and Art
Get the kids even more excited for the weekend by having them work on a craft project for a fun nighttime activity during the campout. Making this moon phase viewer will allow them to be artsy, and using the viewer will teach them about the phases of the moon. It will also inspire endless questions about space and astronomy — making for a pretty good start to a great night of campfire talks.
Don't Let Any Bugs Bite With Homemade Bug Spray
For many people (not just kids), a major hesitation to sleeping outside is a fear of bugs and bug bites. However, there are homemade bug sprays that you can make for a bug-free campout. No matter which bugs might be lurking in your backyard, you can keep them far from the family for a good night of outdoor sleep.
Tie-Dye for Colorful Sun Protection
While it might not feel like the campout is starting until the sun goes down and the campfire is lit, you'll probably be spending plenty of time with your family in the daylight. Prep for sunny activities by tie-dying baseball caps with the kids before the weekend arrives.
Put Your Newly-Made Portable Stove to Good Use
It's easy enough to skewer hot dogs and cook them over the campfire — and they'll certainly be delicious on their own. But think of how much more yummy they'll be when you smother them in homemade chili dog sauce. You've got your portable soda can stove on hand and an easy recipe for the perfect campout meal (just leave out the stout if you're serving to kids).
Make S'Mores Even More Fun
While a fully stocked s'mores station might not be transferrable to a faraway camping trip, you can take just a few liberties when you're camping in your own backyard. Bring even more excitement to s'mores time by setting up a s'mores bar on an outdoor table — complete with a hot cocoa section for the ultimate campfire dessert.
Mud Pies for a Thematic Dessert
Of course, there's always room for more than s'mores, and creating homemade mud pies can be the ultimate camping treat. It could be the perfect end to a campout that you'll be eager to recreate many times before summer ends.