Camping is one of the favorite family summer activities, and for good reason. Camping is cheap, fun, and relaxing, and allows children some rare free time to be loud, dirty, and explore nature. This year while you are camping, consider using the time to teach your children important survival skills that make them feel more confident in themselves and help them to be safer outside. Here are some skills you can teach your children while camping:
You can teach your children how to safely forage for food once you have a good understanding of edible plants yourself. Remember, it’s always best to attend a class and learn from a professional, as many edible plants have poisonous look-alikes. Once you are certain of your skills, you can start teaching your children how to identify some plants. At this stage, it is best to stick to those plants that have few or no poisonous look-alikes, such as blackberries and strawberries. As an additional safety precaution, teach your children to never taste a wild plant until they have double-checked with you, to verify that it is, indeed, a safe edible variety.
In addition to learning which plants are safe, you should also learn something about ethical wildcrafting– how to pick each plant so that it will continue to grow, if possible, how to make sure you leave enough of each variety for wildlife to eat, and how to forage in a sustainable way. Also, verify that you aren’t picking protected or endangered species.
Starting a Fire
One of the most fun things you can teach your children while camping is how to start a fire. Having a campfire is one of the highlights of a camping trip, and lighting a fire is also a very practical skill to have. Teach your children how to safely start a fire using matches, a lighter, or other fire-starting tools. Also, teach them how to gather dry wood and kindling to keep the fire going. Once your children have mastered basic fire-starting they may want to go on to learn more difficult skills like how to burn wet wood, light a fire with a bow drill or a magnifying glass, and other similar methods.
Finding and Purifying Water
Learning how to find and purify water is a good survival skill. While it is important for children to understand that most of the water they will encounter in the wilderness is dangerous and potentially contaminated, it’s also important for them to learn how to purify that water and make it safe. Teach your children how to find a water source and how to purify it using boiling, filtering, or other methods to make it safe for drinking. Before you teach your children how to purify water and before you let them drink water. you have purified, make sure you have a good understanding of the process.
Today, with GPS directions on our phones most people have little experience using maps in their day-to-day lives. However, understanding navigation and how maps and compasses work can help children orient themselves in the world and get a better understanding of where they are. It can also help them in the future if they need to use a map to get somewhere. Children also get great satisfaction from using a map in the wilderness, always under the direction of an adult, of course.
Along with teaching your children navigation and how maps and compasses work you should teach them what to do in case they are lost. Make sure that your children know that when they are lost, they should not keep trying their way back to their campsite but instead should find a place to sit and wait for rescue. Search and rescue organizations and other experts often teach young children to “hug a tree” or “make a nest” to encourage them to stay in one place. They should also be taught to respond to shouts or whistles by yelling for help, and not to hide or avoid strangers in uniform when they are lost. Some children who are already lost and scared will hide from search and rescue personnel because they have learned to fear strangers.
One of the most fun parts of camping is cooking over a fire. Your children will want to take part in this activity and will enjoy eating food that has been cooked with their help in the great outdoors. Teach your children how to safely cook food over a fire or camp stove. This can include safe food handling, using utensils, how to avoid being burnt, and cleaning up afterward.
Some ideas for fun foods that children can easily learn to cook over a fire include:
- Scrambled eggs
- Meals in foil packets
- Baked potatoes
Camping is a good time to learn basic first-aid skills. Many young children are ready to learn basic first-aid skills such as cleaning wounds, applying bandages, and treating minor injuries. Older children and teens may be ready for more advanced skills, such as how to make a splint and how to handle deep wounds and head injuries. Consider having your older teens attend a basic CPR and first aid class if they are going to be spending any time alone in the wilderness.
While you are in the wilderness talk to your children about wildlife. Teach your children how to avoid dangerous wildlife such as bears, snakes, and insects. Making noise while hiking is one of the most effective ways to lower the risk of wildlife encounters because most wildlife naturally avoid humans. Teach your children how to respect wildlife, and that they should never feed or chase animals. Also, teach them never to place their hands inside holes or places they can’t see into.
You can also teach your children how to respond if they encounter wildlife, such as making noise or slowly backing away. Most of the time, animals are eager to avoid humans, but occasionally, mating or eating behaviors change the way animals act, and they can sometimes become aggressive. For example, normally shy elk can become aggressive during the rut, or mating season, and bears are often grumpy during the spring when they are coming out of hibernation. Learn more about this by attending a ranger talk at your local state park, national forest, or national park.
By teaching your children these survival skills, you can help them develop confidence and independence and prepare them for an outdoor adventure or emergency situation. Camping and spending time outside have many benefits for children and adults. Learning how to feel comfortable being away from civilization and how to be confident taking care of themselves are just a few of the things your children will gain from learning basic survival skills.