Camping in a backyard rather than out in the wilderness might not seem like camping at all for the backcountry set, but it’s a great place to start if you’re trying to raise a child for greater adventures. A night out in the backyard can foster a sense of adventure and a positive relationship with nature, even if it’s a decidedly low-level, tent-centric affair. Backyard camping offers a way to get out of the ordinary without the ordeal or packing. Again, it’s no replacement for the original, but it’s a huge step on the way to the next step on the road to a distant wilderness.
Plus, it’s fun. For kids, backyard camping offers relief from sensory overload (being in front of the screen all the time) and a chance to experience the night, which is a far country for those with bedtime schedules, in a whole new way. However, for backyard camping to work, it is important to establish a few ground rules. So paternal asked Cody Lundin, founder of the Aboriginal Living Skills School, and Todd Christopher, an environmentalist, writer and educator who leads the Green Hour campaign, which aims to get children outside regularly, to do just that.
The following seven rules recommend their guidelines for a successful backyard camping “trip.”
1. Let the children set up the campsite.
Todd Christopher says the most important thing is to make sure those early backyard camping experiences are as positive, stress-free, and easy-going as possible. “You always want to plan in a way that takes basic safety into account, but your kids need to feel part of it. When you set up the tent, you make it take twice as long because you let your kids assemble the tent poles and tie in the pegs and lay out the bedrolls. Let them go as far as they can.” The more opportunities a child is allowed to take on, the more they will enjoy the great outdoors.
And the more they will learn from it. “We have to remember that adults move in the world at a certain pace, and for a child it’s a different pace. We should adapt our expectations to this pace.”
2. Make sure the tent feels secure.
Cody Lundin thinks that setting the true rules for how kids and parents should live in the wild does a lot for young kids, no matter how small the backyard camping trip. And the start is to explain correctly that the tent is not only where they sleep at night, but also what protects them from potential dangers such as bad weather or bugs.
“Your child immediately understands what Shelter does. When the child sees that the tent is a home, camping becomes less of a threat to children.”
3. Emphasize practical skills.
Depending on how outdoor savvy a parent is, camping outdoors is an opportunity to get down to basics when it comes to survival skills. If a parent wishes, this could be a time to teach a child how to treat water, use the outside bathroom, dispose of waste properly, and look for food. But even if those skills seem to exceed a parent’s interest — after all, the toilet is literally right inside — there’s an opportunity to model at least the basics, like leaving no trace after you’ve cleaned up the campsite.
“The kid should be trained as if they were real, because if you train sloppily, you perform sloppily,” says Lundin, who suggests asking young campers a series of questions. “How do we properly put out this fire? How do we deal with the remains left by the fire? How do we properly dismantle and store this tent?”
4. Start as soon as possible, but don’t force it.
Paradoxical as it is, parents should realize that time to foster a love of nature is limited and that it’s best to take it slow so kids are comfortable out there.
“Not to be entirely sentimental, but just recognize the fact that parents only have a limited amount of time before their child’s friends and peers have a bigger day-to-day influence than you do,” says Christopher. “It’s different when a child has already had the experience of going outside, getting their hands dirty, or getting grass stains on their knees.” Just as children develop language on a specific timeline, Christopher believes that a Comfort and love of nature are most ingrained when built at a time when children are most receptive. “You can’t catch up.”
5. Know the fire code. Cook accordingly.
It is important to understand fire restrictions and codes in the neighborhood. While some neighborhoods are very fire site friendly, others are not, and the prolonged drought has tightened fire restrictions in arid regions. However, if the backyard campsite is in an active fire protection zone, there are alternatives.
Once on a fire shelter camping trip, Lundin and his buddies brought a small hibachi grill for the ride. “You can get it at a thrift store for about two dollars. They sit a foot off the ground and you can sit around and have a BBQ. The danger is contained, it is not on the ground, the clean-up work is uncomplicated. And you can still break out the goodies. And pulling out the charcoal or gas grill isn’t the end of the world either. It’s all about getting the marshmallows to boil, after all.
6. Remember that there are real backyard hazards.
With the tick population skyrocketing in the Northeast and the increasing dangers associated with mosquitoes like West Nile and Zika, it’s important to remember that children don’t have to be in the absolute wilderness to be physically harmed.
“Safety first,” says Christopher. “It’s an unfortunate reality to be prepared for. Climate change and habitat loss is that perfect storm happening on the east coast, where tick prevalence is going through the roof right now. You have to be prepared for that.” In other words, bring the insect repellent, dress appropriately for the outdoors, and check at the end of each day to make sure there aren’t any ticks.
7. Keep the interiors indoors.
“One thing that solidifies a camping trip, for better or for worse, is the darkness. When the sun goes down and you’re sitting around your little campfire, despite the fact that you’re in a Baltimore backyard, all you should see is your dad, mom, and little brother,” says Lundin. Ensuring activities follow the sun’s rays is a great way to make kids feel like they’re truly in the wild, but it’s also a great way to bond with family and kids over a shared experience.
“Kids have bright faces all the time,” says Lundin. He recommends that to minimize the amount of unnatural light around the campground and increase the sense of wonder, parents should turn off all lights in the house when the sun goes down, turn off the flashlights, sit around the campfire and get started Tell stories.
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