Backyard camping: the proving ground

ONE SUMMER WEEKEND, eight families gathered on a camping trip, albeit one close to home. Actually, in my yard. We roasted hot dogs and enjoyed the freedom of having nowhere to go — that feeling that we are always looking for on vacation, but is hard to achieve with small children.

We camped, cooked and cleaned outside. The weather was imperfect, so we set up a tarp and played under it during a brief spell of rain. As hosts, my husband and I did have to run in and out of the house every so often, but mostly we grabbed pre-packed boxes of ingredients and utensils to prepare the meal fireside. Our goal was to be outside and share the pleasure of the work. Dishes were washed in a couple of tubs of water (actually my stock pots).

Some folks had trouble remembering how to set up a tent, or even the last time they used it. A family of four tried to squeeze into a two-person backpacking tent, a relic from the days when camping meant “I’ve got everything I need, I’ll see you in a week.” Mama and baby ended up inside the house.

Our yard became a testing ground for families that imagined they’d do lots of camping, but first needed to figure out how. We needed that, too, after years of intending to take the kids camping, but never quite finding the right time or place. Planning and packing can be exhausting, and sleeping in a tent with toddlers is no joke. Everyone needs a nap the next day.

Even if your summer didn’t include camping, the fall is an excellent time for a backyard test run, and even more fun if you invite a few friends to join. The shorter days make it easier to get kids to bed, and sunrise won’t wake them at 5a.m. Think of sitting by a fire with a hot cup of coffee in your hands, watching the world wake up, wearing a sweater against the morning chill. RAHELI HARPER