Sunday, June 27, 2010

Great American Backyard Campout

This weekend I hosted our first-ever Great American Backyard Campout. Originally we were going to get a group of friends together and go to a campground to camp, but after getting little interest from friends and realizing that we’d be camping two hot summer weekends in a row, I made the decision to just do a campout/sleepover in our own backyard. Both the kids and I were so extremely excited in the days leading up to the big event, though my dear husband kept mumbling something about my confirmed insanity.

If anyone has the yard to host an event like this, I think we do. Our ¾ acre yard is wooded in the rear of the backyard with a large cleared section towards the house. Not to mention my large tri-level deck and firepit area. We set up four tents in the woods behind our playset, and camping in our yard was just about the closest you could get to the real thing! Of course, the boys would have had a blast even in a regular suburban yard with a makeshift sheet for a tent, but (me being the overachiever that I am) I felt a nice sense of pride from being able to give the kids an authentic experience.

We had a total of nine boys sleep over (including my own two). I had made the invitation “parent optional” but planned to use the BSA guideline of 1 parent per 5 children, so I wanted to have one other parent there with us. Luckily, two parents ended up coming to stay, and in hindsight two or even three ‘extra’ parents would have been the ideal number. Not really because the boys needed that much supervision, but because at this age (mostly 3-7 years old) they still need a lot of help with things like serving themselves food and getting their things laid out in the tents. The two three-year-olds especially needed a lot of my assistance, so I was glad to have the extra hands!

Contrary to my usual philosophy of keeping kids busy as much as possible, I did not schedule any real activities for them to do. GASP! It was a hard decision, but the right one, I think. I did, however, let the parents know to have their kids bring all sorts of artillery, including squirt guns, Nerf guns and lightsabers. The one complaint I hear from my OS about our Scout meetings is that he doesn’t get enough time to just PLAY with his friends there, so I figured the boys would enjoy the uninhibited free time. I think they really did. The late afternoon after they arrived was spent playing in the sprinkler and slip-n-slide, and their constant battles and duels afterward were enough to keep them all busy all evening!

We did a simple dinner on the grill of hot dogs and hamburgers. The boys all got to shuck corn and slather it with butter and I wrapped the ears up in foil and threw them in hot coals for some yummy roasted corn on the cob. Later that night I started a fire and they all got to roast marshmallows and have s’mores. In all the commotion of getting kids marshmallows on their sticks and breaking up chocolate and graham crackers, I somehow didn’t get a s’more for myself. This makes two camping trips in a row where I didn’t get a s’more, something that I think will need to be remedied very soon!

The most difficult part of the entire campout was bedtime. I had the brilliant idea of letting all the older boys all sleep together in one tent without an adult, knowing full well there would be some talking and playing around, but I figured after so much running around in the heat all day they would all pass out soon enough. But by 11pm I began resorting to threats to get them to quiet down, and it was midnight before most of them were asleep, including the three year olds in my own tent! I’m not entirely sure I would let them sleep alone again, but I know they really did think it was fun to be together in there. For almost all of them this was their first-ever sleepover away from a family member, and I think having their buddies together and the novelty of the sleeping in a tent helped keep them occupied enough to not think of being homesick. I guess that is enough for me to put aside my own sleep deprivation… this one time at least.

As I predicted, the boys were up bright and early despite their late night, grabbing their Nerf guns and lightsabers on their way out of the tent. Breakfast was a sort of omelet made in hallowed out orange peels, wrapped in foil and baked on the grill. I had found the idea in a kids camping cook book, and it was somewhat successful but didn’t go over that well with the boys. My backup plan of cereal did the trick for anyone still hungry though!

The kids all got to take home goodie bags, complete with Adventure Journals and Ranger Rick stickers, courtesy of the National Wildlife Federation who sent me a box full of goodies as a thank you for hosting a campout. There were even cute little tote bags for the grown-ups that participated (and I’m a big fan of tote bags!). I would call this campout as much a learning experience for me as a fun time for the kids, since I got to test out their interests and my own limitations. Over all it was a highly successful event. Sure, there were some tears from hurt feelings or water squirted in the face, and there were a few times they yelled at each other for wanting the same gun, but it was nothing that didn’t pass in a few seconds, and everyone left with a smile on their face.

I am so glad I decided to change my plans and share my yard with all these kids. It gave many more of them a chance to spend the night outside and have a lot of good friendship-building time with their buddies than we would have had if we’d camped elsewhere. And besides, the event IS called the “Great American BACKYARD Campout.” I’m thrilled that we pulled it off without a hitch and that the boys had so much fun. We will definitely be hosting the event next year. Luckily, I get an entire year to recover from the experience before I have to do it again!

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