I spent a lot of time as a child camping with my grandfather in the Smokey Mountains. He taught me quite a few basic survival skills for kids that I have actually put into practice on more than one occasion as an adult.
As a father, I want to pass these same survival skills on to my children, but like most people, I’m stuck in suburbia without much land to drop us into a real-world survival scenario. Lesson one: improvise.
7 Critical Survival Skills for Kids You Can Teach At Home
1. How to make water safe to drink. Fill and empty water bottle with (clean) tap water, but pretend it was just scooped out of a stream and you are unsure if it is safe.
Discuss the various ways to make water safe – boiling it, adding chemicals, etc. Rig a camp stove or fire and bring the water to a boil for 3 minutes. Allow it to cool and then share it with the kids.
Making water safe to drink is one of the most important survival skills for kids in the event they become lost, as I once did on a hike, and must fight dehydration on their own.
2. How to build a solar still. Now that kids know how to purify water they’ve already found, teach them a way to manufacture water on their own clean water.
Dig a hole a couple feet deep in a sunny area. Put some green, broken vegetation in the bottom around a clean, empty vegetable can with a wide funnel in the top. You can also pour some dirty water in the hole to speed things along.
Place clear plastic (I like to use a painters drip cloth) over the hole and secure the edges with rocks or soil to form a fairly air tight seal. Place a rock or two in the center of the plastic, directly above the cup and funnel underneath.
Leave the still working through the hot afternoon and check it later than evening, or first thing in the morning. There should be a little pure, clean drinking water in your cup.
3. How to make an improvised shelter. Tent camping in your backyard can be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, if you are in a survival situation, you may not have a tent available.
Teach your kids how to make a simple lean-to shelter. If you don’t have a lot of trees on your property, imagine a fence or the side of your house is a ridge pole (the top line of your shelter where you will lean long tree limbs, boards, etc. to form your roof.
Cover your roof with some vegetation and crawl inside.
For bonus points, turn on the sprinklers and see if your lean-to occupants stay dry.
4. How to use a manual can opener. Do not take this idea lightly. I’m sure many adults would struggle using a manual can opener. If you become ill, or worse, and your kids had to fend for themselves from your stocked pantry, would they know how to crack into the cans?
5. How to apply basic first aid. Make this lesson age-appropriate. Obviously, you don’t want to discuss how to seal a sucking chest wound with a six year-old.
Keep it simple with the little ones. Show them how to rig a simple sling, or splint a sprained ankle. Discuss infections and the important of wound care.
6. How to teach basic weapon safety using Airsoft guns. I’m a big fan of the newer Airsoft models that look and action like their real-world counterpart. They provide a less-than-lethal introduction to the basics of weapons safety. Remind kids that Airsoft weapons can do damage as well, and make sure to emphasize the four rules of gun safety:
- Treat any weapon as if it is loaded
- Do not point it at anything you aren’t willing to destroy
- Keep your finger off the trigger until the target is in your sights
- Be sure the target has been identified
7. How to build and start a fire. When it comes to building a fire, nothing beats waterproof matches or a lighter. The first step of preparedness is to secure those waterproof matches and lighters, because there is really no substitute for them.
The second-best thing to have on hand and know how to use is a fire steel rod and some mechanism for throwing a spark into a dry tender bundle to get a basic ember started.
That becomes the basis for your larger fire. Show the kids how to build a lean-to fire, a tee-pee fire, and a log cabin fire, all different ways of building your fire.
So you see, it is relatively easy to teach survival skills for kids right in the comfort of your own backyard.
If you need some additional inspiration I highly recommend the book Survivor Kid: A Practical Guide to Wilderness Survival