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Thought kids could only go camping in the woods? Pitching a tent close to home is a great way to have fun and learn new skills, and it's easy to "rough it" in the backyard. Kids can imagine they're in the forest as they pitch tents, cook out, and gaze at the stars, all within range of parents' watchful eyes -- and an indoor bathroom.
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With a pair of binoculars, a compass, and a trail guide, kids will be inspired to explore new terrain (in your backyard!), identify trees and birds, and scout out animal homes. Then they can record their discoveries in a camp journal.
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Keep a Cooler
When closed, it's a tabletop for chow time, and inside ice packs keep bottled water cold and milk and fruit fresh for tomorrow's breakfast.
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Making a Fire
Campers need fires for many reasons, including cooking, light, and warmth. Prepare space for a safe backyard fire so you can make hot dogs.
Collect large stones and arrange them in a ring with clear space around it to prevent the fire from spreading. Set a small charcoal grill in the center and pour a bucketful of pebbles around the base to stabilize it and to absorb sparks. A grown-up can light a fire in the grill.
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Prepare a hearty meal of grilled hot dogs topped with cheese and chili reheated over the fire. It'll give the hungry woodsmen all the energy they need to go exploring.
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A vivid imagination (and maybe a deck of cards) is all kids need for entertainment. At sundown, shadows rule! Kids will find plenty of ways to play with them.
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No camping adventure is complete without making classic s'mores. Have an adult help make the gooey treats.
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Leave time to look for the constellations. Use a rubber band to fasten red cellophane over the end of a flashlight; this way you won't have to readjust your eyes to look for Cygnus the Swan in the night sky.
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Most regular tents are big enough for two sleeping campers. You can easily set up a second tent using some basic camping supplies: two waterproof tarps with grommet holes (available at home-improvement stores), tent pegs, rope, and clothespins.
Stretch the rope between two trees (or other fixed points); tie securely. Drape a large tarp over it. Working together, pull out two opposite corners. At about a foot out from each corner, place a tent peg. Let go of tarp; hammer pegs halfway into ground; angle pegs out for strength. Repeat for other corners and slide the tarp out of the way.
Lay a smaller tarp on ground under rope; tie it to the pegs with rope or bungee cords. Reposition roof tarp; tie to pegs. Place clothespins along the roof rope to hold the tarp in place.
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Light the Lantern
Hang a low-beam lantern and a favorite stuffed animal neatly at the tent's entrance to dispel scary dreams.
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Rise and Shine!
Enjoy breakfast served crisp and cold in metal mugs -- a fitting ending to an exciting adventure.