Taking on nature-deficit disorder

With warm weather finally here, it’s time to experience the great outdoors from the safety of your own backyard. June 28 marks the Great American Backyard Campout—a great way to introduce your kids to nature without having to give up the benefits of home.

The National Wildlife Federation can help even novice campers get started. The Web site, www.backyardcampout.org, has packing lists, recipes, nocturnal wildlife guides, exploration activities and nature guides. People can even sign up on the site to share their campout plans and experiences.

Last year thousands of families across the country participated in the campout. If you’re ready to give it a try this year, all you need is a tent, sleeping bag or other warm sleeping items and a tarp to cover the ground under the tent, says Eliza Russell, director of education programming for the National Wildlife Federation."You only need the basics to get started for the first time. Because you’re at home, food is inside and so are food utensils, although you can take them outside, too.”

One of the things families love most about the campout is the chance to re-engage with kids, without any electronic devices to distract them."It’s just them with their kids,” Russell says."And they never realized how much wildlife is in their backyard at night.”

Even in urban and suburban areas, kids can listen to the sound of crickets or hear birds that only call out at night or at dawn.

Some families invite extended family members or friends to the campout, so it becomes a community event as well, Russell says.

If the experience goes well, Russell encourages families to try a night at a campground or try camping in a different season. The National Wildlife Federation has a Web site with weekly activities for families to experience a"green hour” in nature. Activities and reading lists change every week and give parents a guide to the great outdoors with kids.

For more information, visit www.greenhour.org or www.backyardcampout.org.

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