Prepping With Toddlers and Young Children

Prepping with toddlers and young children must involve the melding of two concepts: what you can do on the daily to raise self-reliant children, and what vital items should be stockpiled to suit their needs.

Not only do toddlers and small children have different needs than older children and adults, they are less physically able to assist or withstand the rigors of a bugout or extended bugout – especially if they are not being trained to do so from infancy.

toddlers on the survival homestead

It is also during the first four years of life that children have the greatest changes in growth and mental capacity. Toddlers are wonderous little sponges ready and eager to soak up any information or experience that comes their way.

Capitalize on their natural curiosity and feed them upon on a steady diet of age appropriate self-reliance training. Doing so now will help them be ready for what may come next.

What Age are Toddlers and Young Children?

A baby becomes a toddler when he or she learns how to walk, typically between 10 to 12 months of age. Once a child turns three, they are no longer a toddler.

Youngsters between the ages of three and five and considered “young children.” Children in this age bracket are also often referred to as “preschoolers”.

Why You Should Teach Your Kids to Be Self-Reliant

The biggest hurdle you will face when caring for a toddler or young child during a disaster is the rapid and complete change in daily life and circumstances.

One minute the little one is crashed out on a comfy couch with plenty of snacks to eat while binge watching Paw Patrol or Peppa Pig, and the next it’s lights out for the foreseeable future, sans air conditioning, and chocolate chip cookies.

The emotional meltdown of a toddler is not something you want to have to contend with on a daily basis while attempting to focus all of your feasible attention on merely surviving another night.

Taking baby steps (please – excuse the pun) to condition your one and a half to four year old child to both adapt and settle into such a rapid change in lifestyle will drastically help prevent a complete and constant meltdown coupled with a heightened state of fear for them, and a distraction that you can ill afford.

Children are never too young to be introduced to the preparedness lifestyle. No matter where you live, there are ample opportunities to introduce basic survival skills, a sense of responsibility, independence, and enhance their critical thinking.

Do not make the mistake in thinking that you will be around or capable of protecting your toddler or young child for the duration of a long-term disaster, or the societal rebuilding phase which would follow an apocalyptic event.

It would be nearly impossible to imagine that a child so young could survive on their own – that is not our goal here. Instead, you should strive to teach the child how to think, comprehend, act, react, and contribute to their own well-being and that of others so they can do so even when you are not around.

A clingy child that is tended to constantly, toted around on a hip, or has things done for him that he could learn how to do himself, is not going to possess the mental capacity and ability to adapt to life away from your side.

Being able to fall under the care of an older sibling, relative, or survival tribe member without completely breaking down and reverting to “baby like” or needy behavior is essential to the child’s overall well-being and survival.

If you have more than one child, you may have witnessed this type of regression when a younger sibling was born. It is natural and not at all uncommon, but dangerous during a SHTF scenario.

How to Introduce Prepping to Your Kids

Shielding your child from your prepping plan is a recipe for disaster down the road. There is no reason to be all doom and gloom and scare the children, but do not underestimate their ability to understand basic preparedness concepts even if they are toddler age.

You do not need to try to explain what an EMP is or discuss nuclear war attack scenarios with your wee ones. Instead, put the prepping in terms they can understand.

Teaching a child to be a prepper in training involves a lot of habit training. If you homeschool your children (as many preppers do) consider following the Charlotte Mason method, at least loosely. Her approach to learning was nature, hands-on, and independence based.

Formal education did not occur until the age of 6, unless a child indicated a desire to do more than learn basic colors, shapes, and similar simple concepts.

Her focus on habit training from a young age prepared a child for not just formal academics later on, but life in general – as well as firmly embracing a child’s natural sense of curiosity, wonder, and imagination.

12 Ways to Introduce Prepping to a Toddler or Preschoolers

1. Power Emergency Training

Use a power outage or bad weather that could cause one, to demonstrate how to use a flashlight and teach the child where they are kept.

Purchase a cute novelty flashlight for the child to have of their very own so they can learn how to use it and designate a place to keep it within their reach (but not with their toys, the child needs to learn it is a tool) so they can independently grab and use it without adult assistance.

mom and her children doing outdoor cooking
Teaching children how to cook a meal off grid is a fun way for them to learn a hot tasty meal does not always have to come from an oven and foster a greater sense of independence in them at the same time.

You should also teach the children that solar landscaping lights can be gently pulled and used as flashlights if needed. Now, you don’t want the kiddos to constantly be pulling up those lights, but they should understand that if their flashlight runs out of batteries, there is a backup option.

Colt and Auddie are learning about natural water sources and then helped with testing and processing the water to make it potable so it could be used if the electric was out and the well would have to be manually dipped to garner water:

kids on a shallow river bed

I placed some cheap solar lights around the playhouse we built for our grandchildren so they knew the lights belonged to them and they could use them to light their path into the playhouse when we were outside at night, but they had to be pushed back into the ground for the sun to charge them up again before we went indoors.

2. Weather Training

Watch the weather forecast with the toddler and young child daily. Discuss the changes in temperature and predictions for snow, sleet, high winds, etc.

Then, ask them questions based upon the weather forecast when helping them choose what clothes, footwear, and outerwear is needed for the day – and what activities are possible due to the coming snowstorm, thunderstorm, heat wave, etc.

This will teach critical thinking skills, independence, and cause and effect, as well as ingrain the importance of paying attention to the weather pattern and the power Mother Nature holds over our lives.

3. Food Cultivation Training

Engage the toddler or young child in the growing of food. This will teach them where our food actually comes from, while instilling basic gardening skills that can be built upon as the child ages.

toddler counting potatoes
Auddie is attempting to count all of the potatoes she helped her Papaw dig up from our ground plot garden.

While working together in the dirt, find ways to work in phrases like, “If we couldn’t go to the grocery store this week, we could still have _ to eat,” and “The plants need water to grow, if it does not rain this week we will have to do to keep our garden plants alive.”

Ariyah and Colt are learning about protecting the plants that will become our food from “bad bugs” by helping mix up a natural insecticide:

toddlers making a mixture

This habit training also doubled as a homeschool lesson that involved direction following, comprehension, and the measuring of ingredients.

Have the child help carry water to the plants anytime it is needed, so they better learn the importance of water while building up physical strength.

In the photo below, Auddie is helping to weed out a raised bed and plant tomatoes. By the end of the planting, she had committed to memory the planting process from digging the whole and the proper way to fill it back in with dirt, to the plant’s need for sunshine and water to allow it to grow and become our food.

toddler helping plant tomatoes

4. Navigation Training

Take a fun family walk to somewhere close by that you would usually drive for the sake of convenience and talk about how long it takes to get somewhere when you cannot go in a car, and help train the child to learn to identify landmarks to find their way to anywhere and back home. You can even make a fun little map for the walk and have the young child be in charge of leading the way.

A set of three inexpensive walkie talkies designed to be kid-tough and easy to use were a special survival training treat for these three. Even Ariyah, the youngest was able to operate the handheld radio after a little bit of practice. Learning to let go of the talk button after speaking was the most difficult part of the learning process for her.

kids playing Let’s Go Find Lunch

5. Foraging Training

The “Let’s Go Find Lunch” game is a favorite of my youngest grandchildren, who were 1 ½, 3, and 4 when we started the at least weekly, habit. Each child had their own sack with photos of wild edibles that grow on our survival homestead.

We would hike or pile in the side-by-side (or a combination of both), and search for foraged food to eat alone for our lunch or to use as ingredients in a dish.

The foraging training can run year-round in most regions of the United States; even during the late fall winter months wild edibles are growing in the woods. In the photo below, Auddie is displaying the walnuts, hickory nuts, and acorns she foraged during a hike:

toddler holding walnuts in hand

The children learned not only how to prepare the nuts for eating, but also to use when tanning animal hides.

A wild flower and plantain salad was always a big hit, as were finding wild strawberries, blackberries, and onions. The children were extremely proud of themselves when they wandered about in the field or on a trail (as far away from an adult as was safe to encourage independence) and found an item to add to their brown bag lunch sack.

foraging for wild edibles with toddlers
Wild food foraging with Auddie (3 years old) and Ariyah (1 ½ years old) along a trail on our survival homestead.

6. Hunting Training

Teach the children the popular “Going On A Bear Hunt” song and then take them on a bear hunt. I bought a cheap teddy bear at the Dollar Tree, and would hike it on our woods on the trail at first and then increasingly off the beaten path.

The grandkiddos would lead the way on the trail searching to see who could find the bear that we were hunting. They were equipped with toy binoculars, a magnifying glass, canteen, and a toy but still working, compass and, of course, a toy gun and knife.

The toddlers and young children loved learning how to use the tools during our bear hunts. I always carry my Henry rifle with me because we have coyotes and the occasional bobcat in our woods.

I intentionally left the rifle in the back of the Polaris Ranger once to see if they would notice. It was barely 3 year old Audriella that first noticed I was unarmed, before I took as many as five steps. She reminded me I needed my gun in case we came across a coyote during our bear hunt.

toddlers trying to track deer
The children have learned to identify several different types of animal scat and footprints. In this photo, they are trying to track a deer that ran in front of us on a trail.

7. Forest Orienteering Training

Name the trails on your prepper retreat and have the children help you make signs to hang to mark them. This helps give them ownership and pride in the property and “their” trails.

When you are planning a hike or other activity in the woods, have them choose the trail you will go on to help them memorize not only the names, but the attributes of the area over time.

Encourage critical thinking by posing questions such as, “What trail should we go on to find blackberries?” and “Can you help me find the trail we hiked yesterday?” During the hikes point out natural landmarks, the child can use help navigate into, around, and out of the hiking trail.

toddlers during an orienteering lesson
Auddie and Colt (4 years old) celebrating finding “the stump” during a forest school orienteering training session on our survival homestead.

Keep it simple and do not expect too much too soon, but in my experience, even a three year old will be able to excitedly locate the landmarks when asked and learn how to exit and enter the trail independently after only a handful of lessons.

This lays the groundwork for more advanced orienteering in the coming years, teaches independence, removes any fear of the woods, critical thinking, and memorization.

8. Survival Apothecary Training

Go on a nature scavenger hunt not for wild edibles this time, but for healing plants, weeds, and herbs. Even at the most basic level, this will introduce the survival concepts of medicinal plant identification.

My three youngest grandchildren now have no problem identifying jewelweed and plantain – among about 12 other healing weeds. Once we harvest various parts of the plants, the children help me make a healing salve to use on their “boo-boos.”

In the photo below, Ariyah and Colt are putting the finishing touches on their fairy – gnome herb garden. Each child was given a pot to make their own and decorate with figures and stickers. It was their responsibility to make sure their herbs flourished and could be used as part of a meal.

kids working in a container garden

Each and every time one of the children gets a bug bite or scrape, they walk from their cabin to my house alone (ok, it’s only about a 20 foot walk, but that still demonstrates a level of self-confidence and independence we want to see in prepper kids) and ask for the salve while pointing out their latest boo-boos.

Before getting out the salve, I ask what is in it and all three of them, even Ariyah who is not yet 2, shouts jewelweed and plantain – each trying to be the first one to give the answer.

Teaching the children how to use what is around them to treat common and albeit small problems, is superb habit training that can be expanded upon into basic first aid learning once the child is a little older.

When working with 3 and 4 year olds, you could take the training one step further, and have them help a stuffed toy or doll splint its leg or wrap a wounded arm in a sling when it becomes ‘injured.”

toddler with piece of fabric vine

In the photo above, Auddie has a piece of fabric vine from a crafting bin wrapped around her leg. She ran over to me and said, “Look Yaya, I am making medicine.”

It was definitely a proud grandma moment when the forest school lessons involving foraging for medicinal weeds translated to her imaginative play – and ultimately into her daily habits as she ages.

9. Primitive Camping Training

There probably is not a more fun way to introduce and reinforce prepping skills in toddlers and young children than going on a primitive camping trip or simulating one in your backyard.

The children can learn how a fire is started by watching until they are old enough to help with adult supervision, even a 2 year old can help make fire starters and learn why and how they are used, all of the children can help make their own hot dogs, pie iron pizza, etc. over an open flame so they are cooking their dinner off the grid – while having a blast in the process.

During such an activity point out that you are cooking your own food without an oven or microwave, and note that even if the power goes out, the family can still make dinner. When engaging in habit training with toddlers and young children, repetition is the key.

Try to cook off grid at least once a week. Make Saturday morning breakfast on your grill or campstove, make cookies in a solar oven, or do a full course meal in the smoker, the important thing is that the children are being exposed to meal preparation outside of the typical modern kitchen environment.

Colt and Auddie are waiting for the fire to be ready to roast hot dogs after helping collect kindling and handing out the fire starters they made before going on a primitive camping trip on our upper acreage.

10. Survival Meal Training

Have a long-term food storage dinner, snack, or taste test at least once a month. This activity will train the children not to be afraid of the odd looking meal packets and preparation steps, and to become familiar with the flavor of the food.

Toddlers especially, can be picky eaters. Introducing them to something new right now and not when after the SHTF should save a lot of problems when you simply have no time to deal with a temper tantrum and need to get nutrients into your child.

If you discover they have a favorite long-term storage packet meal, add more of that type to your prepping shopping list when the budget allows.

Freeze dried snacks can be a special treat the children get once or twice a month to familiarize themselves with the items that will serve as morale boosters during a long-term disaster.

Freeze dried ice cream sandwiches are actually quite yummy, and should be met with smiles. While you are making and eating the long-term storage food, talk about why your family buys such food items: “This _ is so good. I am glad we have plenty of it in case a storm knocks out our power or we can’t go to the grocery store.”

toddlers eating the lunch they helped make update

Auddie and Colt are dining on a lunch they helped to make from dehydrated cheese and pizza sauce. They make the meal in pie iron pizza camping tongs over an open flame.

These types of statements signal to the child that if something bad happens, mommy and daddy are ready for it and no one will go hungry. Children understand the concept of hunger from the time they exit the womb.

Do not underestimate how much a lack of food will weigh on their minds, even if they are not fully aware of why there is no food or even why they are anxious if suddenly the oven or microwave can no longer be used and no one has left the house in weeks to go to the grocery store.

Off the grid picnics are a regular part of our tribe’s survival training – and a whole lot of fun. With the exception of the chips and a few of the condiments, the entire meal is comprised of long-term food storage items – both store bought and preserved from what we grow and raise.

11. Animal Husbandry Training

If you keep livestock, then you have a built in prepping training ground, and hands-on Charlotte Mason style outdoor classroom at your fingertips.

Children can be included in helping with barn chores by aiding them in egg collection, filling up jugs of water or troughs for the livestock, carrying scoops of food from a bin to a feeder, etc.

toddlers feeding a mini-horse

Even just having the little ones with you as you go about your chores will teach them the importance of tending to the meat and egg generators while they learn what each animal provides, what it needs, and not to be afraid of being near them.

Chick hatching and brooding season is the perfect time to allow toddlers and young children to learn about the care and life cycle of meat and egg birds – as well as proper hygiene habits both before and after handling livestock:

toddlers caring for baby chicks

Auddie and Colt are learning how to do the sink or float test to determine if all of the eggs they just collected from the coop are safe to eat.

testing and egg to see if it's good

12. Emergency Fuel Training

As a prepper, you likely have a wood stove, a wood cookstove, or a fireplace. Train the children to collect kindling, carry small pieces of wood to a pile and into the home, as you talk about how the wood provides heat to keep the family warm and to cook food on if the power goes out.

You can also buy or make a toy axe and firewood so they can “chop” their own wood. Pretend play is a vital part of the learning process at the toddler and young child age.

I made logs out of felt that I stuffed, made a flame that could velcro onto the logs out of felt, and used a paper towel roll and toilet paper roll covered with black and brown felt to make an axe for pretend wood chopping play.

I then painted a cardboard box to resemble a fireplace so the children could build their own pretend fire in the playroom to “get warm” or to cook their pretend food on in little skillets and pots.

Introducing the prepping concept and immersing children to the lifestyle at a young age is a fun and valuable way to spend true quality time together.

If a two, three, or four year old has never, or rarely, been exposed to primitive camping, hiking, or entertaining themselves without modern conveniences, suddenly being thrust into an 1800s era existence is going to be exceptionally hard on them – and they will not hesitate to let loudly register their displeasure with you for hours on end.

The last thing you want or need during a bugout situation is a cranky, crying, screaming, and terrified child that you have to either carry or drag alongside you on a wooded hike to a makeshift primitive campsite while trying to reach a bugout location.

Even if you are bugging in, the massive overnight lifestyle change can have the same behavior effect on a toddler or young child. Minimizing the change in circumstances by taking away both the fear and shock aspect out of the situation as much as possible, will go a long way in reducing your child’s anxiety and acting out.

Routine is especially important to children in this age group. There is no way to prevent lives from changing during and after a long-term disaster, but the more you can infuse normalicy into the days of toddlers and young children, the better they will adapt to the change in circumstances.

By initiating prepper training at an early age, the habits they have developed will provide some stability to their days. If the little ones are used to helping collect eggs every morning and going into the woods to search for food, suddenly doing these same activities because they are essential to the family’s survival, will not seem either strange or scary.

Stockpiles for Toddlers and Young Children

While the basic needs of toddlers and young children are primarily the same as anyone else’s (food, clothing, shelter, and water) stockpiling them can be problematic… and then there’s the diapers issue.

It is also not unusual for a child up to the age of two to still be relying on baby formula at least partially.

Diapers

Many toddlers and even children closer to four than three years old, are still in diapers. Apparently a lot of pediatricians are encouraging parents to “let the child” tell you when he or she is ready to potty train.

I did not prescribe to that method with my daughter. I was so done dealing with diapers by the time she turned one year old I got right onto the potty training.

I encourage beginning potty training around the same time not just for the sake of your own sanity and to save money, but also as a part of your preps. Traveling on a bugout with a toddler who is not in diapers is going to be a lot easier than dealing with the packing of any type of diapers – disposable or cloth.

Stockpiling the amount of diapers you would need for even a three month period of time – and being able to tote them with you if a bugout on foot situation became necessary, would be an incredible hardship.

If the SHTF before you are through the potty training process, nix the stockpiling of disposable diapers and instead buy or make a dozen or so cloth diapers with charcoal inserts.

Although the thought of cleaning dirty diapers is rather unpleasant, cloth diapers are lightweight and take up little space in a bugout bag.

Washing them out in a creek or pond after squirting a little homemade disinfectant you keep in a travel size shampoo container, takes only moments and then the diaper can be hung up by a fire or tied onto your bugout bag to dry.

Baby Formula

If you are not nursing, and if your toddler is still consuming formula, you can spend hundreds of dollars putting back enough to last for only a single month. The cans of formula are also bulky and heavy to pack.

Instead of stockpiling formula, consider putting up these multi-purpose ingredients to make your own.

Print Recipe
5 from 1 vote

DIY Survival Baby Formula Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • cup instant powdered milk plus 2 tablespoons
  • 1 ½ cups boiled water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

Instructions

  • Combine the instant powdered milk and water thoroughly.
  • Stir in the cooking oil and sugar.
  • Mix the DIY baby formula thoroughly again.
  • Test the temperature of the baby formula on the inside of your wrist, and then serve when it is cool enough to safely use.

Diaper Wipes

Stockpiling diaper wipes is a good idea not only for prepper parents of toddlers that are still in diapers, but for young children who might be at least temporarily, more prone to accidents or incidents of loose bowels due to either stress over the SHTF event, heat exposure, a change in diet.

Toddlers and young children are prone to touching all kinds of things they shouldn’t and getting their hands filthy dirty, and then touch food, their eyes, or put their hands in their mouths – especially if you have a thumb sucker on your hands.

My homemade baby wipes can also serve as a disinfecting wipes recipe that is versatile enough to clean little bottoms, tiny, hands, and to use to give a sponge bath to the children or serve as a wound wash for small scrapes. If you feel the need to stockpile copious amounts of baby wipes, this DIY version will potentially save you a ton of money.

You can make the base for these multi-purpose style baby wipes by cutting a paper towel roll in half and soaking only half of it in a portable container filled with the recipe solution, or cutting clean cotton shirts etc. into about 8 inch by 8 inch squares to make them reusable.

Print Recipe
5 from 1 vote

Homemade Baby Wipes

Ingredients

  • 1 roll thick paper towels cut in half or cotton squares
  • 1 ½ cups boiled water that has been cooled to room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons carrier oil (olive, almond, coconut) or liquid castile soap
  • 1 tablespoon aloe vera oil or juice
  • 2 opened capsules of vitamin E optional
  • 1 tablespoon Witch Hazel

Instructions

  • Combine all of the ingredients in a container that can seal firmly with an airtight lid.
  • Place the lid on the container, and shake vigorously for about 30 seconds.
  • Remove the lid and press your half a roll of paper towels or cotton squares inside – pushing them down so they are fully submerged.
  • Place the lid back on the container until ready to use.

Notes

Do not skimp on the quality of the paper towels if going the disposable route, the cheap ones simply fall apart when left soaking in the solution for very long.
 

The old adage “children grow like weeds” is entirely accurate. There is no greater a growth change that occurs than the one that happens during the first four years of life.

As a prepper, you can simply stockpile a warm coat and a pair of boots and you’re set for a decade. A young child will change in size so often that you have to both think and plan ahead to provide them with enough cold weather clothing to last them for even two years.

Unless you have an unlimited budget, outfitting your toddler your little one so they will stay warm during a disaster that could last years – or a decade, means doing some bargain hunting.

I have stockpiled clothing and footwear of all types for all seasons seven sizes up for each of our grandchildren. I have also purchased unisex short and long-sleeve shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants, and socks in adult extra small size to bridge the gap from older youth sizes to adult.

Toddlers and children grow rapidly. Make stockpiling coats, shoes, boots, and other cold weather clothing a top priority.

toddlers in the woods

Best Ways to Stockpile Clothing and Footwear for Toddlers and Young Children

  1. Hit end of season clearance sales and purchase clothing, socks, underwear, and footwear the children can grow into in coming years.
  2. Go to yard sales and pick up any future clothing and footwear item that still has some life in it that you can find. Remember, we are dressing for a SHTF event and not for school. Browse the $.25 and even $.10 table for deals. Clothing with a few stains or holes will be just fine for everyday wear during a long-term disaster – and can also make great barter.
  3. Go to Goodwill stores in search of clothing and footwear preps for the little ones. Although the prices at Goodwill stores are typically higher than those at yard sales, most such locations offer a buy one get one or even greater discounts once a month or at the end of a season.
  4. Attend church rummage sales – especially right before they end. While prices vary by location, it is not unusual for such sales to offer “Fill a bag for $1” or even a quarter deals. I once spend $20 at a church rummage sale during its final two hours when prices had dropped, and literally filled the back of my pickup truck with tightly stuff garbage bags of coats in all sizes, sweatshirts, boots, jeans, and other clothing items.

When stockpiling footwear, be sure to also purchase extra shoestrings and bootstring, as well as insole inserts.

Children are generally rough on their clothing and footwear, and they will likely be subjected to a more rugged lifestyle during a long-term disaster – potentially causing those used or bargain pieces of footwear to need some minor repairs before they are too small to wear.

If you do not know how to sew, it would be a great idea to learn. Being able to sew and having patterns stockpiled in a variety of sizes will allow you to turn large clothing into something fit for a child.

You would be surprised how easy it is to turn a men’s dress shirt picked up for $.50 at a yard sale, into a simple shift dress for a toddler. Every sheet, fleece blanket, and worn piece of clothing I find at yard sales is snagged up to use for fabric later on.

You do not need to spend a lot of money buying patterns. You can download a plethora of free sewing patterns online and easily teach yourself how to make your own by tracing a piece of clothing onto cardboard or poster board paper. The Bluprint website (used to be Craftsy) is typically my go-to place to score free and incredibly cheap patterns.

Mobility

If you have to bugout on foot or travel frequently on foot after a long-term disaster, this will be especially taxing on both the little ones and yourself.

Most toddlers are independent enough to not want to be confined to a stroller, but during a SHTF event, their little legs and immediate care items they require, are going to need a lift.

double umbrella stroller

A double umbrella stroller is sturdy and large enough to cart two preschool age children yet still adaptable enough to transport toddlers. It is lightweight, it doesn’t weigh much more than a typical single umbrella strollers, and it fits through standard doorways.

As part of your prepping for toddlers and young children, make sure to purchase any combination of the following to prepare for on foot travel. Remember the prepper mantra, “Two is one, and one is none” and work more than a single manually powered travel aid into your survival budget.

  • Umbrella stroller – double umbrella strollers are hard to find in stores but are readily available online and do not cost that much more than a single stroller and often have a deeper storage compartment underneath.
  • Wagon – preferably one with canopy seats that fold for napping, and storage compartments. Folding wagons are also great because they can be collapsed and stored in even small vehicle for emergency travel.
  • Tricycle with a handle – This type of manual transportation is large enough to suit a preschool age child. Some models include a canopy top and large storage pouch in the back that closes, making it more like a combination tricycle and umbrella stroller.
  • Pony or miniature horse – I am serious here folks. If you are a rural prepper, invest in a mini horse or pony and have it cart trained. You can lead the animal with your child riding on it and have storage for necessary items in the saddle bag, horn bag, and the cart. The cart can be used to transport older children or a baby that has been laid down or placed in a carrier to nap.

Educational Materials

If you homeschool your prepper kids, there is already a stockpile of learning materials on hand at your home. But if you do not, or thinking about teaching academics to your toddler might seem like a too far in the future thing to ponder.

An apocalyptic event could cause you to become your child’s teacher. It will be as important after a doomsday event as it is now for your little ones to learn to read, write, do math, have science based skills, and have a knowledge and appreciation of our history.

toddler holding a gardening book
Auddie is showing off her alphabet flowers book that had just arrived in the mail. It combines learning how to identify flowers and a smidge bit about them, with memorizing and recognizing letters. Auddie is pointing on command to different flowers she already knows – milkweed is her favorite because it attracts butterflies.

The child will need to know how to read in order to cook, follow any type of written directions, and to be able to pick up a book independently to fill the void left by the constant hum of a television set.

Math and science skills will be necessary for building projects, making repairs, gardening, livestock husbandry, and a little bit of almost everything else.

America still needs to be America – even after the SHTF. If the job of teaching the history of this great nation becomes your task, you hold a portion of its future in your hands.

You do not need a ton of materials to teach children. Learning how to read and write can be accomplished without putting pen to paper. I helped teach my grandchildren their letters by giving them a stick to etch them out in our sandy dirt.

We used natural items we collected as part of a science activity to practice counting. Getting creative and using what is around you will help keep your educational materials budget down, and on the amount of educational preps you need to lug around.

toddler helps processing some daisies

Auddie is practicing her scissors and counting skills while helping to process some daisies that were then turned into a tincture.

Best Places to Score Cheap Educational Materials

  • Annual public library book sales often charge a set fee of only a few dollars for a tote bag you get to fill with books. A few years ago I bought two sets of encyclopedias for $5 each because they were dated and the ladies simply didn’t want to pack them back inside.
  • Dollar Tree boasts a wealth of learning aids that tend to target preschool through the third grade.
  • Search on Facebook for homeschool groups in your town, county, or region. The groups often cheaply sell learning materials their children have grown out of, post alerts about “not back to school” sales targeted to this demographic, and coupons from online stores that give discounts to both traditional and homeschool teachers.

Board games can double as educational homeschool materials and as fairly quiet morale boosters items. I have stockpiled learning games that that also reinforce the habit training the toddlers, preschoolers, and older children are engaging in.

In the photo below, the kiddos are playing the Sneaky Snacky Squirrel game. The game is a perfect tie in to our foraging and general forest school activities while also teaches colors and counting.

playing Sneaky Snacky Squirrel

Top 10 Board Games and Activity Kits for Young Prepper Kids

  1. Wildcraft – A cooperative wild herb foraging game.
  2. Veggie Farm Sorting SetThis game is perfect for toddlers and young children. They learn how to identify and sort common vegetables and a little bit of information about how farmers tend to each one, as well as counting, shape, and color recognition.
  3. Magnetic Fishing Game – This fairly realistic fishing set teaches both letters and numbers. There is also a similar set available to teach beginning word recognition.
  4. The Magic School Bus Wonders Of Nature – This is an earth science game and activity kit which offers young children hands on learning about nature and the outdoors.
  5. Animal Tracks Game – This learn and match game will help reinforce comprehension skills and relates perfectly to orienteering and hunting training. Younger children can play this game easily with a little help, and older children can play it independently.
  6. Outdoor Explorer Kit – This is a fantastic hands-on learning set that has stood up well to repeated outdoor use by toddlers and young children in our survival tribe. It includes binoculars, a compass, small shovel, flashlight, magnifying glass, whistle, slingshot, several other outdoor inspection items and a little backpack to carry the items.
  7. Into The Forest – This game teaches children about the food chain and reinforces hunting and trapping habit training. It is designed for ages 3 and up. I have played it with young children who really love it, but need a little assistance due to the reading. Children as old as 14 have played it independently and enjoyed it, also.
  8. Go Find It – This little pouch of nature scavenger hunt cards is perfect to take on a hike. It is designed for children three and up, but I have played it with children on the verge of two and they enjoy it and learn from it quite well.
  9. Camp – This board game is designed for family play with children of varying age levels. It comes with outdoor and animal learning playing cards on a series of different levels.
  10. Match a Leaf – This outdoor twist on an old-fashioned memory card game boast realistic photos of leaves and trees to help the child playing learn the names of trees as well as the shape and color of their leaves.
playing a DIY wooden game
This homemade game took about 10 minutes to make, and only requires a couple pieces of cardboard and some clothes pins from the Dollar Tree. Auddie and Colt are snapping clothespins with a colored swatch on the end to the cardboard in the appropriate spot.

Some of the clothespins had a “challenge shape” that had to be clipped to the spot on the cardboard that it matched in both color and shape. I have since made more of these portable games using colors, upper and lower case letters, simple math problems, and sight words.

Morale Boosters

As noted above, infusing as much normalcy as possible into the daily lives of toddlers and young children will help prevent anxiety, stress, depression, fear, and emotional meltdowns.

Not only do you want to prevent these situations from occurring for the sake of your beloved little one, OPSEC concerns make preventing screaming and crying an absolute must during a bugout.

The stockpiling of morale boosters is commonplace for most preppers, but taking the concept a little bit further could really have a positive day-to-day impact on toddlers and young children.

Individual Morale Boosters

I keep a morale booster tote for each specific child. They helped to write their names and decorate the outside of the tub to personalize it and claim ownership of the surprises that will be placed inside.

Age and interest specific items, along with edible treats, are tightly tucked away inside. You can make getting into the box an earned treat or part of the daily or weekly routine.

Having something to look forward to, no matter how brief the experience is or how small the treasure garnered is, will uplift spirits and hopefully encourage both good behavior and a bit of happiness during an otherwise bleak time.

Auddie and Colt are making their own natural, battery free and quiet toys. Although they loved playing with the wood peg people without any facial features or clothing designs on them, I drew some and let the children color them in with markers.

I made several sets of these with their help and allowed them to keep some and put the others in their travel bugout bag for future use. These wood peg people can be purchased in multiple large sets in varying sizes on Amazon:

wood peg people

These sets are durable, lightweight, and easily portable – making them a great morale booster and “normalcy” toy item to take on a bugout or store at a prepper retreat if you do not plan on remaining home during a SHTF event.

Because interests and age appropriateness can change frequently with children in this age group, keeping the morale booster tubs updated by rotating in and out the items stored inside is highly encouraged.

Right now, our youngest grandson is REALLY into Lego. So in his morale booster tote are 12 sets of generic Lego-like kits and minifigures from the Dollar Tree.

There are also small sets of Lego-like blocks in the tote. A child of three of four can delight in playing with a new toy they built for a single week before it loses its luster – just in time to get a turn at reaching inside the tote and discovering a new similar item to play with.

Our middle granddaughter is equally into flowers, fairies, and butterflies. I purchased a set of 150 flower garden “blocks” from Amazon that came complete with butterflies and a few fairy dolls. This interactive toy can be played with many different ways and engage the child over a longer period of time.

It came in its own little case, making it easy to store. I removed the fairy dolls from the kit so they could be given out as individual add-ons to the set after the blocks have been given from the morale booster tote.

Top Morale Booster Items for Toddlers and Young Children

  1. Coloring and Activity Books – These items will provide hours of enjoyment, cost very little to stockpile, and are lightweight. You will score extra smiles from you little ones if the theme of the books involves their favorite characters, animals, or sports activities. Dollar Tree is once again my go-to place for these items. They have dozens to choose from, and often sell pamphlet sized activity books in sets of two or three for $1, as well as generic brand markers and crayons.
  2. Puzzles – You can stockpile wood puzzles or large piece hard cardboard puzzles for toddlers and simple low count piece puzzles for preschoolers without busting your budget. Yard sales, Dollar Tree, and Goodwill stores are excellent sources when shopping for these lightweight items that will keep children busy for hours.
  3. Sidewalk Chalk – A bucket of large chalk pieces of packs of smaller colored chalk will allow the world to become their canvas. No matter where you are when delving into the morale booster box, there should be ample things the children can draw on with the chalk – without ruining it.
  4. Craft Kits – You can buy simple craft kits designed specifically for toddlers and young children, or make your own. At this age, the children love to cut, paste, make collages, and put things together. Stringing beads, lacing cards, a hodgepodge of loose items that can be glued onto paper or a paper plate, are all ideal for crafting with little ones. The idea behind interactive morale boosters is to keep the children engaged and focused on an activity for as long as their growing attention spans will tolerate – giving them a virtual escape from the reality of the disaster and a chance to decompress.
  5. Storybooks – Snag as many books as you can from a library sale, yard sale, or Dollar Tree to use in morale booster boxes. If you have more than one toddler or young child, alternate the giving of books so everyone can enjoy the reading of a new book each day or week when the totes are opened.
  6. Dolls, Stuffed Animal, or Action Figure – Place some small dolls, stuffed animals, or action figures into the morale booster tote that can be easily toted around by the child. This will give a quiet and seated play activity that will bring comfort to the little one and encourage group play with the toys among multiple children. By listening to the imaginative play that results you may learn about any stress or emotional issues going on with the child that you need to address as they act out scenes with their dolls, stuffed animals, or action figures.
  7. Jump Ropes and Balls – You may be forced to spend a lot of time indoors or in close quarters. Even if you are camping outdoors on a bugout, the children will not have a lot of freedom of movement for safety reasons. Add some jump ropes, bouncy balls, velcro mitt and ball sets, jacks, or similar toys so the children can burn off some energy and avoid restlessness. For toddlers, a cloth ball with activity panels will be quite an engaging toy that can be used to physically release energy or be played with when remaining in a stroller or car seat for an extended period of time becomes necessary.

If your child has a special stuffed toy, doll, pillow, or blanket they sleep with, consider buying a second one to store with your preps. A lost special treasure during a bugout will create way more anguish, and likely wailing, than you will have the patience to deal with – and the added noise could easily draw unwanted attention to the location of your family.

Top Child Group Morale Boosters

Stockpiling morale boosters for the group of children in your family or tribe as a whole is also an excellent idea. These items will be larger and pulled out less frequently than the individual morale boosters.

  1. Board Games – Choose only old-fashioned board games that do not require batteries or make a lot of noise. Travel-size board games can often be found at Dollar Tree, Dollar General, and Family Dollar stores for a low price. I have found many great games at Goodwill and yard sales – but checking to make sure all of the necessary parts are still intact is a must to avoid future disappointment.
  2. Tablets – Fill a tablet with downloaded movies and store it in a Faraday cage. Include multiple sets of earbuds and a solar charger that is also stored in its own Faraday cage. The tablet can be used to create a movie night treat or to distract and calm a fussy child – especially during a time when quiet is necessary or when the adults cannot afford to be distracted.
  3. Snacks – freeze dried ice cream, dehydrated fruit, and similar shelf stable items that can be rotated.
  4. Holiday – Celebrating holidays will be a huge morale booster, and also help maintain normalcy in the lives of the little ones. You can buy or make craft kits that coordinate with holidays, simple mask making kits and face paint to celebrate Halloween, adornments to decorate pine cones for Christmas, etc. Festive plastic tablecloths can add some levity to a special holiday meal – even when it is cooked over an open flame and comprised of long-term storage pouches.
  5. Gifts – Just because the SHTF, that does not mean the kiddos will not want to wake up to Christmas surprises and celebrate their birthdays. Make or buy some birthday decorations you can reuse for multiple celebrations and buy some plastic eggs to hide for the children to find at Easter. Search for bargain toys and games at yard sales, Goodwill, rummage sales, clearance sales, and the Dollar Tree to serve as gifts. Remember, the disaster could go on for years, so focus on a single store bought gift for each occasion instead of the usual birthday or Christmas haul.

Keep holiday traditions alive during a long-term disaster, even if it is on a smaller scale. Opening Christmas stockings on Christmas Eve is part of our family’s holiday traditions – one that is highly anticipated by the kiddos.

children opening Christmas stockings

I made a second set of stockings to match the ones we use every year and put them in our bugout kit. They can be filled with gifts as noted above, and homemade items like boats made from twigs, dolls made from cornhusks, scrap fabric sewn into stuffed animal shapes and filled with leaves, etc. to bring some joy and boost morale even during a SHTF scenario.

Toddler and Young Child Bugout Bags

I urge you to create two different types of emergency bags for your toddler or preschool aged child. One should be a typical bugout bag filled with items designed to meet the child’s needs for 72 hours.

The second should be a small bag or knapsack the child can carry themselves or is lightweight enough for an older child or other adult to help pack as needed.

This bag will contain primarily lightweight comfort items, change of clothes, immediate need personal care items, as some food and drinks. Consider it a prepper style overnight bag or vacation car travel bag.

Unless you are traveling on foot, all of your bags and survival gear will be stored somewhere in your vehicle or pull behind trailer.

You do not want to have to stop and get out to be able to access the bag for a diaper change, accident change in an older child, or to get formula or juice. Safety and speed are essential during a bugout or a rapid trip home from somewhere after the SHTF.

25 Items to Put in an Emergency Bag for Toddlers and Young Children

  1. Diapers or extra underwear
  2. Wipes
  3. No spill sippy cup x2
  4. Formula or juice boxes – bottled water
  5. Food – protein rich snacks and morale booster sweet snack
  6. Bandaids
  7. Antiseptic cream
  8. Burn cream
  9. 4 changes of clothes – expect accidents to happen even if the child is 3 or 4 years old
  10. Small blanket
  11. Spare pair of sturdy and waterproof boots or walking shoes
  12. Jacket
  13. Gloves
  14. Socks – insulated if fall, winter, or early spring
  15. Thermal underwear
  16. Emergency thermal blanket
  17. Toboggan – preferably one with ear flaps
  18. Scarf – not a cute crochet one but a thick lined or at least flannel one
  19. Fever reducer – pain reliever
  20. Antibacterial lotion
  21. Tissues
  22. Hand warmers, and foot warmers
  23. Identification documents – birth certificate, photo of child with parents, names and addresses of nearby relatives or close friends.
  24. Medical documents – detail any medical conditions or allergies the child has, any medication the child is taking, and medical history.
  25. Special toy or a duplicate of it, that you know the child loves and will bring comfort.

The toddler or young child’s bugout bag should have their name clearly written on it and a tag that includes their photo. If the child is separated from you or you perish, someone who finds the child should be able to determine his or her name.

I would recommend putting an ID bracelet or lanyard on the child or at least a name sticker on their clothing or labels just in case of either scenario noted above plays out and they child and bugout bag are not found together.

If you are planning on bugging in and are either home or get home when disaster strikes, keeping an emergency bag ready to go in case a sudden bugout becomes necessary, cannot be recommended highly enough.

Being forced to leave and likely never return home will be a traumatic experience for everyone involved – including toddlers and young children.

To avoid forgetting something important to the child or necessary for their care in a panicked moment during a bugout, make a folder with the documents noted above and clip a list to it of the items you do not want to forget to grab for them.

At the top of our daughter’s list for her youngest daughter is Peppa Pig. Ariyah sleeps with her stuffed Peppa Pig every night – that is the one toy we keep a duplicate of for her in case it gets lost during a disaster.

If Brea must bug out quickly, the Peppa stuffed toy must be grabbed from wherever it might be in the house and taken with them to avoid an insanely loud and long meltdown from that precious tiny 2 year old.

Because we are prepping for children who change in size interests and care needs in such short intervals, I recommend reviewing the preps stockpiled for them every three to six months to remove any unnecessary items and to change out clothing and shoes for size.

Final Words of Wisdom

Contrary to how the mainstream media often likes to portray preppers, we are not hiding in bunkers in camo gear, armed to the teeth 24/7 and shielding our children away from society.

Nope, we are simply planning for what could happen and taking steps to ensure the survival of our loved ones if it does. Part of the planning process involves thinking ahead – way ahead, if there are children in your family or survival tribe.

By stockpiling items and gear to meet the ever changing needs of such young and growing children, they will be better protected from the elements, hunger, and emotional turmoil during a disaster would bring.

prepping with toddlers Pinterest image

About Tara Dodrill

Tara Dodrill
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, 'Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out', Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.

6 comments

  1. Avatar

    We went car camping every summer. Usually for three weeks. We drove long distances to visit relatives but spent more time seeing the United States and National parks.
    We carried a few easy care clothing items and simple soap so we could wash ourselves and clothing in a gas station sink or stream.
    We ate cold sandwiches and sometimes a can of beans warmed on the manifold. Some places we built a camp fire and some we just slept in the car then drove on. The bed was all the seats layed flat and touched to make one big bed. Old army air mattresses and surplus store wool blankets made our bed. If camped outside we had wooden folding cots and slept under the stars.
    We played travel games like watching for all red cars or certain state license plates. When I was older I paid attention to the country and sketching it.
    We did forrage in some areas for things we could find where we live and for other things we couldn’t have found in our area.
    At age 9 my parents gave me a simple box camera. I took many pictures. Dad developed them. Mom was also taking pictures of places we went.
    At home, when Dad was in college and working full time, Mom and I’d go Forraging for our dinner.
    I raised my kids camping, tracking and Forraging and more. We ate a lot of wild plants as they grew up. The families favorite jelly or syrup was prickly pear fruit with sugar and pectin. Some years I added a little lemon juice so it would jell. The kids all learned to respect rattle snakes and back away or kill according to the situation. None of them would have been squeamish eaters. A cleaned rattler, cooked in a campfire was welcomed. As teens they all were allowed an overnight campout on the mountain above us.
    When I was 4 I learned to cook a single serving of oatmeal or fry an egg. I helped split fruit to dry or can. By 6 I was able to safely cut fruit and pack a canning jar. It didn’t actually can fruit until I was around 10.
    I learned to read a map from Mom. She was the navigator on every trip. Sometimes she’d take a nap and I’d watch the map. it helped me understand north, south, east or west directions when I didn’t have a map or out in the woods. My daughter traveled the US and Canada in a truck her husband drove commercially. She was the navigator. Later I taught my mother in law how to read a map. It’s easy if you learn young.

  2. Avatar

    5 stars
    I have to say that this is the best article of its type I have ever seen. And I have seen many.

    Only one small thing that I would change. The comment about washing reusable diapers and such in a stream. I do not believe that it is a good idea now or during or after a disaster situation. It risks contaminating the stream with bacteria and viruses that could be a major problem for those downstream. And even yourself if you must use that water at some point.

    Other than that, great!

    Just my opinion.

    • Avatar

      Jerry,

      Thank you very much. Yes, I should have clarified and state use water from a creek and not actually wash the cloth diaper in the creek – thank you for pointing that out.

  3. Avatar

    Agree with Jerry – a ***** 5 Star article on the subject ….

    suggestion – besides the “dog tag” ID for the kids – suggest a magic marker be included in the kit for ID marking directly on a leg or arm …

    also – sounds cruel but the homeless moms tie their children to themselves for sleeping – wouldn’t be the worst thing to have a harness & leash arrangement for some children ….

    • Avatar

      Thank you Illini Warrior and I like both of your additions very much. During a SHTF event, keeping your children safe at all costs will be a priority!

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