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Get outside: Stage a backyard campout
loc slt wetlands explorer column
Mersadie Spray, Heidi Brauer, Trent Stuhlsatz and Gunner Fisher peek out of their tent during the Great Bend Recreation Commissions nature camp at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center on June 21. - photo by Photo by Pam Martin

The recent moderate days with cool nights have given me the itch to go tent camping. Hiking to a destination and pitching a tent along a cool mountain stream or the sandy shore of the Atlantic Ocean is a great experience but you don’t have to travel to a distant location to enjoy a night out-of-doors. Your backyard will do just fine, especially if you have younger kids.
My parents weren’t campers but they allowed us kids to make our own tents with old sheets and blankets. Many summer days were spent constructing tent rooms in the neighbor’s huge old mulberry tree that conveniently had four main branches, allowing a “room” each for my sister and I, and our neighbor’s two children. We also constructed “grounded” tents, using whatever was on hand. During winter months, couch cushions and blankets became tents.
Pitching a tent in the backyard is a great family activity, which doesn’t cost a lot. Old blankets and sheets can be placed over rope tied between two trees for a simple but passable tent. Factory-made tents can be purchased for $50 to $100, or rented locally for a day. Unless you’ve got one of those monsters the size of a small hotel, they’re not hard to assemble. A whole evening can be organized around the activity. After the tent’s assembled, the kids can help with making an outdoor meal.
Disposable grills are a great way to make real s’mores – not the microwave kind. Hotdogs cooked over a grill can’t be beat. Add some lemonade, deviled eggs and/or potato salad and you’ve got a great picnic.
Backyard or neighborhood scavenger hunts are simple to put together and can be downloaded from Internet sites. Although campfires are fun, you don’t need one to tell stories after dark, just use a flash light, which can also be used for a game of flashlight tag. If you’re lucky enough to have some lightening bugs in your backyard, provide the kids with some plastic jars and let them make a lightening bug lantern.
Your kids will probably come up with their own ideas, which is the greatest part about camping – the activities are endless.
If you’re looking for additional family outdoor activities checkout KDWPT’s “Wild About Kansas”  junior photo contest. Kids, age 18 or younger, can submit photos in three categories: wildlife, outdoor recreation or landscapes. The deadline to enter is Oct. 25, 2013. For more information visit the website:
 The Kansas Wetlands Education Center offers kids nature programs on July 11 (Mighty Ducks), July 18 (Home Sweet Home) and July 25 (Take Flight), with a 10:30-11:30 a.m. session for ages 4 to 7 and a 2-3 p.m. session for ages 8 to 12. Call the center, 1-877-243-9268, for more information or to register.
 Right before school starts, families can come out to the center on the evening of Sunday, Aug. 11, participate in some activities and watch the Persiod meteor shower. Call the center or watch the website,, for more information.
Hope to see you outside!