Even young children can enjoy backyard camping, and parents can provide a variety of outdoor activities that will help children feel more confident playing in nature.
Backyard Camping with Your Children
Backyard camping with children as young as three years old doesn’t have to involve sleeping outside all night. Instead, setting up a tent in your backyard is another way to encourage children to spend time outdoors.
For young children, the novelty of sitting in a tent while playing games or reading story books will add a new layer of interest to spending time outside. A tent provides a home base for backyard camping activities, and can also help children become more accustomed to the dark.
If you don’t have a tent, ask friends and family if they have one they no longer use, or check yard sales. Just make certain the tent doesn’t smell moldy.
However, the investment in a newer model is better if just for ease of set-up. Make sure the tent is large enough that your family can sit inside … they don’t have to all sleep in the tent. By keeping the tent simple and small, you are creating a special place for your children to explore backyard camping.
Introduce Kids to the Outdoors at Night
Set up a small tent in your backyard and let your children explore it during the daytime. Have a simple dinner in or just outside the tent one evening while it is still light. Then, some night, stay outside as it gets dark. Play a board game or read a book by the light of the lantern.
Shut off the light. At first, everything will seem extra dark until everyone’s eyes adjust. Describe the experience to your children because they may be frightened that they can’t see.
“I’m shutting off the light and things are very dark … I can’t even see you even though I’m holding your hand! I can hear insects making buzzing sounds way up in the trees where they are hiding.
Oh, now I can start to see some things. Wait! It’s your nose. Now I can see the white flowers in the garden and I can see the house. My eyes are adjusting to the dark and I can see better now, can you?”
Night vision will improve in approximately 15 minutes, although kids may not want to stay in the dark that long. It isn’t necessary to sleep outside overnight. Just being outside after sunset will be an experience for young children.
Exploring Sounds in the Night
Sit down and have everyone raise a fist. Urge everyone to be quiet. Each time someone hears a different sound, they should raise a finger. When everyone has spread their fingers, give each child and adult an opportunity to list what they heard; offer encouragement for kids who notice sounds no one else heard.
Try this while sitting outside the tent and then while inside the tent. Did the tent material make it more difficult to hear things? Although sounds may seem more frightening at night, encouraging children to identify what they hear helps to make the outdoors at night a common and friendly place.
Identifying Color with Night Vision
Stay away from artificial light for at least 15 minutes for your night vision to start to work better, 45 minutes for the full effects of human night vision. Try to avoid streetlights, outdoor lighting on or around your home, and even flashlights for 15 minutes.
Then, pull out a pack of crayons and have your child guess the colors. You could have your child scribble on an index card with a crayon, make her guess, and then you could use the crayon to write the child’s guess on the card. Try this with at least four or five crayons. When you go inside, have the child look at the results of the guesses.
You could also take scraps of construction paper, write the colors on the back of the pages before you go outside, and show them to your child after a few minutes in the dark. Kids find it funny how odd colors look because their eyes aren’t set up to see color without light.
Testing Night Vision
If you started outside before it got dark, you probably didn’t even notice your night vision starting to work. Try closing one eye and covering it with your hand and then shining a flashlight near the other eye for a couple of seconds. If you then switch between looking out each of your eyes, you will see what a difference night vision makes.
Young children won’t be able to keep one eye open and the other shut. You can cover your child’s eye with your hand or you can give them a party favor pirate patch to wear. Then, move your hand or the patch from eye to eye so your child can see how the eye that wasn’t exposed to light can see much better in the dark.
When your child is comfortable being outside at night, she’ll probably let you know by bringing up the topic of sleeping outside overnight. You should join young children in their sleep-out; when they are older they can invite a friend over for the night.
Enjoy Camping with Your Child
The activities listed above can help your child become more comfortable in the dark while exploring the sights and sounds of nature at night. You can get more ideas for backyard camping from the National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Backyard Campout.
National Wildlife Federation. Great American Backyard Campout. (2013). (Accessed April, 2013).