I think we can all agree on the importance of teaching our children survival skills. No matter if you live in in the middle of urban sprawl, a suburban neighborhood, or way out in the sticks, children should learn at least some of the basics.
Many parents struggle with ideas of how to occupy their kids during the summer months. How about setting up a summer survival camp? You don’t need to have acres of woods to do it, either. Instead, here are some things you can teach no matter where you live.
Start right in your own backyard with a compass and show your kids how to find north. Add in a street map of the area and use it to illustrate how they can use the compass and map together to find locations. Once they can handle that, branch out by taking them to a park and have them lead you back to the parking lot or to some landmark.
This is definitely an age-appropriate lesson, of course, but anyone who ventures out into the wilderness should be able to reliably start a fire under various conditions. Show them different fire builds as well as several tools to use in lighting the fire, such as matches, ferro rods, and magnifying glasses. Primitive fire starting, like bow drills, are also encouraged.
Y’know, while you’re at it, go ahead and pull out a fire extinguisher and show the kids how to properly put out a fire in an emergency.
Open Fire Cooking
Nothing beats a meal that has been cooked over an open flame. Let the kids help you prepare an entire meal outside, preferably without using a gas or charcoal grill. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy. Pick up an old Boy Scout manual or a book on camping at the library for many ideas of what you can prepare for dinner.
If you aren’t overly familiar with the animal tracks in your area, pick up a book at the library and learn along with your kids. While you aren’t going to fully learn the art and craft of tracking in any book, you can start by learning and teaching how to identify the various tracks you will find in your area. By knowing the types of wildlife in your area, you’ll be better able to judge what you might be able to put on a plate if push comes to shove.
This is not something to be approached with anything other than extreme caution, of course, but teaching your children at least a few of the edible plants in your area is both fun and educational. No matter where you live, there will be something growing that is edible. Consider contacting your local university extension office to see if they might have a class available during the summer.
When I was a kid, we just called this building forts. This sort of lesson works best out in the woods but you can improvise in the backyard if need be. Show your children different ways of building quick shelters, such as debris huts and lean tos. If you lack a forest, use an emergency blanket and some rope to make a small pup tent. The idea is to illustrate different ways they can keep out of the elements in an emergency.
Signaling for Help
I always suggest children (and adults for that matter) have a whistle in their pocket or around their neck when heading into a wilderness area. The sound of a whistle carries for much longer distances than shouting, plus it doesn’t give you a sore throat. Other signal tools include mirrors and, at night, glow sticks tied to rope. For the latter, you attach the activated glow stick to three feet or so of cord or rope. Spinning the glow stick in a circle in front of you creates a glowing circle that is easily seen at great distances.
Something to bear in mind with these suggestions, as well as others you may come up with on your own, is that you need not be an expert or professional to set up these sorts of activities. If you don’t know how to do this stuff yourself, you’ll best learn by doing rather than just reading about it. Get outside with your kids and practice these skills and others, side by side.