Birthday Camp-Out

This is a great party to have on a summer evening. Or have a camp-in any time of day or year in a basement or other room that can be darkened. These ideas will delight kids ages 6 to 11.


Inviting Ideas

Here are some simple ideas for making your own invitations:

+ enlarge image Even if it's an indoor event, kids will love a camping party.
  • Fold green paper into triangles (so they resemble a tent) and write the information on the back.
  • Buy inexpensive knapsacks or picnic baskets (think doll-sized) and place inside the ingredients for S'mores -- a Hershey bar, a marshmallow, and two graham crackers -- in small plastic bags. Write the party details on an index card and place with the goodies.
  • Use a camping-supply store's catalog to cut out pictures of hiking boots, tents, sleeping bags, canteens, and other items. Glue a collage of several items on the front of a folded blank card, then write the party information inside with green and brown markers.

Decorations

+ enlarge image Ask a friend or hire teens to lead the group in favorite campfire songs.
  • Borrow a large tent from a neighbor or Scout leader or rent one if necessary. Try to set up your campsite so that it seems as remote as possible. Even camping in the basement can be fun, it you create a camplike atmosphere. If your local laws allow it, set up a stone campfire area. (If you have a fireplace, use that.)
  • Hang lanterns from poles.
  • Set out large logs to sit on around the campfire. Ask a friend to play guitar and sing some songs when it gets dark. Gather large pointed sticks (for ages 7 and up) to roast marshmallows or hot dogs.
  • Have plenty of flashlights on hand (and check batteries ahead of time).
  • Keep a bucket of water handy in case your fire needs to be doused.
  • Look in the library or a nature store for a tape or CD of nature sounds such as frogs croaking and birds singing, and play it near the tent for atmosphere.
  • To avoid having insects crash your party, have plenty of bug repellent available and offer it to guests as they arrive. Place citronella coils or torches at the edges of the party area.

From the bhg.com Recipe Center, we've pulled together four kid-friendly menus that can be served at any birthday bash:

All-Munchies Menu

Classics with a Twist Menu

Hearty Bites Menu

Ultimate Favorites Menu

Camp Rations

For delicious food that ties into the party theme, try these suggestions:

  • Hot dogs (for ages 4 and up): If you have a campfire, let guests roast their own hot dogs on sticks. Be sure that the dogs are allowed to cool before they're eaten.
  • S'mores: Place a few squares of a Hershey's chocolate bar on a graham cracker. Roast two marshmallows and place on top of the chocolate. Top with another graham cracker and let the chocolate melt a little bit before eating.
  • Drinks: Any beverage is fun when served from canteens.
  • Ants on a log: Stuff celery sticks with peanut butter and top with raisins.
  • Mud: Serve chocolate pudding ("mud") sprinkled with crushed chocolate sandwich cookies ("dirt") and topped with gummy worms.
  • Trail mix: Mix together food such as candy coated chocolates, peanuts, raisins or dried cranberries, and unsweetened cereal.

Choose two or three relatively calm activities for a two-hour party. Have a few extra ideas ready just in case. Alternate crafts and other sit-down activities with active games to keep the pace of the party moving.

Ghost Stories

Reading or telling ghost stories is great between activities such as a game and cake time. It can be used to keep children occupied while a parent sets out the tableware and cake. Also, story time can be effective at the end of the party, when children are waiting for their parents to arrive. If you want to tell ghost stories, keep the scariness at an age-appropriate level so that younger kids don't get too frightened.

Camping Supplies: Two Activities

Ages: 8 and up

Preparation time: Up to 15 minutes

Playing time: 15 minutes

Players: Any number

What you need:

Choose from any or all of the following camping essentials, or just use the list for reference:

+ enlarge image One essential item: maps.
  • Finding your way: Compass, map
  • Food-related: Water bottle, food, emergency rations (raisins, chocolate, nuts), utensils, stove/fuel, mess kit, mug, can opener, matches, water purification tablets
  • Protection from the elements: Rain poncho/waterproof boots, change of clothes, gloves and hat, windproof jacket, sleeping bag, sleeping mat
  • Miscellanous: Flashlight, pocket knife, rope, first-aid kit, tent, money, flares, personal washing gear, book or playing cards

1. Memory game: Put some of the listed items on a tray or under a blanket, let everyone see the items for 1 or 2 minutes, then give everyone paper and pencil and have each person write down as many things as they can remember in 3 (or 5) minutes. Give a prize to the person who remembers the most number of items.

2. Imagination game: Ask your campers to compile a list, as a group, of what's needed for a camping trip. Then see how their list compares to the list above. Don't be surprised if a cell phone, portable CD player, and favorite snacks make their list. Talk about ways you might carry all that equipment on a hiking trip, what you'd leave behind first, and in what situations you'd use certain things like rope, money, or emergency rations.

Crafts

Set up a craft activity so each guest can start working immediately as they arrive; it's a good way to corral the excitement in a positive way.

Make Your Own Compass

+ enlarge image Here's what a finished compass should look like.

Ages: 6 and up

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Playing time: 15 minutes

Players: Any number

What you need:

  • One real compass
  • 2 or 3 magnets
  • Permanent marker
  • Straight pins
  • Sewing needle (one per guest)
  • Several round corks
  • Sharp knife
  • Clear plastic cup (one per guest)
  • Water

Before the party:

1. Use a knife to cut a cork into three or four sections, each about 1/4-inch thick. You'll want one cork section for each guest.

2. Use the real compass to plot a simple course around your house or yard. Write down the directions, such as "Walk 3 steps east...") End the route at something fun, such as a swingset or the birthday cake.

At the party:

3. Half-fill the plastic cups with water.

4. Magnetize a needle by stroking it at least 50 times in one direction with one pole of the magnet. Test the magnetism of the needle by picking up a pin.

5. Carefully push the center of the needle through the center of the cork circle. Float the cork in a cup of water. The thick end of the needle should point north. Mark the positions of north, south, east and west on the cup using a permanent marker.

6. Have the children use their compasses to follow the route you mapped out earlier. Give them directions such as, "Walk three paces west. Turn east and walk 10 paces."

Seeing Stars

Ages: 8 and up

Preparation time: 10 to 30 minutes

Playing time: 20 minutes

Players: Any number

What you need:

  • Large, clean tin cans (such as coffee cans)
  • Metal file
  • Permanent markers
  • Hammer
  • Large household nails
  • Pictures of simple constellations (such as the Big Dipper), and simple shapes (like a house or a five-pointed star)
  • Flashlight

Before the party:

1. Remove lid from one end of each can and file the edges smooth.

Depending on the ages of guests, you may wish to do steps 2 and 3 yourself before the party. Older kids should be able to follow safety rules for careful use of hammer and nails; an adult should help each child by either holding the can steady or doing the hammering while the child holds the can.

At the party:

2. Mark the location of the stars in a constellation, or draw a simple shape, on the end of each can.

3. Using hammer and a nail, punch a hole through each star's position. For other designs, punch a hole every half-inch and at each point or corner, dot-to-dot style.

4. Turn out the lights and shine a flashlight up through each tin can onto the wall, ceiling or tent top.

Painted Paperweights

+ enlarge image Additional craft idea: Nature Bracelets made from masking tape.

Ages: 6 and up

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Playing time: 15 minutes

Players: Any number

What you need:

  • Smooth, flat rocks (about 3 to 5 inches across)
  • Tempera or poster paints
  • Paint brushes
  • Paper towels and newspapers
  • Pictures of bugs, leaves, and animals for inspiration (optional)

Before the party:

1. Collect the rocks, wash them, and let them dry.

At the party:

2. Spread out newspaper and paper towels. Put out paints and brushes.

3. Let guests paint bug, leaf, or animal designs. Have them paint their initials somewhere on the rock.

4. Allow paint to dry. Guests can take their rock home as a party favor.

Plan two or three lively activities for a two-hour party. Choose extra so you're prepared for the unexpected. Alternate them with quieter activities, such as a crafts project or reading aloud, to keep the party from becoming too wild.

Flashlight Tag

Ages: 8 and up

Preparation time: None

Playing time: 15 minutes

Players: At least 4

What you need:

  • Flashlight
  • An area (a room or your yard) that will be dark enough during the party for a flashlight beam to be visible

Before the party:

1. Make sure the flashlight has new batteries.

2. With your child, select a tree or other stationary object as "home base." If desired, mark it with a ribbon or sign.

At the party:

3. Choose one person to be "It." Give him or her the flashlight.

4. In this reverse-tag game, the other players try to touch "home base" without being "tagged" by the beam of light. The last person tagged is "It" for the next round.

Sleeping Bag Races

Ages: 6 and up

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Playing time: 20 minutes

Players: Any number

What you need:

  • 1 sleeping bag for every 2 players
  • Masking tape or paint

Before the party:

1. Round up several sleeping bags. (If you can't find enough to have one for every 2 guests, turn the game into a relay race with larger teams.)

2. Mark start and finish lines a few yards apart.

At the party:

3. Divide guests into teams. (If teams are larger than two, each teammate should pick a partner. Half the members of each team should line up at the start, and half at the finish.) Have children take off their shoes. Two partners from each team should then stand in their sleeping bag at the starting line.

4. Start the game with a shout of, "On your mark, campers; ready; set; go!" The teammates hop together toward the finish line.

5. The first team to cross the finish line with both players in the sleeping bag wins. In a relay race, the first team to get all players from one end of the playing field to the other wins.

Snake Races

Ages: 5 and up

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Playing time: 20 minutes

Players: At least 6

What you need:

  • Chalk, spray paint, or rope to mark the playing area
  • Cones or other objects to use in marking the course

Before the party:

1. Mark a finish line (preferably on grass) with chalk, spray paint or rope. Mark a 30- to 60-foot curving course in the playing area using cones or other markers.

At the party:

2. Divide children into two teams (such as "Rattlers" and "Copperheads").

3. Line the children up in two straight lines directly behind each other, facing the finish line.

4. Have each child put his hands on the waist of the child in front of him forming a human "snake." (If you want to do this indoors, have children race on their knees to slow them down. Make the course shorter.)

5. When you say, "Slither," each team must run, staying connected, through the course to the finish line. If a team becomes disconnected, they must stop and reconnect before they can advance. The first "snake" to cross the finish line intact wins.

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