Real Parenting: Rainy Day Campout

Rainy Day Campout

By SM Ford

The weather’s bad. The kids are tired of playing in the house. You’re tired of having them inside. They’re fighting and fussing. You’re counting the hours until bedtime, but thinking they’ve had plenty of screen time. Why not change everyone’s attitude by planning a Rainy Day Campout?

First, decide where you’re going to go. Will you turn one room in your house into the forest, the lake, the mountains, the ocean, the desert? Things to consider when making your decision:

  • Nature or ethnic music you might have to help set the scene

  • Souvenirs from a real trip for added reality

  • Artwork by the children that could be used for scenery

  • - If it’s still early in the day, you might want to plan simple art projects. Think of things the kids can draw or make with construction paper that will fit the setting. (e.g. paper trees to hang on the walls.)

  • - Perhaps you’ll want them to make signs for the campground: “Outhouse” or “Restrooms,” “Trail to Summit,” “Picnic Area,” “Swimming Area - No Boats,” etc.

  • Food in the house for an appropriate dinner menu

  • Real camping gear you could use: inner tubes, beach chairs, camping stools, picnic basket, cooler, etc.

  • - Are there props the kids can find in their toys and rooms?

Next, get the kids involved. “How would you like to go on a Rainy Day Campout? I thought we’d go to the redwood forest. I’ll get the tent and the food ready. You kids need to pack for the trip.” Tell them they need:

  • Pajamas for tonight

  • Clean clothes for tomorrow

  • Their toothbrush

  • Their sleeping bag (or blankets if they don’t have one)

  • Their pillow

  • Appropriate clothing for the destination (e.g. swim suit and towel for the lake, hiking shoes for the mountains)

Allow your children to pack their own backpack or suitcase. You can suggest items such as flashlights, hats, sweatshirts, sunglasses, a stuffed animal to sleep with, etc. Not only will this keep them busy while you prepare the destination room, but it will also give them practice in packing. If your child can read, you can make him a list. Decide on a meeting place when everyone is ready (Ellen’s bedroom, the kitchen, etc.).

Now that they are busy for a few minutes, you can start preparing the room. You might need to push furniture back against the walls or put the rocking chair in another room. If you have a fireplace, you might plan to build a fire later on. If not, use a small lamp with a sturdy base as the main ingredient for your “campfire.” You could change the look of the room by draping blankets over furniture. Close the blinds or drapes to block everyone’s view of the dismal weather. Set out any scene enhancers (seashells, pine cones, stuffed animals appropriate for the location). Start your nature music at a low volume. You may want to include your children when setting up your camping room, though some might enjoy the surprise of seeing the completed “scene.”

Collect, but don’t set up, your camping gear. If you have a 2-3 man pop up tent, it can work well in the house. If not, plan to make a tent using blankets or sheets and chairs and clothespins or safety pins.

Meet the kids in the designated meeting room. You might:

  • Ask questions to see if each child packed appropriately.

  • Ask how your family goes to the mountains or lake (by car, plane, bike).

  • Talk about how long it takes to get there.

  • Talk about what you might see on the way and encourage sound effects.

  • Show them their camping destination on a map.

  • Have everyone pretend to get into the preferred mode of transportation and “go” on your trip.

  • Hike from your vehicle to your “campsite” in a follow the leader process.

Make all this as simple or as complicated as you desire as long as your kids continue being interested.

Once at the campsite, involve the kids in setting up. Put up the tent. The children could choose their sleeping spots in the tent by putting sleeping bags, pillows, and backpacks inside.

Pretend you are really at your chosen site. Are you swimming in the lake, picking blackberries, or building sand castles? Kids will love wearing their swimsuit to the pretend lake or using buckets and shovels at the pretend ocean.

As evening approaches build your “campfire.” Perhaps you can dispense with all other lights in your house, except flashlights. (No TV, tablets, smart phones allowed!) Prepare your dinner and either eat it around the campfire (you might want a tarp spread first) or at the “picnic” table. Perhaps you have a camping tablecloth you normally use—go ahead and put it on the table along with paper plates or camping dishes. For dessert make S’mores. If you don’t have a fireplace, use the microwave (recipe below). Or maybe there’s an “Ice Cream Stand” at your beach. Kids can buy ice cream with play money.

After dinner the whole family can sit around the campfire singing songs, telling stories, playing simple games. Perhaps drink hot chocolate and eat popcorn. Does your setting have mosquitoes? Don’t forget to put on the pretend bug repellent.

Can you see the stars? What sounds do you hear at night at your site? The roar of the ocean? The breeze in the trees? An owl?

At bedtime have the kids change into their pajamas inside the tent. Once in their sleeping bags, your children may want to talk. Or you may find they are worn out from their exciting day and may fall asleep quickly, leaving you and your spouse to the solitude of the glowing campfire.

Microwave S’mores


- Honey Graham or Chocolate Graham Crackers

- Marshmallows

- Chocolate Chips or Chocolate Bars

Lay half a graham cracker, on a small plate. Spread a 6-8 chocolate chips or place part of a chocolate bar on cracker. Put one large marshmallow on top (or about 6 mini-marshmallows). Microwave on high 20-30 seconds until marshmallow swells. (Microwaves vary—you may need to use less or more time.) Marshmallow and chocolate should be melty. Cover with other half of graham cracker and serve. Repeat for other S’mores. Just like making them over the campfire, this method requires some patience.

About the Author

SM Ford is a Pacific Northwest gal, who has also lived in the Midwest (Colorado and Kansas) and on the east coast (New Jersey). She and her husband have two daughters and two sons-in-law and three grandsons. She can't figure out how she got to be old enough for all that, however.

Sue likes traveling and animals, especially those in the cat family, and has a dog and cat who own her.

She loves kids and writing. You can find out more about her at her website or on Twitter.

You can read Sue's "Real Parenting" column on the 4th Thursday each month here at Pandora's Box Gazette.

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