How to go Camping in Your Backyard

Sure, vacations are fun, but discover the oasis right at home!

Backyard camping
Want to try camping, but not sure if your preschooler will like it? Try camping in the backyard first!. Steven Puetzer

Looking for a low-key way to relax and have fun with your preschooler, all while experiencing the great outdoors? Try camping. But instead of packing up the car or trailer with supplies and food, and anything else you might need, try heading out your front door and settling in your own backyard.

For preschoolers who have never “roughed it” before, camping in the backyard is a great solution. They’ll get to see what the experience is like, with the comforts of home literally steps away.

It’s a great, relaxing, and low-stress way to try something new before you actually pitch a tent at a campground that is far away from home.

In fact, backyard camping is very popular. Each year, the National Wildlife Federation hosts the Great American Campout, a summer-long celebration that is kicked off Great Outdoors Month in June, and Great American Campout day on June 27. This year, supporters of NWF have pledged to support $1 for every person who participates in the Great American Campout, up to $100,000.

Take the pledge to camp -- in your backyard, your neighborhood, your local parks, state parks, and national parks, cabins, RVs, tree houses… you name it! -- and be a part of our nationwide event,” said the group in a press release. “Everyone should get outside at least once this summer and connect with nature and wildlife.  The body, mind, and spirit benefits from outdoor play are well-documented and numerous and create a lasting connection to nature and wildlife that will help you have a happier, healthier family.”

Whether you decide to camp in your backyard on the Great American Campout day or anytime during the summer, there are some things you can do to make the experience a lot of fun for your preschooler. That way, when you are ready to head to a campground a way from home, you’ll all be ready!

Set Some Rules

The adults participating the backyard campout should decide ahead of time what things are off-limits.

Will backyard campers be allowed to use the bathroom inside the house? That’s probably ok, but what about other comforts of home such as the television or the refrigerator? If you are camping out in your backyard for fun, you can be more relaxed, but if this is a true trial run to see if camping is right for your family and preschooler, you may want to take a strict approach to home-based technologies we use every day. Sure, it might be silly to fill your cooler with juice boxes, ice, and sandwiches when you have a fridge full of food just steps away, but if you want an authentic experience, that is the way to go.

Scout Out Your Campsite

Just as you would any campground, evaluate your camping space to figure out the best place to pitch your tent. For example, you’ll want to be mindful of any water hazards – at a campground it might be a river, in your backyard it is more likely a pool – that your preschooler might be tempted to wander near. If you have a barbecue or a fire pit in your backyard, you’ll want to be aware of those too.

Before you start your “journey,” remind your preschooler of the safety rules that you have in place all the time, and explain that since you are spending the night outside, it is more important than ever that they follow them.

Let Your Preschooler Help With Setup

The nice thing about backyard camping is that you don’t have to travel very far. So setup can happen whenever you want it to. When it comes time to pitch your tent and set up camp, let your preschooler get involved. Again, by letting your preschooler participate in the process, everyone will get an authentic experience, and you’ll get a good sense of what is involved if you decide to go camping at a campground someday.

Have Fun

You already know your surroundings, so you can spend your time making the most of where you live. Have a campfire or go for a flashlight walk in your neighborhood. To add excitement and authenticity, surprise the kids with things you do if you were camping at a campground. Roast marshmallows or make s’mores. Sing songs around the campfire. Bring fun things to play with such as butterfly nets or glow sticks for after-dark excitement. Climb the tree in your backyard, read books by firelight, or tell each other stories (scary stories can be replaced with funny jokes).

A backyard camping trip can be a trial run for a future camping trip at a campground or simply another way to have fun and bond as a family. No matter what your ultimate intentions are, enjoy the journey along the way.

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