As a parent, ensuring your children are safe from harm is a top priority in life. While it’s important to educate and prepare yourself for emergencies or impeding danger, your kids may not always be with you and rely on your survival instincts. Would they have the knowledge and skills to get by on their own if they were faced with a dangerous situation in the wilderness? If the answer is no, then it’s in your children’s best interest to teach them some basic survival skills.
Even if you don’t already have a lot of knowledge about wilderness survival skills, that’s OK. This is the perfect opportunity to learn together and bond. On your next camping trip or hike, you can make the process fun for everyone by teaching and practicing together. Here are some of the best ways to educate your children about survival while involving the whole family.
Best Approaches to Teaching Survival to Kids
- Involve and educate them: To keep your children interested in all the important survival information you’re teaching them, make sure to involve them in the entire process. You can let them help you create a survival kit as you explain what items are included along with their purpose. Educate your kids on the various environments they could face in the wild, and use engaging pictures or videos to support your points.
- Answer their questions: Depending on the situation or environment, your children may need further explanation if they don’t understand a particular survival procedure. Be sure to leave time for their questions to create a dialogue that will help them feel more included and informed. You can even use this as an opportunity to let your kids do more research to understand the parts of survival they have an interest in. Just make sure you’re monitoring and guiding them to reputable wilderness survival sources.
- Make it interactive: Some children understand information better when they can have a hands-on or visual experience. A great way to use this tactic is to talk about various survival scenarios on your next family camping trip or make a game out of it by testing them in a controlled environment. You can take a hike and teach your kids what to do if they ever get separated from the group or even construct an emergency shelter together at your campsite. By doing so, they will see firsthand how important it is to know survival skills if they ever find themselves in a similar situation.
No matter which type of teaching your children enjoy the most, you should ensure they learn the most basic survival skills to stay safe in the wilderness.
Basic Survival Skills Your Children Should Know
There is an immense amount of information on wilderness survival available to teach your kids. Ensuring they know about the following basic survival tactics will give them a foundation to grow from and learn more.
1. Situational Awareness
One of the most essential survival skills to know, but also one of the most challenging ones to teach, is situational awareness. The key to surviving a wildlife emergency is understanding the situation you are in and knowing how to react. You can explain to your children how to stay calm and level-headed in any circumstance by helping them develop their natural survival instincts. However, it’s important to reassure your kids that fear is the natural reaction in an emergency, and it’s perfectly normal to feel that way.
Teaching your children to make use of all their senses, know their exits and look for alert signals can help them become more aware of their surroundings and understand their situation. Tell them that panicking can lead to making rash decisions. Remaining calm and staying put if it’s safe would be best and could help them get rescued.
For certain situations, you can even help them recognize the signs of danger by roleplaying. As an example, have your kids pretend they are lost or stranded in the woods. Make sure they stay where they are, telling them to find a nearby tree or rock to “befriend” that they can name and talk to so they keep calm until help arrives. This is a great way to practice staying calm and in one spot until relief comes.
Since it’s not always possible to leave and find help, it’s important to teach your children how to signal for aid if they are stuck somewhere. Sometimes, yelling can waste precious energy, and it’s possible people nearby won’t be able to hear the victim anyway.
The best way to ensure your children can signal for help is to equip them with a whistle. They should blow it three times to indicate they need help. You can practice with your kids by teaching them the international emergency whistle signal of three short blows. Have them practice this pattern as loud as they can and then have them wait until they hear your response. If your kids hear other calls or whistle blasts, have them repeat the exercise until they make contact with the searcher. Doing so will help your children learn the best signaling practices while getting the entire family involved.
Your children can also carry a mirror or other reflective item they can use to signal passing helicopters and planes. Another way your kids can signal for help is by starting a fire. Depending on the situation and the materials your kids have at their disposal, this can be an extremely helpful survival tactic. Fire has a variety of uses other than for signaling.
[Editor’s note: Breaking branches is another great way to draw attention.]
3. Starting a Fire
Not only can fire be used to attract attention, but it’s also one of the most vital survival skills due to its versatility. Knowing how to start a fire is essential to wilderness survival because it provides warmth and is a way to purify water and cook food. Teach your kids the basics of starting a fire. Show them how to find spots away from the wind, where to find kindling or tinder, and how to keep the fire burning. Fire safety knowledge is a vital part of this skill. Although the majority of children know not to play with fire, they may not know other fire safety tips.
Generally, after building a fire, you should ensure it is completely out before you leave . Ask your child if they know this, and if not, teach them a few ways they can put out the fire they created.
In addition to starting a fire, constructing a shelter is another critical survival skill your children can use to protect themselves from the elements. Teach your kids that retaining body heat is a necessary part of survival. They can do so by creating a refuge out of layers of leaves, tarps or tree branches, or even staying in caves or hollow trees while they wait for help.
As important as it is to build a shelter, it’s even more vital to ensure your children know they should not hide. Concealing themselves within a makeshift shelter could lead to searchers not finding them in the wilderness. Kids should be taught that if they create a refuge for themselves, they need to leave a highly visible marker of their presence. It should be in the open and easily visible to searchers.
Self-defense comes in many forms, whether it’s learning about gun safety and use, exploring different types of martial arts or knowing what to do when faced with a wild animal. Basic knowledge can give your children confidence when faced with a dangerous situation and the comfort that they know how to protect themselves.
As they gain more understanding about shooting or using knives, they can use these skills to hunt for food in the wild. Depending on your area, you and your children can enroll in hunter-trapper education classes together to start conversations about firearm handling and safety.
In general, humans can survive up to three weeks without food. However, it’s impossible to go more than a few days without water, because the human body can only tolerate a 1-2% loss before problems arise. Your children should be able to find both food and water so they can replenish their energy in emergencies. As you hike and camp together, teach your kids how to find natural water sources like streams or creeks and purify what they’ve discovered.
That said, your children might not always be able to get a fire started to heat the water or find something to boil it in. Regardless, it’s better that your child is alive and ill from contaminated water than dying of dehydration. If possible, teach your kids how to recognize which streams are likely cleaner, or even what to do if it rains so they can collect the rainwater for drinking or cleaning.
Foraging for food is another necessary survival skill for your kids to know. Having local edible plant foraging skills can be incredibly helpful for your children, as some of them even have medicinal properties. However, it can be difficult for children to discern one plant from another when caught in an emergency. Eating wild plants and berries might not be wise if they aren’t sure it is safe to consume.
The same goes for wild animals, as they could carry different diseases or be generally unsafe to capture and cook. You can find a reputable foraging guide online that describes the differences between safe and poisonous foods to educate yourself and your children on the best practices.
8. Insulating Clothing
Another essential wilderness survival tip is insulating your clothes to prevent hypothermia in cold-weather areas or during a snowstorm or rainstorm. Since children are smaller in size it puts them at a higher risk of cooling off too much, especially when exposed to the elements. Instructing your kids on how to create insulation in their clothes can make all the difference when they’re in an emergency. When they feel cold, they should find vegetation they can stuff in their clothing to provide extra layers.
To make this lesson more interactive, make a game out of it by telling your kids they’re going to turn themselves into a scarecrow or stuffed animal. Have your children tuck their pants into their shoes and shirt into their pants for maximum insulation. Then, they can fill both articles of clothing with the leaves. Even if they’re wearing a summer outfit, they can still stuff their shirt to keep their torso warm.
9. First Aid
Knowing conventional first aid treatments can come in handy if your kids are injured or develop a health problem during an emergency. Teach your children what to do when faced with insect stings, blisters, cuts and scrapes, altitude illness and other medical issues they may encounter in the wild.
When your family creates a first aid kit, make sure to include bandages, scissors, gauze, alcohol pads, rubber gloves, cotton balls and cotton swabs. As you gather the materials, teach your kids about each item’s purpose and how they can use them. That way, if your children should ever need to treat a wound or other health problem, they already have a basic knowledge of common first-aid practices.
Better Safe Than Sorry
Although it’s scary imagining your children in a dangerous situation, it’s best to help them develop skills so they are prepared for any situation. In generations past, kids learned these skills in their everyday lives. Take the extra step and practice these exercises with your children in pretend scenarios so they have the same level of survival knowledge.
If your children face a life or death experience in the wild, you can have some peace of mind knowing they at least know the basics you taught them. These are skills that will last a lifetime, and someday, they may teach their own children too!
[Note: This was a guest post.]