10 Fun Ways to Teach Kids Survival Skills

Kids can be notoriously difficult when it comes to getting them involved in certain activities. And the advancement of technology has only compounded that difficultly. 

Kids Survival Skills

As far as outdoor activities go, or more specifically learning about survival skills, I have heard many responses after asking if they would like to learn them. “Boring,” “not interested,” “nooo, thanks.” At least the last response borders on being polite about it. 

I believe teaching kids survival skills and what should be done in an emergency are of the utmost importance. Here’s why:

  • There may not always be an adult around to help. They need to know what to do when an emergency happens.
  • It is a way of passing down knowledge and skills so that they do not become lost over time. 
  • It empowers kids when they learn and accomplish new things
  • It promotes critical thinking skills 
  • Forms familial bonds and lasting memories 

I have no problem admitting that the topic of survival skills can be a bit dry and boring, especially to a kid. But it does not have to be that way. 

To that end, I wanted to offer a few activities or methods to help in teaching these skills to the younger generation. But before I jump into that list here are a few guidelines that I have found helpful. I hope that the following does not come off as being preachy, as that is not my intention. It is just a bit of advice that I had to learn through experience. 

  • Start teaching them as young as possible. Kid’s brains are like sponges that soak up all information that is put in front of them. Plus, the younger you start, the easier it will be keeping them involved.
  • Patience, patience, patience! This is key when you are teaching. Trying to teach someone something new when you already know all about it, can be a frustrating process. Remember that it took you time to learn what you know so afford them the same courtesy. Also, remember to breathe deeply before reacting. 
  • Whatever it is that you are teaching them, make sure to give them as much hands-on time as possible. The best way to learn is by doing. And learning by watching as a bystander can be pretty boring. 

10 Ways to Teach Kids Survival Skills

Make a Treasure Map! 

This might sound a bit silly, but it is a fun activity and lays the foundation for reading a map. Start by making the map as simple as possible, then make it more elaborate over time. This activity will allow them to use critical thinking skills, learn directions, decipher clues, and how things change along a path. 

Grab yourself a piece of paper and draw a simple picture of the area where the treasure hunt will take place. It can take place wherever you like, inside your home, the backyard, or at a local park. Do not worry too much about your artistic abilities as I’m sure the young ones will not judge you too harshly. Or if they do, it will provide a good laugh all around. 

To make it more fun and engaging, make sure that you include a real “treasure.” Their favorite candy, a new toy, a book, or even some cash. At one point I had used a small box of coins that included old half dollars, which they thought was pretty cool. But, you know your kids best so choose something that will get them excited. 

Make it challenging but not too difficult. Also, the treasure does not have to be buried but at least tucked away somewhere for them to find.

Lastly, if you want to go the extra mile then dress up the map a bit, add some coded clues, and make up a story! Crinkle the map, rough up the edges, and rub used coffee grinds on it to discolor it. Then make up some story about how you found it in some old book or on the ground or that it was passed onto you by some interesting character. The only limit is your imagination! 

Navigator

Yes, I am adding another navigation activity because it a very important skill that is often overlooked or underdeveloped. 

The next time you go to the store or run an errand, have them be your navigator. Make a hard copy of the route you are taking and mark the starting and endpoint. 

Have them pay attention out the window and to where you say you are turning. As they do both of those, have them fill in the line between the two points and see if they can create the correct path that is being taken. Have them take notes as to what they see such as man-made or natural landmarks.

As they learn and improve their skills, have them become the navigator by plotting out the path and telling you when and where to go. 

Start these exercises out simply by going to destinations that are very close. This does not just have to be done in the car but can be a part of a family walk after dinner

It will also be helpful if you did this exercise when time is not a pressing issue. Being able to correct them along the way will help to speed up the learning process. It will give them a boost of confidence knowing you made it to the planned destination because of their input.  

Build A Fort!

This is an activity I remember from my childhood and it still hasn’t lost its interest among a certain age group. When I was a kid no kitchen table chair, pillow or blanket was safe when fort fever took hold. 

When forts become an interest in your household consider changing it up a bit by teaching them how to set up a tent. Or grab some cordage and a tarp and show them the basics of shelter construction. This is a gateway to getting in some backyard camping if you are unable to hit the trail.  

Build a Field Water Filter 

Considering how critical water is to our existence, an activity teaching the mechanics of how to filter it is a worth wild process to know. 

One of the simplest methods involves placing a bandana or some other article of clothing over the opening of a water container. Lower the container into the water source and allow for it to be filled up. The majority of the larger debris should get caught by the cloth while the water runs into the container.

For teaching purposes, try using a white piece of material so that the debris that is captured is easily seen. 

Another interesting way this can be done is by recycling a plastic bottle and filling it with natural materials for the filter. Here are the steps for creating this filter. 

  1. Use a sharp tool to cut the bottom off of the bottle.
  2. Wrap a paper towel, coffee filter, or a piece of cloth around the drinking spout.
  3. Invert the bottle and the first layer in the bottom should be charcoal if you have it. 
  4. Then fine sand, followed by
  5. Coarse sand
  6. Small pebbles
  7. And lastly rocks

The water is now ready to pour into the top, filtered through, and collected at the bottom! To make this even more interesting, make up a batch of very “dirty” water. Pour yourself some tap water, mix in some dirt, grass clippings, and leaves. The little ones will be amazed at how disgusting this water looks going in and how clear it looks coming out. 

Build a Fire 

Having a fire has so many beneficial uses that I can’t possibly explain them all in this article. Being able to create a fire is one of the most basic survival skills that everyone should be able to do. 

Of course, the two easiest methods for starting one is with a lighter or matches, which kids should know how to do. But to give them more confidence in the matter, try teaching them a slightly more difficult method. A ferrocerium rod. 

Using a ferrocerium rod is a bit harder to use but really what is harder is the prep needed for it to work. For the spark to produce a flame, the driest, most flammable, most fibrous material must be used. 

Until they become comfortable producing sparks, the tinder I suggest starting with is dryer lint. Dryer lint is free, easy to collect, and produces a flame with minimal sparks. For a kid who has never started an outdoor fire, their eyes sure do get big when that first group of sparks hits the dryer lint.  

Chef Time 

It is not enough to simply have food, but you have to know how to cook it. Broil, boil, steam, smoke, or cook over an open flame. 

Now that they know how to make a fire, it is time to put those skills to use for mealtime. It is up to you to choose what meal you would like them to prepare but I would start simple until they become comfortable cooking around an open flame.

Two easy options come to mind. Grab a pot and warm up a can of their favorite soup or rustle up a few sticks and roast some hot dogs. I know these are incredibly simple but in the eyes of a young kid they will be making dinner.  

Every time I have ever had young kids completely cook a meal, they were thrilled to sit down and enjoy watching everyone eat what they had made.

Make Cocoa 

There is nothing better than sitting around a campfire with friends and family on a cool fall evening. Well, add in a cup of warm cocoa and the evening just might be perfect. 

The purpose of this little activity, other than to make a delicious chocolatey drink, is to show how to boil water that would otherwise be questionable for drinking. Of course, you do not have to use questionable water for this demonstration. This will also help to reinforce maintaining safe practices around a fire. 

Have them fill a metal cup or pot with water and place it appropriately on or around a fire. Once the water begins to boil, they should take note of the time or begin counting in their head. Let them know that the water should boil for several minutes to ensure it is as safe as possible. 

When the water is done remove it from the heat. Add in the cocoa powder, stir, serve, and enjoy!

Buy Them a Pocketknife

I have received many gifts in my life but the one I will never forget is my first pocketknife. Not only because it was a cool pocketknife but it made me feel grownup knowing that my parents were trusting me with such a tool.

Most people would agree that a knife is one of the most important tools to have in a survival situation. Unfortunately, many kids do not spend much time with a pocketknife these days so it is more important than ever to teach them how to properly use one. 

In my experience, a Swiss Army Knife has always been popular with kids. All of the extra tools included tend to keep the brain and hands more occupied than a regular pocketknife. However, if you choose this brand one thing to keep in mind is that many of the models do not have a lock blade.

To practice knife handling skills, have them sharpen the end of a couple of sticks so that they can cook a few hotdogs or marshmellows over the fire they created. 

Buy A Field Journal 

All of the kids I have met in my life went through a drawing faze at some point. Whether it be coloring in a coloring book, on a pad of paper, or using their bedroom wall as the canvas, it is something that most kids are interested in. 

Put that desire of drawing to good use by buying them a dedicated outdoor notebook that can be turned into a field journal of sorts. They can draw pictures of things that they see such as insects, birds, animals, landmarks, or other wildlife. It can also be used as a picture book to keep track of the day’s activities and the new things they learned, like making a fire or the fort that they made.  

Drawing and handwriting has been proven to aid in the learning process, especially in retaining information. At the end of the day be sure to sit down with them and have them share their pictures with you.

Choose a Card, Any Card

Sometimes life gets busy and it is easy to forget to do certain things, like practicing our survival skills. Here is a way to stay on top of those skills for you and the little ones. 

Grab yourself some index cards and on each one write out a survival skill or project to do. Below are a few examples. 

  • Make a fire with a magnifying glass
  • Identify an animal track 
  • Collect some water and go through the purification methods
  • Build a shelter from any natural material
  • Tie a certain kind of knot and use it

After you have filled out as many cards as you can think of, mix them all up and place them face down. Then choose a set time you and the kids will pick out a card every day or once a week, and then complete the skill on the card. How often you pick a card depends on your schedule but try your best not to make it too infrequent and remember to work on the task together. 


Final Thoughts

There are so many outdoor and indoor survival skills to know that I could not possibly put them all into one article. So, I did my best touch on some of the big topics like shelter, fire, and water. You do not have to follow my instructions to the letter because what worked for me may not work for you. If you find a better way or decide to adjust one of my suggestions, by all means do so. Do whatever it takes to make it fun for your kids and to keep them involved.



Bryan Lynch
Written by Bryan Lynch

Bryan grew up in the Midwest and spent every waking moment outdoors. Learning how to hunt, fish, read the land and be self-reliant was part of everyday life. Eventually he combined his passions for the outdoors, emergency preparedness, and writing. His goal was to spread positive information about this field. Recently, Bryan authored the book Swiss Army Knife Camping and Outdoor Survival Guide. Read more of Bryan's articles.

Leave a Comment