With more than a half-century under my belt, I think I am qualified to say that I have seen a great deal of change, especially in regards to the wilderness/survival skills being taught to our youth, and what I see is not good.
Gone are basic skills like how to start and control a fire; how to build a shelter; how to signal for help (without a cell phone); how to read a map and compass and administer basic first-aid. Many of today’s youth (and adults) don’t know how to sew!
In our world of microwavable prepackaged foods, our youth have never acquired the skills needed to find food on their own. Hunting and fishing have become sports and, apart from a few berries, many don’t realize the cornucopia of edibles that grows around us.
“IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO TEACH OUR CHILDREN THE SKILLS, THEY HAVE TO PRACTICE THEM TOO.”
I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. It was a time when television was really coming into its own. These mysterious boxes were huge, weighed four tons and required a set of rabbit ears (an antenna on the back or top of the television that predated cable and satellite service connections) and a roll of aluminum foil just to get reception of a couple of the network channels.
Despite this wonderful electronic box, my friends and I spent most of our time outside. In fact, our parents encouraged it because this was before drive-by shootings, bomb threats and widespread news of kids getting snatched off the street.
We hiked, climbed trees and went fishing. We all had backpacks, which we called knapsacks, though they weren’t anything compared to the high-tech models we have today.
Ours were military-style canvas models that were more than sufficient. Into these bags we packed food, water, a first-aid kit, fire-starting material and our sleeping gear and then headed out for camping trips into the “wilderness,” usually only a mile or two from our homes.
Our families had no worries (though I am sure our mothers worried, as all mothers do) because they knew we had been taught, from an early age, how to cope and survive.Trading Smart Kids for Smart Devices
When I wasn’t outdoors, I spent a great deal of time reading about the outdoors and survival. Books of all sorts were a big part of my life, and it was reading about the outdoors that kept me wanting to learn more.
Today’s youth spend way too much time staring at a computer or smartphone screen, playing make-believe games that only teach them how to score more points. Now, everything revolves around electronics.
As a college professor, I have found many students who cannot read on level or write in complete, grammatically correct sentences. Reading books and learning survival skills are not at the top of their priority list but they should be, as there are many that could help them in the long run.We are Our Children’s Most Important Teachers
With all the craziness that is going on in our world, it is more important than ever to teach our children the skills needed to survive on their own. We can’t shield them from the world around us.
We can’t be there every second of the day to protect them from potential dangers. All we can do is teach our children the ethics, values and skills they need to safely see them through another day. These are the same skills that our parents and grandparents taught us so many years ago.
It was my mother who taught me how to hunt and track wildlife, and it was her father who taught her. She also taught me how to sew, cook and preserve food. She taught me ethics, instilling in me the belief that life is special and if I took an animal’s life, then I owed it to the animal to use it responsibly.
I was taught to hunt as a means of putting food on the table, not trophies on the wall or selfies on social media.
One brother-in-law taught me how to fish and even bought me my first fishing rod and reel, a Zebco 101 combo, while another brother-in-law got me my first tackle box, in which were some tried-and-true lures, many I still have today.
Still another brother-in-law worked with me to perfect my shooting skills, and it was he who discovered that I was left eye dominant. We spent many hours shooting cans and paper targets, honing my skills and teaching me the responsibility and ethics associated with having and using a firearm.
My father taught me the value of hard work. He taught me how to work on cars and other machinery. He also stressed the importance of having good tools. My father gave me my first knife and taught me how to use it responsibly. He had me splitting and stacking wood, working a garden and a host of other what seemed like backbreaking chores at my great-uncle’s house.
In return for my hard work, my great-aunt Len taught me how to properly cook using a wood stove, how to bake bread and how to make grape jelly (from all those damn grapes I picked). Each one of these tasks taught me valuable skills I still use in later life. I have tried to teach my daughter, and now my granddaughters, all these lessons, and more.Get Them Outside
People often ask me what the trick is, when it comes to teaching our youth the valuable skills needed. Many people would like to teach their children these skills but, sadly, many of them don’t have the skills to pass on.
In a world of GPS, cell phones and other electronic conveniences, many parents don’t have basic survival skills themselves, so they’re unable to teach them to their kids.
“IN OUR WORLD OF MICROWAVABLE PREPACKAGED FOODS, OUR YOUTH HAVE NEVER ACQUIRED THE SKILLS NEEDED TO FIND FOOD ON THEIR OWN.”
Thankfully, this publication and others like it have kept the skills alive, but magazine articles, no matter who writes them or how well they are written, can go only so far. So the answer to the question about the “trick” starts by getting the kids outside.
Take them on hikes in the woods, take them on camping and canoeing trips and take them fishing and hunting. Let them climb trees and rocks. Let them fail and let them fall. Just be there to provide guidance and pick up the pieces, brush off the scrapes and send them on their way. Experience is the best teacher. Above all, keep the lessons fun.
If you don’t have the skills yourself, maybe others in your family or circle of friends do, or take a class with your child so you can learn, and practice, together. There are many good programs available – ask around to find them. Make it fun and, by doing it together, it will be just that. Just don’t be surprised if your child does better than you do.Start Them Young
Children are curious and they want to learn. My granddaughters are prime examples of that. Let them help you do the chores. If you are splitting wood for the wood stove, give them a pair of gloves and let them help you stack it.
If you show them what to do, you will be teaching them the right way of doing it and improving your teaching skills along the way. The same goes with sewing, knitting, cooking or any other useful skills. In a survival/self-reliant lifestyle, these are all skills they will need.
“MY FATHER TAUGHT ME THE VALUE OF HARD WORK. HE TAUGHT ME HOW TO WORK ON CARS AND OTHER MACHINERY. HE ALSO STRESSED THE IMPORTANCE OF HAVING GOOD TOOLS.”
Teach them about growing their own food, and why it is important. Have them plant seeds and also save the seeds from the plants that they grow. Whether it is vegetables or flowers, the lessons learned are all valuable. Correct them when things are done wrong and explain again how to do them right. At the same time, give them praise when a job is well done.Re-enforce What They Learn
It is not enough to teach our children the skills, they have to practice them too. Take them to the shooting range when you go to hone their shooting skills. Let them tie their own knots in the fishing line and learn how to untangle a snag (because it will happen). Let them be in charge of starting and extinguishing the campfire or building the shelter.
They will only really learn and perfect these skills if they do them with their own hands. Resist the urge to do it for them. Believe me, this can be hard to do. I’ve been there and done that. Remember that you learn by failing. Nobody gets it right all the time.Get Them Involved in Outdoor Activities Without You
Some parents/mentors 1) are not involved, 2) are too involved, or 3) allow the child to learn through experience and provide encouragement. Be the third type. Don’t ignore or smother your child. That will prevent the child from learning. Keep it fun and encourage the child to go on outings with friends, with adult supervision, at least in the beginning.
The Boy and Girl Scouts can be great places for kids to learn outdoor skills. In addition, the Boys and Girls Clubs have summer camps where children can learn valuable skills. My daughter attended the Boys and Girls Clubs and became a counselor where she taught other kids valuable skills. Even if they don’t hunt, NRA Hunter Safety Courses are valuable tools for teaching valuable skills.
The world is a crazy place. It is much different than when I was growing up. Our parents didn’t worry about having some person with bad intent snatching us from our front yard. Everyone had guns and knew how to use them, but we never worried about someone shooting up a store or a school. We knew our neighbors and we relied upon one another in times of need.
That has all changed so it is more important than ever to teach our children those survival skills that we all took for granted. If you taught your child one skill per week or month and had them perfect that skill before moving to the next one, that’s a step in the right direction. We owe it to our children to pass on the skills of the past if they are to survive into the future.Helpful Organizations
There are many organizations and classes available that are devoted to teaching our children traditional outdoor skills. Here are just four of them:
Boy Scouts of America
Boys & Girls Clubs of America
Girl Scouts of America
NRA Youth Hunter Education Challenge
There are some very good books available that deal with teaching people of all ages about outdoor survival skills. Check them out and find one that works best for you.
Foraging Wild Edible Plants of North America
Get your kids involved by taking them foraging for wild edible plants and make them feel part of the big picture. This book by Christopher Nyerges gives them, and you, all you need to not only identify but prepare the plants you collect. It has color photos for easy identification. You can obtain a copy by visiting Nyerges’ website or on Amazon.
101 Skills You Need to Survive in the Woods
With this book by Kevin Estela, you can work with your children to learn and develop their survival skills. In the pages of this book, Estela teaches you how to do things, not just tell you. He pushes your limits and encourages continuous practice to hone those skills. You can obtain a copy of this book at most Barnes & Noble Bookstores, Amazon or from a link at the top of Estela’s website.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.