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Backyard Camping, Montessori Style

Ah, summer... When magic words like "sleep-over" and "camping trip" nudge the older child's inclination to stretch beyond their immediate circles... When younger children clamor to explore their immediate outdoors... When parents juggle schedules to make outdoor experiences available to all their children... immediately!

Explore top resources for family backyard camping.

Backyard camping may not be a new idea but it's still the easiest way to give children intimate access to those elements of the natural world they can see in their own backyards. There are hundreds of possible online resource pages for family camping. These were selected because they show parents how easy it really is to fit backyard camping into family life in a way that's meaningful to children.

1. Why? Backyard camping & NDD: Some would argue that Nature Deficit Disorder makes backyard adventuring a more important idea than ever. Hear an explanation of NDD by the author of Last Child in the Woods. Listen: Richard Louv audio interview...

2. Backyard camping & Practical Life: Good general tips for parents plus creative ways to involve young children in preparing for and setting up a backyard campout. Focus is on family camping with younger children. Read: "Are your kids begging you to take them camping..."

3. Summer Camp in your backyard: A bona fide camp director shares links to camp crafts and fun games suitable for the backyard, using supplies made from household materials. Read: "Find my favorites with added twists for do-it-at-home versions..."

4. Feeling brave? Group backyard camping blueprint: Other than the barbecue, children can manage most of these ideas independently. Invitations and cupcake-serving are perfect Montessori grace & courtesy activities. Read: "Plan a fun kid camping activity..."

5. Join the Great American Backyard Campout: How about a backyard campout on June 26? Register your campout with the National Wildlife Federation to access tips and resources -- our favorite is 16 campfire songs sung by an unnamed "Montessori Children's House." Did your child sing? Please visit us on Facebook and let us all know which school! Find: NWF Great American Backyard Campout Information...

Resources for park and wilderness camping with children

  1. The NWF Backyard Campout program also offers good tips for tent camping away from home.
  2. Go direct to the source for Smokey the Bear's official fire safety tips for children (and adults!).

The last word on the value of backyard camping belongs to Maria Montessori

"Set the children free, let them have fair play, let them run out when it is raining, take off their shoes when they find pools of water, and when the grass of the meadows is damp with dew let them run about with bare feet and trample on it; let them rest quietly when the tree invites them to sleep in its shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them up in the morning, as it wakes every other living creature..."
—Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child

No doubt Montessori would have approved of the back yard tent's reinvention as a little house, an outdoor laboratory, a nature discovery museum - in other words, a child-size place where children can experience and explore nature independently.

Q: What's makes a tent an "outdoor laboratory"?
A: The Montessori prepared environment.

As with all prepared environments, children will want an orderly space with places for their things. Baskets, totes, and trays with handles help children move things between tent and house. Organize provisions in a few containers that the children can pack and unpack, with your help if needed.

If there's room, try a low shelf from indoors for in-tent storage, or let the children decorate and label cardboard boxes to keep things in. A low table or stool can serve as a desk/work surface. From time to time, provide a new nature, science, or food preparation activity children can manage in the tent.

Many tents these days are easy enough for children to set up and take down. Even if you have to put it up yourself, let the children set up the interior. They'll be delighted and so intent on preparing their tent "just so" -- the packing and unpacking process can be as appealing as the tent itself.

What to pack for backyard camping Montessori-style:

Personal needs:

  • Personal water bottles (or a pitcher and cups)
  • Extra shoes and socks so children can change if they feel too wet or dirty
  • Food and utensils for simple snacks children can prepare
  • Snack plates and napkins
  • Tote or basket for transporting items back and forth from the house

Overnight needs:

  • Blanket and pillow or sleeping bag
  • Flashlight

Adventuring needs:

  • A basket of favorite books
  • A blank book or journal and colored pencils
  • Binoculars
  • Magnifier
  • Insect catch-and-release gear
  • Shovel or trowel
  • Containers and/or buckets for "samples"

With so many great ideas out there, it's hard to find a reason not to camp in the backyard. Whether you prepare an outdoor play room for everyday use or just fold a sheet over the clothesline and sleep overnight, nurturing and strengthening children's connections with the natural world will have a lifetime of impact, on our children, our community, and our planet.

—by J.A. Beydler for Montessori Services; Ms. Beydler is a nationally published writer, parent, and former day care owner/operator. Her articles have appeared in several regional parenting lifestyle publications and online.

—Originally Published 2010

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