Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
As parents, we want to protect our children from harm. It’s in our DNA. So we diligently prepare for possible emergencies, and we educate ourselves on how to survive them.
Teaching your children to rely on you is a good thing, but we can’t possibly be with them at all times. Would your kids know what to do if they were on their own in a survival situation? If not, it’s time to teach your children some basic survival skills.
Your kids learn best by doing, so this spring and summer, make your camping and hiking excursions into opportunities to learn survival techniques. Even a walk in the woods can become a teachable moment as you share observations and information that could save their lives in a survival scenario.
Begin by pointing out various landmarks and geographic features that will help even young children orient themselves if they get lost. Asking “Did you notice that stream over there?” or pointing out “Look, the mountain still has snow on it” or “Here are some deer tracks” will help them to be more aware of their surroundings.
Now let’s look at the eight basic survival skills you can focus on.
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1. Building Shelter
Teach your kids about the importance of retaining body heat for survival. Most people wait too long to consider shelter for the night when they’re lost in the wilderness. As a result, they are tired, cold and hungry when darkness settles in and therefore lack the stamina needed to build a shelter.
Depending on the weather, it might be enough to make a bed out of a thick layer of leaves to keep your body from making direct contact with the ground. If it is rainy or cold, however, something more substantive is necessary.
Show them how to find temporary shelter in hollowed trees or in caves and go over ways they can construct simple structures out of tarps, tree branches and leaves.
Here are a couple videos to help:
2. Finding Water
Generally speaking, a human can survive three weeks without food but only a few days without water. Therefore, it is important to instruct your kids in how to find and purify water in a survival situation.
As you hike or explore the wilderness together, show them how water runs downhill and direct them to spots with streams or pools of water. Also, look for animal tracks that lead to water.
Here’s a helpful video on finding water in the wilderness.
And here’s some information on purifying drinking water in the wild.
3. Starting a Fire
Knowing how to start a fire can be essential to survival in the wilderness for three reasons. A fire provides warmth, it offers a way to cook food and purify water, and it helps rescuers find your location.
Teach your kids how to find a good spot away from the wind to start a fire and then how to find kindling (small pieces of wood), tinder (dry leaves and pine straw) and wood that will burn throughout the night.
Explain that logs that are dead and dry (but not rotten) and about the size of their lower arm will fuel a fire well. Demonstrate how to lay one end of a log on top of another so that air can flow through the stack, helping the fire to burn.
Here is a video you can watch that explains the process.
4. Foraging for Food
Children who are in a stressful situation will get hungry quickly, so teaching your children how to forage for food is very important.
Many plants are either poisonous or unpalatable, so it’s wise to begin with the basics found in a quality foraging guide. Choose one that has clear photos and descriptions of edible plants as well as of any deadly plants that resemble edible plants.
For example, elderberries are tasty and useful for health purposes, but they can be confused with water hemlock and pokeberries.
For more info, check out foraging.com or one of these helpful books:
- Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat
- Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Wild Edible Plants
- The Forager’s Harvest: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants
In addition, here’s a video that explains the foraging process:
5. Using a Compass and Map
Your kids are growing up in a world that is accustomed to GPS and Google Maps. These technologies and others like them are making forgotten arts of compass and map reading. However, if your children are lost in the woods or on a mountain, these “old school” skills could save their lives.
Here are a couple videos that can help get you started:
In addition to equipping your children with compasses, teach them to be observant of the terrain as they move about outdoors. Suggest they note the angle of the sun, landmarks, vegetation, topography, the pattern of stars in the night, winds and weather changes. It also is helpful for them to keep track of how long it takes to walk from Point A to Point B.
Demonstrate to them how to stay on a straight course by lining up two trees or two other landmarks ahead as they walk. If you begin to see the two trees separately, then stop to realign your position with them.
After reaching the second tree, repeat this exercise by lining up two new landmarks that lie directly in front of you. To verify your direction, you also can look backward at the two previous points.
Confidence in dangerous conditions can come from knowing how to protect yourself against a physical threat. Therefore, a key component of survival preparation for kids is self-defense training.
This education can come in many forms, including firearm and other weapon training, martial arts instruction and wild animal awareness and tactics.
Here are a few helpful videos on how to defend yourself from people, bears, and mountain lions:
7. First Aid
It’s never too early to show your kids how to clean and bandage a wound or how to make a simple splint. A good family project might be to make first aid kits with your children. Basic items to include are bandages, gauze, cotton balls, cotton swabs, scissors, alcohol pads, rubber gloves, safety pins, hand sanitizer and other small personal items.
Obviously, first aid is a pretty broad topic. If you’re not sure where to begin, check out this article on 9 important first aid skills.
8. Situational Awareness
One of the hardest things to describe, but one of the most important to learn in order to survive an outdoor emergency, is situational awareness. You can help your children develop an instinct or a mindset that will help them keep calm and level-headed in a crisis.
Discuss with them the fact that panic can cause them to make stupid decisions while remaining calm can help them get rescued. Use outdoor family excursions as a fun way to test their awareness of their surroundings and to test their skills.
You can even role play some scary situations. For example, if they are lost and hear the howling of wild animals nearby, remind them that they can arm themselves with weapons such as a long stick lighted with fire.
Or if darkness is nearing, encourage them to concentrate on finding or building a shelter. Discuss when staying put is the best option for rescue and when it is advisable to move to a safer location.
Your kids are just as smart and strong as the children of generations gone by that knew and practiced these survival skills. Those kids just learned the skills as part of their lifestyles. When you model for your children a survival mindset – one that says “I can handle this” – they will learn that they too are amazingly self-sufficient.
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