As a father of 3 kids, I am forever thinking of ways in which I can keep them entertained and busy at the weekends. With the summer holidays also getting nearer, it means I am going to be busier than ever in trying to think up ways in which to stop them from destroying the house. Not just the younger kids, but the teenagers too!
One thing we love to do together is watching movies outdoors in our yard. When I was a kid, my own father regularly took me to the drive-in movies, so for me, backyard movies really have a massive nostalgia factor – it’s something I want to pass down to my own children.
They have now become a regular feature for our family for many years, and my kids love helping me set them up and taking part. They certainly seem to be sharing my passion for it.
Outdoor movies are a huge adventure for kids, but after a while, they can tend to lose the initial excitement that watching a movie outside used to hold.
To keep things fresh, I’ve developed a few strategies down the years which help to make the event so much more fun than simply pressing play on an outdoor movie projector. My strategies will also help you to keep the kids under control, which is especially relevant when you have a large number of guests attending outside of just your close family.
I’d like to share those tips with you now, so if you want to make your backyard movie nights more fun and entertaining whilst keeping your kids interested time and time again, read on.
1. Pretend it’s a Drive-In with Cardboard Box Cars
I am going to start off with one of my most favorite ideas, which harks back to my memories of going to the drive-in with my own father in his old Chevy.
Now, unfortunately, there are no drive-in movies left near where we live, so my kids have never actually been to one. Does that stop me though? No way!
What my wife and I do is help our kids make their own pretend cars out of cardboard boxes. Once they have made their car, throw a cushion inside of it, and you can set them all in rows in front of the outdoor movie screen.
It’s just like being at the drive-in movies… well nearly, but not quite.
My kids love it, it makes the night really fun, and my wife and I come around and pretend we’re movie attendants offering them popcorn through their car “windows”.
All you need are some cardboard boxes, scissors, pens, tape, and some imagination.
2. Make Them a Den to Sit-In
Have you ever met a kid who doesn’t like sitting or hiding in a den?
Before the movie starts we will build a den together. Again, it can be done using cardboard boxes, or simply using the classic, time-honored tradition of just chairs, blankets, and cushions.
The first rule of making a den? There are no rules, so anything goes.
Give them their own torch as well, and it will really help to make the backyard movie night a magical and memorable event for them and their friends.
3. Create a Themed Movie Night
My kids had never seen Back to the Future or The Goonies before I introduced them to the joys of backyard movie nights.
These movies are a rite of passage, and there was no way I wanted their attention to wander. I wanted them to really get into it, so how did I do that?
I themed the movie night.
With the Back to the Future night, I made, an admittedly poor, cardboard box DeLorean for the kids to sit in and my wife and I also got them all into the fancy dress as characters from the movie.
If you can imagine 3 kids all dressed up as Dr. Emmett Brown whilst all arguing over whose turn it was to sit in the DeLorean you will get a good feel for how it went. Not well, but practice makes perfect.
So, note to self: make 3 DeLoreans next time!
The theming doesn’t have to end with the fancy dress though, you can also apply a theme to the food and snacks on offer. If you want some ideas on what I mean, go check out my backyard movie night food suggestions.
4. Use a Pre-Reel to Keep Them Entertained
This tactic is most commonly used when your outdoor movie night is an all-ages show. When we throw movie nights for friends and family, often the kids will be running around like mad, constantly asking when the show is going to start.
The adults will be spending the pre-movie time making food preparations and catching up with each other, so it really helps if you can keep the kids entertained and in one place during this time.
This is where a pre-reel can help, but what is it?
All I do is have cartoons lined up which I will show on the movie screen before it’s completely dark and the movie begins. This tends to mean that all the kids at the event sit there, and in most cases will be trying to make out what’s on the screen if the sun still hasn’t set.
If you want some more ideas, take a read of this guide on how to throw the perfect backyard movie party.
5. Let the Kids Take Control
Kids love being in control, or at least mine do. It’s a constant battle of wills.
One movie night though, I simply gave up and let them take control of what they were watching, and low and behold, two hours of peace for mom and dad.
How did I do it?
I just hooked up “Netflix for Kids” on my laptop, ran it through the projector, and left them to it.
I still can’t quite understand why they didn’t want to watch Kevin Costner’s Waterworld with me.
6. Use an Interlude HalfWay Through
My kids struggle to sit still or concentrate for long periods of time, so what I like to do is offer an interlude at the halfway point of the movie.
This works great for the adults too, as they can go to the washroom, stock up on snacks, get a drink, and catch up with each other – after all, backyard movies are a social event.
And for the kids, they can get up and let off a little steam and stretch their legs.
But the real magic happens when I provide entertainment during the interlude period. I am going to come on to that tip next.
7. Play Party Games During the Interlude
I’ve stopped the movie at a good point around halfway through. Now it’s time to get the kids to burn off some energy and one of the best ways to do so is to play some games. It makes the night so much more fun too.
One of the easiest games to play during the interlude is musical chairs because you should have everything already in order to play.
You’ve got chairs, blankets, a sound system, and some form of media player. That’s all you need.
There are loads more movie night party games for kids you can play, but I like this one because it’s just so easy.
In the past, we’ve also had our kids actually provide entertainment for the adults during the interlude. If you have children who love to perform, then this could be their moment to shine.
We’ve had kids doing singing performances, playing instruments, telling jokes, and much more. It’s great for the adults too, and means that the children feel really involved with the night’s proceedings as they get to play an important part as well.
8. Make Your Own Tickets Which the Kids Collect
For many of the movie nights we’ve designed and printed our own custom movie invites and tickets. It adds a great touch to any party, the guests appreciate it, and it’s really simple to do. You can Google for some ideas easily enough.
We then get the kids involved by setting up a little ticket collection office, which again, could be made from cardboard. They then stand in it and are tasked with the responsibility of checking the tickets of all guests attending. It’s even better if you have your own red carpet leading up to it.
Believe me, my kids love this type of power over the adults, and it’s great fun seeing them get into the spirit of things with the grown-ups!
9. The Popcorn Toss Game
This is fun for everyone, but especially the kids. When you play the game is up to you, but the best time for us is during the interlude period halfway through.
All you need is, you guessed it, popcorn and a bucket.
To play, simply place the bucket away from the guests and see who can take turns to get their shot into the bucket. You can move the bucket nearer or further away depending on who is playing.
We will often give away little prizes to the kids, including things like glow-in-the-dark bracelets and glow-sticks – kids love this on a dark night.
But, if it’s anything like my family, then there’s every chance that the game will end up being a massive popcorn fight, but who cares, it’s brilliant fun.
10. Do an After Movie Quiz
My kids are competitive with each other, and I am sure yours are too.
Before the movie starts, I tell them that there will be a quiz about the film held afterward, with a special prize going to the winner.
This gives me a great opportunity to tell the kids that they will need to pay attention to the movie, and has helped keep disruption to a minimum when there’s a larger party of guests. I’ve lost count of the number of times the kids have caused havoc during a backyard movie party, and this has been one tactic which has really helped in keeping them a little more focussed and less disruptive during the night.
At the end of the movie, the quizmaster (i.e. me) gets up in front of the screen and holds a quiz with questions that only those watching the movie can answer.
For prizes, I advise having something for the runners-up too, as nothing spoils the buzz of a movie night quite like kids screaming and complaining that they didn’t win a prize. The neighbors certainly appreciate this!
11. Camping Out Overnight Under the Stars
Our kids love to sleep outdoors, and so occasionally we will put up tents in the backyard for the movie night. The children can either watch the movie from inside their tent, poking out of the doors or can retire to sleep there in the evening.
Camping out back after an outdoor movie night is a truly magical experience, especially if it’s on a warm summer’s night.
I recall one night we did this after watching The Goonies. The kids love the escapades in the movie, and this only seemed to extend their enjoyment of watching a film all about a gang of kids having an amazing adventure.
If you need any more reasons to watch a movie during the summer, then take a look at my best ever reasons (and excuses!) as to why you should throw a summertime outdoor movie party.
So, there you have it, those are my ways in which you can make a backyard movie night more fun and entertaining for the kids.
There are hundreds of more ideas on the Outdoor Movie Projectors website which you can use if you want to plan a great night, or just need information on what the best equipment is to purchase.
For beginners, you might want to read this post which shows you how you can set up everything you will need for less than $400.
If instead, you want to look at all of the different aspects involved such as projectors, screens, and more, then the recommended gear section would be a better place to start.
I’ve listed products for all budgets, so hopefully, you can get up and running in no time at all and find everything you need at an acceptable price.
Good luck, and all the best with your movie night!