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Backyard camping for beginners How to plan a night under the stars right in your own backyard

How to go backyard camping at home this summer
Photo: Solovyova / iStock / Getty Images Plus

If your kids love to build forts with blankets and pillows in the living room, they’re going to love backyard camping. Plus, we can’t think of better way to bond with dad on Father’s Day than by pitching a tent, making s’mores and sleeping under the stars together.

But s’mores are a bonus. You really only need two things to camp out in your backyard: a tent and good weather. “Being wet is miserable, and preventing it on a camp out, even with a tent, takes some experience and trial and error,” says Dr. Jim P. Boyce, Cubmaster with the National Capital Area Council Cub Scout Pack 1280.

Most new tents come with a tarp and a rain fly to help keep you dry. But you’re better off rescheduling if wet weather is in the forecast, especially if it’s your first time camping.

“The nice thing about backyard camping is you just come inside if anything goes amiss,” Boyce adds.

Keep warm and cozy

When choosing a “campsite” in your yard, avoid trees with branches that might fall on you overnight. Then pitch your tent with your children’s help and make it cozy with sleeping bags or blankets and pillows. For an even more comfortable slumber, consider blowing up an air mattress or two.

“Keep in mind the importance of staying warm underneath,” Boyce says. “So something insulating to go under you is as important as over you, even in spring, as the ground will tend to suck heat away from your body.” For extra insulation, Boyce recommends sleeping on top of a closed-cell yoga mat.

Before tucking in, slip on a pair of socks and a ski cap, which will help keep you warm if the temperature dips, and have a flashlight handy for the inevitable middle-of-the-night bathroom trip to the house. Boyce prefers red LED flashlights “so you can see but you don’t lose your night vision.”

Watch out for pests

When it comes to wildlife, you’re pretty safe in your backyard. Raccoons might investigate the campsite for food, but they, along with foxes and deer, aren’t likely to bother anyone. “A neighborhood dog getting loose is probably the biggest non-human mammal to worry about around here,” Boyce says.

Ticks, on the other hand, are cause for concern.

“These scourges are vectors for a long list of human diseases,” he says. The most well-known tick-borne disease, of course, is Lyme disease. To help prevent tick bites, Boyce recommends cutting grass short and spraying down your camping equipment with tick repellent a day before the overnight. Also, parents should get in the habit of checking kids any time they play, hike or camp outdoors.

“It’s hard to do, and even more so once the ticks find a hairline, but if you can catch them within a day or two of attaching and before the can engorge on blood then odds of transmission and consequent treatments is quite low,” say Boyce, who happens to be a medicinal chemist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Enjoy the nightlife

One benefit of camping is the opportunity for children to experience nature in a whole new way.

Take fireflies, for example. Firefly season starts mid-June and hits its peak around the Fourth of July; however, “a lot of kids may not notice how many fireflies there are out because they tend to come in and to go bed,” Boyce says. “But if you’re out camping in the backyard, it’s like Christmas trees lit up with fireflies.”

Kids may also catch a glimpse of bats hunting for mosquitoes at dusk or hear owls hooting at night.

“There’s a lot of nightlife to appreciate that I don’t think kids usually fully get because they’re indoors sleeping in bed,” he says.

And since no camp out is really complete with s’mores, Boyce has just one request: Use an old fashioned wooden stick, not a metal skewer, to roast those marshmallows.

“Kids and sticks and waving them around … inevitably, someone’s going to get poked with a red hot skewer,” he says. “Find a branch, find a stick. Much safer than metal.”

A version of this story appeared in the June issue of Washington FAMILY.

About PJ Feinstein

PJ Feinstein is the managing editor of Washington FAMILY. When she's not reporting, writing or editing, she's schlepping her two sons to their after-school activities or walking the family dog around the neighborhood. Despite being chronically sleep-deprived, she can't stop binge-watching TV and scrolling through her social media feeds late at night.

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