About 4 or 5 years ago we started a Labour Day weekend tradition. We wanted to be able to celebrate the unofficial last days of summer before school was to begin again. I’m a big believer in creating memorable experiences for my kids and family – without breaking the bank – and starting an annual backyard movie night was the perfect way to get a bunch of close friends and family together and enjoy our own backyard.
Backyard movie night ends up being an afternoon of water guns, water balloons and tag that stretches into a BBQ before it’s dark enough for the main feature. I love this idea and the kids love it too. And it’s surprisingly simple to do.
- a projector
- a screen
- something to play the movie
- a movie
- comfortable seating
We are lucky that one of my sister’s happens to have her own projector. I don’t know how she happened to own one but it saved us having to go out and buy one. If you don’t want to buy your own outright, you can check out your local library to see if it’s something they will let you rent out or borrow. If you work for a company that has one, you could ask to borrow it for the weekend. Or ask around to your friends, family and neighbours. They start at about $270 at Best Buy. It could be worth it depending on how often you use it. To help, consider splitting the cost with another family.
This is the really easy part. All you need is a white sheet that has been tightly secured to something. In our case, we just nailed the sheet directly to our back fence. You want to make sure that you pull the sheet tight across the full width and top to bottom. A saggy, winkled sheet will make for a saggy, winkled looking movie. When we first scoped out how we were going to do this, we even thought about using our playset. Just taking off the swings and nailing the sheet across the top and side. If you don’t have anywhere to affix a makeshift screen, consider an actual screen. Again, the local library might be able to help you with that. Have something else that is a clean white background? How about a garage door or even the back wall of your garage (cleared of anything of course!). It really doesn’t matter where or how pretty it looks. Once it gets dark, everyone will be watching the movie anyway!
This was the first year that we hooked up our android box to our laptop. This way we were able to screen pretty much anything we wanted. If you go this route you’ll want to make sure that your wifi signal is strong enough to reach you in your backyard (or front yard!). No android box? You could connect to Netflix or try a trusty DVD movie. The library (where else?!?) is the best source of movies for occasions like this!
Now all you need is sound. In addition to picture quality, sound is just as important. There are a couple of options. We usually just grab some small portable speakers that kids have and plug them in to our laptop. With the volume on these and the laptop turned up as far as it goes, we get the perfect level of sound. Loud enough for everyone on the grass in front of the screen (the kids!) and for the adults hanging out on the deck. Be mindful of the neighbours! Or invite them too!
It’s really up to you. We have a bit of an age range with the friends and family that join us for our backyard movie night. It was a little easier when my kids were younger because we could get away with some of the Pixar/Disney movies. As they are getting older now and younger cousins are joining the mix, it’s a little trickier to pick something that appeals to the 9, 10 and 11 year olds but is still suitable for the 4, 5 and 6 year olds. We’ve watched Back to the Future, Holes, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Up and The Princess Bride.
So you’ve got the screen, projector, sound and the movie all figured out. Now you need to figure out where everyone is going to sit. We will put out a few blankets on the ground with some pillows and extra blankets in case it gets chilly. We put out extra seating too – muskoka chairs, camp chairs. Make it fun! In some years we’ve also put up our tent a little to the side. Some of the kids will hang out and watch the movie from there.
Don’t forget the goodies! Nothing goes better with movie night than sweet treats. Use your imagination. We’ve popped corn and served it to the kids in paper bags. I’ve divided up treats like sour keys, pretzels, fruit loops and other things that have holes in them and given the kids string to make their own necklace treats. It gives them something to do while they are anxiously waiting for it to be dark enough to watch the big screen!
I’m thinking it might be fun to have an adult version of backyard movie night one summer. Gotta keep the grown ups happy too!