family fun

10 Tips to Planning Your Own Summer Camp

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Nothing says summer better than camping, right? Every year, we invite our cousins to come for a few days and hold "Camp Pattee" in the backyard. We have a fabulous time crafting, cooking, and playing—a tradition that we look forward to all year long.

One comment I frequently hear from other moms is, "Wow, you're a fabulous mom! I don't think I could do that." BUT YOU CAN! It just takes a little bit of creativity and a little organization to set up a great experience that you will remember for a lifetime.

Tent in backyard with cousins heads popping out the door

10 Tips for a Backyard Camping Adventure

Here are some of my suggestions for a smooth and successful backyard camping adventure:

  1. Come up with a theme. This doesn't mean a production, just a motif that will help you decide on activities and focus your creative ideas. Also, you should do what you know. If you teach science, pull that into your planning.  If you like to hike, plan lots of day trips. Artist? Horses? Video games? You name it, and it can make a theme for your camp.
  2. Keep it simple. Now is not the time for complicated recipes or intricate painting. One of our activities this year was flying paper airplanes off of the deck. Also, do as much prep work as you can before camp starts to keep things flowing smoothly. I like to give each activity it's own box or bag to keep what we will need all in one place. Then when it's craft time, you just grab the box!
  3. Start shopping the dollar store. Buying supplies for half a dozen kids can get expensive. Give yourself a budget and be realistic about what you will actually be able to use. Translate: Don't buy all 47 craft kits if you only have 2 hours of craft time.
  4. Create a schedule. Keep in mind that it's hot in the afternoon, and people may need some down time. Also, you're be more likely to get good participation if everyone knows there will be an activity that interests them, so plan activities accordingly. The real benefit of a schedule?  Bedtime and snack times are indisputable if they are on the schedule.
  5. Set limits. Kids are usually willing to follow the rules if they know what they are.  Have a meeting at the beginning of camp to make sure everyone knows what's what.  Our rules for this year?  No one in the kitchen without permission, put shoes on to go outside and off to come in the house/tent, and shut the doors behind you.
  6. Assign everyone duties according to their talents and passions (Camp Chef, Camp Artist, etc.). It's easier to make things happen when you have an interested assistant at your side, plus you have more authority when you are the Camp Director.
  7. Assign chores. You will go nuts if you try to do it all yourself!  Make "groups" to divvy out chores if you have enough kids to do so.  (Green group has lunch clean-up;blue is on breakfast, etc.) And don't be afraid to have a few impromptu crazy clean-ups.
  8. Schedule in down time. Adding in things to the schedule like reading time and free play will give everyone a breather.
  9. Make sure everyone has sufficient bedding to be comfortable.  At Camp Pattee, we do just that—camp! In celebration of REI (a national outdoor gear and clothing retailer) and the National Wildlife Federation’s 7th annual Great American Backyard Campout®, we set up a tent in the backyard and sleep there for 3 days. Where we are in the mountains it gets pretty chilly at night. Nothing can make you more miserable than shivering in a tent. This year, we pulled out down comforters and even a mattress for mom. (You also might want to turn off the sprinklers!) You don't have to have a tent to camp, either; a blanket or two stretched out on the living room floor works just as well. Take what you have and make what you can out of it.
  10. Have fun. Don't forget why you are doing this, after all! Let the kids own it. Stay flexible and don't freak if the salt falls in the sauce and you end up ordering pizza. Keep your activities manageable and your expectations low. Start small and get bigger next time, once you are better aware of your (and your campers') abilities.

One more tip, if you are having out of town campers, it might be worth your while to make name badge lanyards that have your address and phone number just in case they wander off.  I made ours using a badge pouch I bought from Wal-Mart and some ribbon. As an alternative, you may order custom lanyards from

What camping tips do  you recommend for family camping adventures this summer?

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An active part of the Mom It Forward team, Jyl primarily writes about parenting, social good, and all things travel related. In a past life, Jyl was an award-winning copywriter and designer of corporate training programs for Fortune 100 companies. Offline, Jyl is married to @TroyPattee; a mom to two teen boys and a beagle named #Hashtag; loves large amounts of cheese, dancing, and traveling; and lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Topping her bucket list is the goal to visit 50 countries by the time she's 50.


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