50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Kids Do): Sleep in the Wild

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50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Kids Do): Sleep in the wild

Task: Challenge your fear of the dark and sleep without the comfort of walls and electricity.



  • Sleeping Bag or Blankets
  • Sleeping Pad (optional)
  • Pillow (optional)
  • Flashlight
  • Tent (optional)

Possible Hazards:

  • Bugs
  • Cold
  • Vermin

How It All Went Down:

I’ll begin by clarifying that in Gever Tulley’s book, his illustration and description of sleeping in the wild does not include a tent.   It’s pretty much just you and your sleeping bag in the great wide open.  A little background information for you:  Mike and I were not raised in camping families.  Neither of us has ever camped, let alone just spread a blanket outside to sleep with all of God’s great (and not-so-great) creatures.  No, we like our comfy beds, air conditioning, running water and critter-free abodes.  So when I saw this as one of the challenges, I knew we had a choice.  We could skip it altogether or we could do it as close to the wild as possible.  For us, this meant having a tent between us and the great outdoors.  Call us out if you will, but I think a thin piece of nylon between us and everything else totally counts as sleeping in the wild.

We spent a night at Paynetown State Recreation Area on the shores of Lake Monroe.  I’ll be writing in more detail about our very first camping experience in a few weeks, as it ended up being one of the best family experiences we’ve ever had.

We had two tents and the genius idea to put the kids in one and the adults in the other.  If we were going to have to sleep on the ground, the least we could do was spare ourselves the added discomfort of little arms and legs flailing about.  We had excellent weather – not too hot, not too cold, and dry.  Before sleeping outdoors you definitely want to look at the weather in-depth and prepare accordingly.  A tarp underneath your tent or sleeping bag will prevent dampness from seeping through.

We were not far from a restroom facility at the campground, but far enough that you wouldn’t want to walk there in the middle of the night.  We made a pit stop just before climbing into our tents, but kept toilet paper in the tent in case nature called before dawn.  A flashlight within arm’s reach is a necessity.

It’s amazing how quickly kids can fall asleep when they’ve been immersed in nature all day and when there are no distractions at night.  It took me a little longer.  Beyond noticing how dark it really is away from the cities and suburbs, I was amazed at how in tune you become to sound.  It felt like I could hear every bug, bird, leaf and breeze.  It’s disconcerting at first, imagining what’s making each of those sounds, but soon it became very soothing.  I found that instead of falling asleep with my mind going a hundred miles a minute rehashing the day, I fell asleep with a clear head.

The kids slept like logs.  We had to wake them up the next morning so they wouldn’t miss breakfast.  Mike and I slept more fitfully, but we are also old and not nearly as limber.

It’s definitely something we’ll spend more time doing together as a family.  Next time we’ll probably bring an air mattress instead of sleeping bags and pads.  So maybe it’s not exactly what Mr. Tulley meant by braving the wild, but we definitely conquered our fear of sleeping in the great outdoors.  I’ll call it a victory!

Are you a camping family?  A glamping family?  Or do you prefer solid walls and the comforts of home?  Would you try sleeping outdoors just for the sake of giving your kids the experience?

You can read about the rest of our experiences with 50 Dangerous Things. Inspired by Gever Tulley’s book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do).



  1. Ahhh Camping with Children, One of my very favorite things to do in the whole world. I am glad you jumped in this summer. What a glorious activity to bond with your children.
    If possible start camping with them as infants and by the time they are five they will be wanting to sleep outdoors by themselves without a tent. To get children sleeping under the stars the best way to get them comfortable with it is to start them in your own backyard.
    This summer I was camping in Yosemite and slept outside under the stars away from my compatriots in their tents (Part of an after-conference tour from our Children Learning with Nature Training Institute in early June). Now there are bears in Yosemite which is a concern, but we were down in Wawona where the frequency is pretty low. Oh how many stars there were laying out in an open meadow. Shooting stars every half hour of so. Listening to the birds as you did.
    Beyond stars and tents (Or lack thereof) there is just the fabulous opportunity to explore new places in detail and really become part of nature instead of looking at it through car or hotel windows. Cooking outdoors over a fire or on a camp stove, the magic of campfire stoves, songs and of course s’mores (With an adult beverage infused hot chocolate for the big folks).
    You know its easy to get started- Outdoor gear places rent tents and sleeping bags, or better yet borrow from a friend. memorize some new jokes, songs, and stories for the campfire times. It’s a great opportunity to share with other families as well.
    It’s not over yet for this year- Fall is a great time to camp so please get out there with your children.

    • Wow, camping in Yosemite! We’re going to dream big and add that to our list! Thanks for all of your great pointers. I just found out that REI rents camping gear. I just love that there are so many resources in place to make camping easy for anyone who wants to try it. Thanks, Paul!


  1. […] Earlier this week I wrote about how we checked yet another adventure off the list of 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do). This time around it was “Sleep in the Wild.” […]