Expeditions Behind the House Can Provide Teachable Moments for Young and Old Alike
Ah, those were the days. A pup tent stands pitched behind the house, just yards away from the safety of the back door. You’re 11 years old and about to embark on a great rite of passage: sleeping outdoors for the first time ever.
You’ve skillfully supplied the small shelter with sleeping bag and flashlight. Your chest is puffed out with pride as Mom and Dad look on approvingly at your preparations. At the last minute you smuggle in a BB gun — to ward off any swamp monsters that might emerge in the middle of the night. Your tent is as impregnable as a fortress. Your bravado and determination are intact.
That is, while it is still daylight.
Then it gets dark. Bravado gives way to sheer terror as you sit up all night inside what is now just a flimsy nylon wedge as something making scary sounds circles around and around you. Your imagination reels.
Then, there’s all the flailing and screaming as your big brother pounces on the tent in the darkest hours of the night. The butt of the Daisy goes snap as you whack it on the monster’s noggin and beat a hasty retreat to the back door.
Which is locked. On purpose, by the monster/brother behind you now making heavy footfalls toward you. Freaked out and unashamed to show it, you somersault off the porch like a gold medalist, run around the house and make it inside the front door just as the monster attempts to reach in. You slam the door and lock it. Lights come on, and soon you’re breathlessly explaining why your brother has a bruised forehead and is locked outside.
Needless to say, your children’s backyard camping experience doesn’t have to turn out this way. In fact, it can be an enriching and rewarding experience.
First of all, it’s not expensive. You don’t have to spend money on gas or pay to reserve a campsite at some park. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, either. Your basic necessities are a tent, sleeping bag and a battery-powered light of some kind.
Of course, you can make your backyard camping venture as elaborate as you want. If you want to make a family adventure of it, set up a family-sized tent, build a fire circle, gather some chairs and marshmallows, and you’re set. If you have young children, you might even consider a “theme” and decorate the area around the camp with flags or artwork. Have the kids work on these projects days ahead of time so the anticipation of the campout becomes part of the fun and gives them something to look forward to.
Backyard camping is the perfect opportunity for the family to reconnect on a human level. Set up a series of games and challenges during the day that the whole family can enjoy — simple things that don’t require much planning. The types of games are limited only by your imagination, but don’t be afraid to say “no” to electronic games. Younger kids may enjoy simple games like hide and seek, while older ones might get a kick out of educational quests like bird watching, bug catching and stargazing.
Speaking of nightfall, don’t let the darkness encroach so quickly on your campsite. Kids can be genuinely scared of the dark. So, if possible, light up the area. Turn on the patio lights, or string up some holiday lights to add a festive (and secure) ambiance. Teach the older kids how to build and start a fire (and teach the younger ones not to play with it). Cook up some hotdogs for supper and make s’mores. Break out the old campfire songbook and have a sing-along. As the embers lift up and mingle with the stars, take turns telling stories and tall tales. Introduce your kids to folklore and legends. Tell them about how ancient people used to explain their world. Introduce to their minds a spark of inspiration that will give their lives a sense of wonder and fascination. If they take to it, camping out can become a lifelong activity.
Backyard camping can teach preparation, self-reliance and independence (if your child is determined to go it alone), and it can remind us all that the fundamental family circle is the root and cornerstone of all civilization.