Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978
More Articles Browse All Articles >>


Play
Learn
Play
You are in:  Play | Backyard Campout

Backyard Campout

Whether you campout in your own backyard or elsewhere in the wilderness, be sure to pack some of these nature-ready award winners that are sure to enhance your adventure. We've collected some of our favorite picks for stargazing, bug hunting, sing-alongs and storytelling. There are also handy guides for getting ready for a camping trip with kids. So lather on the bug spray and enjoy the great outdoors.
Let's Go Chipper! Into the Great Outdoors Let's Go Chipper! Into the Great Outdoors
Ages: 2 - 6 yrs.
IAGmedia , $9.98 (DVD)   

The mission of this DVD is to educate children about enjoying nature and playing outdoors - but doing it safely and in a way that respects the environment. It's the first such trip for young Chipper, and his parents and a park ranger teach him all about camping gear, appropriate clothing, pitching tents, using a compass, and campfire safety. When Chipper wanders away from the campsite, woodland animals befriend him and as they help him find his way back to his family, they also share important facts about protecting the environment-and once he's reunited with his family, the park ranger shares advice about what to do if you get lost in the woods. With its safety tips and pro-environment message, this is a good selection for families and for scouting groups or other youth organizations that may be planning an outdoor excursion and need a novel way to prep kids ahead of time.

The Monkeys Go Marching {Simple Songs You Can Play Around With} The Monkeys Go Marching {Simple Songs You Can Play Around With}
Ages: 2 - 8 yrs.
Cooperfly, $14.95 (CD)   

Sing-along family friendly fun is alive and well in The Monkeys Go Marching, recorded as a live performance at the Grand Rapids Children's Museum in August 2011. Fresh renditions of traditional lyrical and musical frolic deliver Kevin Kammeraad's promise of fourteen "simple songs you can play around with."

Take It Outside Take It Outside
Ages: 2 - 9 yrs.
The Okee Dokee Brothers, $15.00 (CD)   

Bluegrass and folk vibes shape this loosey-goosey, happy music with down-home appeal, performed by a fine passel of musicians on fiddles, piano, banjo, guitar, horns and percussion-acoustic and electric-led by Okee Dokee Brothers Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing. The duo's original songs cover wide territory, from heroes and neighbors to face-washing and extraterrestrials who "never come to play anymore." Whatever the subject, word-play is paramount.

A Child's Introduction to the Night Sky A Child's Introduction to the Night Sky
Ages: 3 - 10 yrs.
Author: Michael Driscoll   Illustrator: Meredith Hamilton  
Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, $19.95 (Hard Cover)   

Though stars and planets get most of the attention, "there's lots of other cool stuff up there" according to author Michael Driscoll. Through vivid illustrations and photos of space, Driscoll takes kids on a tour of the universe, including the myths, explorers, and science that make it so intriguing. Also included are a hand-held Star Finder and glow-in-the-dark stickers, Deep Space Dictionary, calendar of important dates, and a list of space resources.

Here We Go! Here We Go!
Ages: 3 - 10 yrs.
GrandCamp Adventures , $10.99 (CD)   

Sweet songs of family and life's small, meaningful moments performed by deft acoustic musicians and singers. This CD was produced by GrandCamp Adventures, a new company whose toy and publishing products are designed to celebrate the cross-generational bond between grandparents and their grandkids. A highlight: a bouncy bluegrass rendition of "Nobody Loves Me Like My Grandma" (and "Papa") reprised as a lullaby finale.

Naturebag Naturebag
Ages: 3 - 12 yrs.
Naturebag Eco-Activities Ltd, $34.99

This all-in-one kit is packed inside an organic cotton shoulder bag filled with eco-friendly items designed to help children explore nature through a variety of sensory activities. Open the bag to find tools such as recycled cardboard leaf viewers, a rubber wood magnifying glass, soy-based crayons, hemp twine and organic cotton blindfolds. The 19-page booklet provides detailed instructions for more than 15 activities that teach children to observe nature through sight, sound and texture using the tools provided.

Nature Jams Nature Jams
Ages: 3 & Up
myKaZoo Music , $15.00 (CD)   

Thematically, the sentiments are good, as Farmer Jason (a sort of rockin' Mr. Greenjeans in overalls and straw hat) reminds kids of the joys of being outside. Titles include "Take a Hike," "Meadowlark in Central Park," "Buffalo or Bison" and "No Place Like The Woods." Famous singers who join in on the songs include Steve Gorman of the Black, Tom Petersson, bassist for the rock band Cheap Trick, Hank Williams III, Tommy Ramone and Victor Wooton of the Flecktones. For extra value, there is a bonus DVD with videos for four of the album's songs. The set comes with a fully annotated and nicely illustrated booklet, and selected lyrics can be found on Farmer Jason's website.

Pretend & Play Fishing Set Pretend & Play Fishing Set
Ages: 3 & Up
Learning Resources, $27.99

The Pretend & Play Fishing Set is a tackle box filled with a fishing rod with a magnetic hook, fisherman's vest, three fish, three worms, a net, and a write and erase activity book. The worms are squiggly and slightly squishy, the fish have big open smiling mouths. The vest and tackle box give the set a realistic look and feel. The fisherman's log (activity book) lets young rod 'n reelers record the size and weight of their catch. Everything stores neatly in the tackle box.

Sweet Dreams Sweet Dreams
Ages: 3 & Up
Author: Rose Lewis   Illustrator: Jen Corace  
Abrams Books for Young Readers, $16.95 (Hard Cover)   

"Nighttime says a quick "Sleep tight" / To the fading morning glories- / Then wakes up all the moonflowers / And listens to their stories." This sweet, gentle picture book is the perfect companion to a bedtime tuck-in routine. Rose A. Lewis' rhyming text is soothing, as are the blue-toned pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations by Jen Corace. This is a nice little book to add to the bedtime story collection.

Your Big Backyard Your Big Backyard
Ages: 4 - 7 yrs.
National Wildlife Federation,

The spectacular photos immediately draw the reader in, and related stories and activities let children participate in learning in different ways. There is enough consistency for a detailed understanding of different animals (such as several different stories and photo layouts on pandas, or on puffins), yet enough diversity in each piece that a child can find some animal in each issue that is appealing, fun, or brand new. This content stayed with our kids, and we heard about puffins and pandas and honeypot ants, even in the car, far away from the magazine read days earlier. From the clean, simple covers which immediately convey the theme of the issue and invites a child to learn more, to the fun activities throughout the book, this is a magazine that will have my children eagerly anticipating the mail delivery, and rereading previous issues.

Animal Tales: Raccoon, Bear, and Coyote Animal Tales: Raccoon, Bear, and Coyote
Ages: 4 - 10 yrs.
Plain Tales Inc., $14.95 (CD)   

Beginning with "Lotor on His Own" (the story of a young raccoon barely old enough to leave its home), suspense builds as this fledgling creature struggles to become an adult. "Osa's Moving Day" describes a bear's den-building adventure. The final story chronicles Hazard (a coyote) as he deals with both his own fierce hunger and his loyalty to the other hungry members in his pack. Loaded with plush details about the habitat, feeding customs, and survival behaviors of the bear, coyote, and raccoon, these stories have solid appeal. These three exciting presentations are learning and listening treasures.

The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, And Our National  Parks The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, And Our National Parks
Ages: 5 - 8 yrs.
Author: Barb Rosenstock   Illustrator: Mordicai Gerstein  
Penguin Putnam Inc./Dial Books for Young Readers, $16.99 (Hard Cover)   

Inspired by reading one of John Muir's books about the wilderness, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote Muir and asked him to take him camping in the Yosemite wilderness. Traveling west by train, Roosevelt arrived in Raymond, California on May 15, 1903. Finally leaving an adoring crowd, "Teedie" and "Johnnie" rode off on horseback alone. They spent four days camping, forging a friendship through their mutual love of nature. Johnnie was the teacher, showing the president the giant sequoias and explaining how Yosemite Valley was formed. He taught Teedie how vulnerable the wilderness areas were and inspired him to return to Washington determined to help protect them. In thin-line, loose, sketchy drawings, washed with watercolors, the illustrator Mordicai Gerstein perfectly captures the personalities of the lanky, laconic Muir and the stocky, ebullient Roosevelt. He captures the humor and happiness of one camping trip that has benefited us all.

The Beetle Book The Beetle Book
Ages: 5 - 12 yrs.
Author: Steve Jenkins  
Houghton Mifflin Co., $16.99 (Hard Cover)   

Inspired by reading one of John Muir's books about the wilderness, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote Muir and asked him to take him camping in the Yosemite wilderness. Traveling west by train, Roosevelt arrived in Raymond, California on May 15, 1903. Finally leaving an adoring crowd, "Teedie" and "Johnnie" rode off on horseback alone. They spent four days camping, forging a friendship through their mutual love of nature. Johnnie was the teacher, showing the president the giant sequoias and explaining how Yosemite Valley was formed. He taught Teedie how vulnerable the wilderness areas were and inspired him to return to Washington determined to help protect them. In thin-line, loose, sketchy drawings, washed with watercolors, the illustrator Mordicai Gerstein perfectly captures the personalities of the lanky, laconic Muir and the stocky, ebullient Roosevelt. He captures the humor and happiness of one camping trip that has benefited us all.

Backyard Safari Outfitters Bird Watcher's Field Kit Backyard Safari Outfitters Bird Watcher's Field Kit
Ages: 5 & Up
Summit Products LLC, $24.99

The Bird Watcher’s Kit includes binoculars and a tri-pod, a pop-up field guide and three different kinds of bird callers. The field guide offers tips on how to be a successful bird watcher and photos of a variety of different birds that may be found in your backyard. As children locate the birds, they can check them off in the field guide. Our testers have continued to return to the field guide as they spot different birds from time to time.

Backyard Safari Outfitters Lazer Bug Vacuum Backyard Safari Outfitters Lazer Bug Vacuum
Ages: 5 & Up
$19.99

Your budding bug collector will never tire of this excellent bug finding tool. Before it was even out of the box, our testers were jumping with excitement to try it out. From the microscope to the "laser" pointer, they were exclaiming over every little aspect of it, and they couldn't wait to catch their first bugs. The accompanying pamphlet had children screaming with pictures of tarantulas and ladybugs. They immediately started searching the neighborhood in order to check off the bugs on the list. Children will want to search deep, dark corners of the basement and garage with the "scope" (a little red laser light on the front of the vacuum), and they might even scare bug-fearing parents with what they find. The bug vacuum is very easy to use, almost like a miniature dust buster. It came with an extra reservoir, so once the first was full, it could be removed and replaced. Bugs can be set free with a simple twist of a dial on the side, but not before being carefully studied under the magnifying glass that also serves as the "escape hatch" for the bugs. We can't recommend this toy enough, especially for a family with natural bug enthusiasts.

Kids Book of the Night Sky Kids Book of the Night Sky
Ages: 6 & Up
Author: Ann Love   Author: Jane Drake   Illustrator: Heather Collins  
Kids Can Press, $12.95 (Hard Cover)   

In The Kids Book of the Night Sky, boys and girls will discover all the secrets the night sky holds. They can play games like "Night Sky I Spy," keep an astronomer’s log and read about night sky myths. Star maps are included for each season - so kids will know what to look for, when and where. Then as the sun goes down and the sky goes dark, they’ll be ready for the night sky’s all-star show!

Wild Cards: Backyard Birds Wild Cards: Backyard Birds
Ages: 6 & Up
Birdcage Press, $10.95

For anyone who's wondered which bird is singing, or eating the sunflower seeds, this informative, beautifully designed set of cards will answer the call. The stunning photographs adorn 36 cards representing 18 pair of backyard birds. The birds are identified with facts, and categorized into color-coded groups of songbirds, woodpeckers, hummers, little chirpers, tricksters, and water birds. The 32-page booklet describes how to identify birds by color pattern, habitat, behavior, or field marks, and offers a map and resources. Oh, lest we forget, there are rules for three different card games.

Camp Out! The Ultimate Kids' Guide Camp Out! The Ultimate Kids' Guide
Ages: 7 - 12 yrs.
Author: Lynn Brunelle  
Workman Publishing, $11.95 (Hard Cover)   

Whether you're planning an over night in the backyard or a weekend in the wilderness, this book is packed with stuff to know. The basics, from gearing up to choosing a site to building a tarp tent. Tasty outdoor recipes: Solar Oven Pizza, Chow Down Chili and s' more's of course - with 8 variations. Plus: how to keep a Field Journal, exploring the nighttime sky, creepy campfire stories, and when it's time to go home, leaving no trace. It's everything you need to pick up and head for the hills. Book Description

Ranger Rick Magazine Ranger Rick Magazine
Ages: 7 & Up
National Wildlife Federation,

Each issue of the publication is packed with fascinating facts, world-class wildlife photos, the kinds of outdoor and animal stories that change a child's appreciation for and relationship with nature. Throughout Ranger Rick's pages, readers will stop and stare at stunning wildlife photographs. But Ranger Rick is more than eye candy for animal lovers. There are also cartoons, games, riddles and puzzles, and several informative and entertaining articles per issue that are broken up in short segments so that elementary school readers can easily get through them, practice their reading skills while doing so, and gain a better appreciation for wildlife and conservation. Any kid who's gaga for wildlife will probably cherish this magazine, and refuse to throw out any back issues. And anyone else, including parents, will enjoy the wealth of animal life in its pages.

Rory's Story Cubes Rory's Story Cubes
Ages: 8 & Up
Gamewright, $7.99

Rory's Story Cubes is a set of nine six-sided picture dice (a total of 54 unique pictures) that are rolled and used to inspire impromptu storytelling. The pictures are very basic (e.g., a key, a hand, a house) and therefore very flexible. Players roll the cubes, then tell a story using all nine images that are displayed. Recommended for ages 8 and up, it can really be used by any individual or group trying to wake up creative language skills, from preschoolers still working on vocabulary and learning to tell simple, one-sentence stories to adults struggling with writer's block.

Also look for Story Cubes: Actions

The Plant Hunters: True Stories of Their Daring Adventures to the Far Corners of the Earth The Plant Hunters: True Stories of Their Daring Adventures to the Far Corners of the Earth
Ages: 8 & Up
Author: Anita Silvey  
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $19.99 (Hard Cover)   

"Botanomania" is the name of an obsession possessed by people who fanatically hunt and collect plants. For hundreds of years, these collectors have traveled all over the world and endured appalling hardships to pursue their passion. Coming from many countries and speaking many languages, they hunted for and brought home interesting, exotic, and helpful plants for their own gardens, the gardens of their patrons, and royal gardens, which usually evolved into public botanical gardens. All were helped enormously by Carl Linnaeus (1707 - 1778), a Swedish scientist, who developed the universally accepted and understood Latin classification system for all of the natural world - including plants. Anita Silvey reveals the hair-raising adventures of these intrepid plant hunters. She synthesizes information, history and indomitable personalities into a thoroughly readable, downright exciting text.


Share This

What Makes a Good Toy?

Award-Winning Toys

Media Ratings Television Ratings Movie Ratings Video Game Ratings

Mailbox
Sign Up
Our news & features delivered to your inbox.