Camping at home as a family.
It’s time to go camping. Time to get out of the house, sleep under the stars, get a change of scenery and have a family adventure — with all the comforts of home. No poison oak, no need for non-perishable foods and even better, no crowds when you go backyard camping.
I was reminded of the joys of backyard camping when my adult daughter and her husband, attempting to keep their own preschool daughter amused during the COVID-19 pandemic, set up their beach shelter in the yard, along with a special little chair and table. My granddaughter lounged in the chair, insisted on taking her meals there and playing with her building sets and little toys there — everything was more special in her “tent.” And because young children sometimes find sleeping outside in the dark a little scarier than they had expected, there’s always the advantage with backyard camping of making it just day camping and heading inside when that feels uncomfortable.
If you have a tent, by all means, go ahead and set it up. If not, don’t let that stop you. In weather as mild as Orange County’s generally is this time of year, sheets and poles can be jury-rigged into a tent. Furnish it with beach chairs for daytime use and if you’re overnighting, bed down with a combination of any of the following — foam or air mattresses, sleeping bags or blankets. Or drape sheets or tarps on top of and around the sides of a pergola for an outdoor shelter feeling. Beach shelters work well and are easy to set up.
But camping is made of more than just a tent. You’ll want some traditional campout foods as well. Hotdogs or sausages work particularly well because kids can participate in the meal prep — carefully supervised — by cooking the meat on a long stick. Grilling on an outdoor barbecue or fire pit if you have one is of course the preferred way to go. And it hardly counts as a campout without s’mores or at least some marshmallows to roast.
Before you put the bedding down, if the meal isn’t too messy, let the kids eat in the tent or shelter. For unknown reasons, this makes the food taste about 10 times as good.
So far, we’ve got sleeping, eating and lounging down, but camping is also an active pastime, meant for appreciating nature. No problem, as long as you’re prepped.
Set the bedding down outside the tent, turn out any lights and lie town to tune in to the star show. If you’re familiar with the night sky at this time of year, great, but if not, look up the information and come prepared to point out some constellations and other features. One good source of information is timeanddate.com/astronomy/night.
One thing I learned during the pandemic was to pay more attention to the birds in and around my yard. I would sit outside and listen to birdsong like I’d never heard before, probably because so few people were around to frighten them off. I brought out binoculars to get a close-up look and was amazed by the variety of feathered life so close to me. Grab a bird guide if you have one around, and in daytime, look around and see what you’ve got. It helps to have a bird feeder around. One recent day, I was thrilled by the sight of a large, red-shouldered hawk sitting quietly in my neighbor’s tree. He was so still and blended in so well, I never would have noticed him if I hadn’t been spending the quiet time to look.
Nature Treasure Hunt
Go around the garden carefully and methodically with your child, bringing a basket or bag, to see what you can find. Pill bugs? Feathers? Squirrels or rabbits? Interesting rocks? Flowers worth a close-up look? Leaves of different shapes? Observe any insects or animals where they are, leaving them be. But inanimate bits of nature can be collected in your basket. If your hunt turns up some smooth rocks and you have some paint on hand, your children can create designs and hopeful messages, and later on, leave them around the neighborhood for others to find. Or with glue and some yarn, pipe cleaners, googly eyes or other art supplies, they can turn the rock into a creature real or imagined. With glue and a piece of heavy paper, children can create a nature collage of their other findings.
Don’t forget the camping classics of campfire songs and stories. Unless your kids are older and into a good scare, avoid spooky tales — a fright could ruin the whole experience, and many children have had more than enough stress in recent months from sheltering-in-place. Make sure not to keep the songs going too late as well. You’re not really out in wild spaces and neighbors are going to object to late-night noise more than owls do.
— Karin Klein