Keeping Kids Safe During Summer Outdoor Outings

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Children of the Earth Foundation teaches children and teens the ancient arts of survival but there are some simple things every parent should know and teach their children to keep them safe during summer camping and outdoor activities.

Children of the Earth Foundation teaches children and teens the ancient arts of survival but there are some simple things every parent should know and teach their children to keep them safe during summer camping and outdoor activities.

Children are naturally curious and it’s very easy for a child to be exploring and follow something that has caught their eye in nature. Suddenly they look up and realize they’ve wandered far from where they started and now do not know how to return. They are lost. There are some very simple practices that could turn this from a tragic event to a small adventure.

First, help your child be comfortable in nature. Nature is not something to be feared but unfortunately, a child who spends little time outdoors can see nature as something foreign and perhaps frightening. Panic is the leading cause of tragedy when anyone, adult or child, becomes lost. So spend time outdoors before your trip, go out at night without flashlights to experience outdoors in the dark.

Next, when you arrive spend some time getting to know the area. If you have a campground map, make up a game; a treasure hunt or fantasy game in which the child uses the map or for younger children, just the landmarks of the site, to move about and get a feel for the place. Point out features; is there water nearby, do you hear birds specific to the water, can you smell the water, can you hear a stream? Where is the road and can you hear traffic sounds? Are there landmarks like hills or mountains that the child can see to become oriented in the area? Which way does the wind usually blow? Where is the sun and which way is it moving? This simple awareness can help a child who has wandered to reorient themselves, not panic and return.

When out walking or hiking in nature, do the same thing along the way. What do you hear, see and smell? Turn often and look back along the trail. Things often look quite different going the other direction so it’s easy to get confused and think you’ve gone the wrong way. At any fork in the path, make note of landmarks. Find something unique and create a story about it; perhaps Pirate Rock, which is shaped somewhat like a boat, marks the way home at one fork or Grandpa Tree, with a face of an old man in the bark, points the way home at another. This causes children to look at these things closely to note what is unique and the adventure and naming helps keep them in their memory.

Sometimes though, these precautions aren’t enough and a child feels thoroughly lost. It is essential to tell children if they really feel lost, just stay put. The worst damage can be done when children attempt to find their way back and end up going in the wrong direction. Assure them, that someone will be looking for them soon and they don’t need to panic, they are safe.

If they must wait, the most critical thing they will need is shelter. Often summer clothing is perfect for the day but will not keep them warm at night, especially if they get wet. So, play some simple games with children to teach them about shelter and insulation. Play the scarecrow game where everyone stuffs their clothes with debris. As you play, have fun with the idea that the leaves and needles are prickly and make note of how you begin to warm up because of having all that stuffed in your clothing. Have scarecrow races and other fun things to make this an enjoyable activity. Play “marooned” and find shelter- logs or rock overhangs you can get under or make a fort. Try stuffing it with debris like you did the clothes and wiggle in. How does it feel? Safe? Warm? How could you make it better and drier? Do this as a game, make it fun. If it is ever needed, children will remember these things and they can save their life.

Teach children that water is something important for them to have. Point out ways to get water from the landscape such as dew on grasses or natural caches of water from rain on leaves and rock surfaces. If they’re old enough, discuss the hazards of drinking from streams or other bodies of water due to contamination. And finally make sure they understand they can survive many days without food. We often think that food is the top priority, but it really is the lowest priority and taking away the fear of starvation can help them not panic.

These simple skills could keep your child alive, but there is much more to learn. For further ideas how to teach your children, listen to Tom Brown Jr.’s on demand session on Lost Proofing Children available at or visit the Children of the Earth Foundation at for information on classes for families, youth and teens and programs available for homeschoolers, schools, Scouts and other interested groups which teach children survival skills including shelter building, making fire without matches, simple wild edible plants, purifying water and so many other skills that will not only keep them safe, but increase their comfort in and connection to nature.

Being in nature should be a profoundly beautiful experience full of fun and adventure, not something to be feared. Having the skills of survival opens this doorway so children and adults can experience this to its fullest.

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