Disaster can strike at any time and any place. Though you will no doubt do all you can to protect your children or grandchildren from harm, you may not always be around to look out for them.
Even though they’re still young, they should know some basic survival skills so that in the event you aren’t around, they’ll know what to do. It is never too early to learn.
Learning these skills doesn’t have to be boring. You can play games and role-play scenarios to help kids acquire and master survival skills. For safety reasons, always have them supervised, especially when dealing with complicated stuff.
Here are 50 survival skills that you ought to be teaching them.
1. How To Build a Basic Fire
You don’t have to go far to camp when you can do it right in your backyard. This will be a great way to experience living without the comforts that they’re used to and an opportunity to learn how to make a campfire.
Teach them how to collect firewood responsibly, what types of trees and lengths of wood to look for, the importance of choosing seasoned wood, how to safely build fires, several age-appropriate ways to light fires, and how to correctly put them out afterward.
Depending on the age of your child, you may want to teach them how to build and use a fire to signal for help also.
2. Situational awareness
Even if you accompany your kids, they must always be aware of what’s happening around them. When in the car, you can play the license plate game, I Spy, description game (observe a certain area and recall every detail by memory), or the right way to… game (give driving directions).
3. Finding and collecting water
Take advantage of the rain and send them out to collect rainwater using baggies, grocery bags, and plastic containers in a form of a game. Whoever collects the most, wins.
Also, teach them several ways of water collection such as hanging, spreading, and half-burying the containers. Teach them to filter the rainwater using a bandana or even their t-shirt.
4. Water purification
The water they have collected may not be necessarily clean. There are a lot of ways of purifying water such as boiling, distillation, and using tablets.
When camping outdoors, they should always keep water purification tabs in their backpacks. Teach them how to look for a water source, where to avoid drinking water, and how to use a simple filter like a LifeStraw.
5. Simple shelter building
One of the most important skills your child can learn is simple shelter building. Every child should be familiar with how to set up a basic tent using cordage and a tarp.
It’s also a great idea to teach your child how to use materials they find available to make a natural shelter. This is a skill that can be a lifelong family learning activity.
Build a different type of shelter every time you camp or go outdoors, even practice in your backyard. It’s one of the most vital survival skills for kids to learn and practice.
6. Reading a map, compass, and GPS
It is important for kids to know how to read a map and use a compass, and GPS in case you get separated. They can also use this to find their way home.
Every child should know their street address and city. Point out landmarks such as the library, a water tower, railroad tracks, etc. that are near your home.
For young children, you can make a game of finding your way home from school, the grocery store, or soccer practice. Take a different route than what they are used to and ask the kids to tell you which turns to make to get home.
When you are outdoors in the yard, a park, or other location, make learning navigation fun by doing a treasure hunt and drawing a map to find the treasure for practice. You can also print out maps of the city and point out different bug out routes that are planned.
Teach them which plants are edible and which ones are poisonous. Go out on nature walks with your children and help them identify the plants and trees that you encounter. This will come in handy during camping trips and hikes.
Emphasize that there are look-alike plants and make sure kids check what they find with you before eating anything new or anything that has a toxic look alike.
8. Signaling for Help
When hiking in the woods, teach your children to signal for help in case they get separated or lost.
Dress them in bright colors to make them very easy to spot at a distance. Talk about how to use universal distress signals if rescuers are searching by land, air, or sea.
Pack them a signal mirror or a whistle and teach them how to use these to signal. For the mirror, aim the reflected light toward the direction of your camp. For the signal whistle, blow three blasts, stop and listen for a minute, then blow again.
9. Overcoming fear of the dark
Are they still afraid of the dark? Get them off the couches and lead them on their own adventure outside. This is necessary for bug out situations where they have to move out during the night.
Start by accompanying them on walks after dark. Better yet, let them play flashlight tag with other kids. Just don’t let them go too far and remember that there’s always safety in numbers.
Turn off the power or the lights in the house at night and let your kids practice finding a flashlight or nightlight and getting to a designated rendezvous point.
10. Evacuation plans
You and your children should work out a plan for when something goes wrong and you need to evacuate. Discuss and practice safety drills for natural disasters, such as tornadoes, power outages, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, or other emergencies that are likely in your area
Assign a meet-up area and a backup if your house is no longer safe to go back to. Also, have them memorize S.T.O.P.: Stop, Think, Observe, and Plan.
11. Hiding for safety
Hide and seek games can be useful for emergency situations. Playing this game will familiarize them with different safe spots in your home where they can hide in case there’s trouble.
When that time comes, tell them to stay hidden until you or a trusted adult comes near. Remind them they should NEVER hide if the home is on fire or hide from firemen but should get out of the house to your predetermined meeting spot.
12. What to do when lost
It’s a parent’s worst nightmare to lose their child in a crowd. Tell yours to stay put if they get lost as it will be harder to find them if both of you are moving around, searching for each other.
Point out security guards, cashiers, or staff when you arrive at a store, mall, or other location so children know who to go to for help.
For older children, identify an easily seen just in case meeting point when you arrive at any location. If children are separated or cannot find you at the appointed time, or cannot reach you by phone or text, everyone will go to the meeting point and wait.
Your meeting point should be easy to find from any area, such as the Ferris wheel at a fair, the center courtyard or fountain in a mall, or the cash registers in a store
Pack a few survival items on their backpack such as a whistle, a bright bandana, a spare cell phone (you can call 911 even with no service), and a bottle of water for signaling and to keep them hydrated until you find them.
Make sure you child can give their full name, your full name, and depending on age, your phone number and/or street address.
13. Keeping their mouths shut
Teach them that even though the stranger looks nice or offer them something, they should never trust anyone easily. Looks can be deceiving.
When you enter a store, mall, or another public location, ask your child to point out which people are staff or security. Let them know to go to those individuals behind a register or counter for help first rather than someone just walking around in uniform.
Also, teach them the “No, Go, Yell, Tell”. In a dangerous situation, they should say no, run away, yell their loudest, and tell a parent or guardian what happened right away.
14. When home alone
When your kids are all alone in the house, teach them not to answer the door for anyone.
Make sure they know to call you immediately if they see anyone, they think may try to enter the home when they are home alone. Keep the windows and doors locked as well as the blinds and curtains shut.
Tell them to turn on the TV or the radio. Potential intruders may be discouraged from coming in if they hear speaking and noise and it seems someone is home. Make sure they know they have permission to call 911 if anyone actively attempts to get inside the home.
15. During medical emergencies
Dialing 911 and reporting an emergency may seem overwhelming to your kid. Help them get rid of those nerves by rehearsing with them. Practice some situations so that they will know what to say to the operator and what to do until help arrives.
Define what constitutes a 911 emergency versus a “call grandma or a call the neighbor” emergency. Make sure they understand when to call 911 for help and that they understand not to use this service unless it is an actual emergency.
16. First Aid
Liven up their first aid training by creating various scenarios with their friends and letting them take turns pretending to be the patient and the one administering first aid.
Start with simple things such as how to clean and bandage a cut, how to create a sling, and how to create a transport sled from a tarp and limbs.
Teach them how to pack and inventory first aid kits to familiarize themselves with the contents and their uses. Talk about safety, prevention, and how and when to take action in an emergency.
17. How To Cook Outdoors
Once you have a fire, the next step is outdoor cooking. Most kids start by learning to cook S’mores and hot dogs. It’s also important to know how to clean and cook animals.
Use this opportunity to teach them about knives and food safety issues such as internal cooking temperatures, food storage, etc.
A good starting point to teach them is by making “hobo bags” first. You do this by wrapping your meat and vegetables in tin foil and roasting it over the fire. Always emphasize fire safety.
Once they know how to make those, you can move on to more complex outdoor cooking methods.
Swimming is a survival skill everyone should learn. Sign them up for swimming lessons in your community or if you are near a small river or lake, you can teach them yourself.
Emphasize water safety including how to correctly gauge depth and current of water. Teach your kids water safety and accident prevention. Some things to consider include:
- Never jump or dive into water unless you’ve physically checked it for depth as well as any underwater rocks, pipes, sharp objects, etc.
- When a friend or someone else is in trouble in the water, make sure your kids know to throw a life preserver or some other flotation device, call or run for help, etc. rather than trying to go into the water to save someone who is drowning. It’s important for kids to know that a person who is drowning will panic and pull them down as well.
- Teach your kids how to check ice thickness and what to look for that signals ice is melting or thin.
- Help your kids to learn about currents, tides, and other ways that water behaves so they can make informed decisions if they do get into trouble in the water. You never know when they’re going to need to cross water, especially in a bug out situation.
This may not sound very exciting to kids at first but it’s great for them to experience how to grow their own food.
Planting and nurturing their own fruits and vegetables will give them a sense of pride and teach them responsibility. As soon as kids are walking, they can begin to help in the garden.
Let them help you plant seeds, water, and pull weeds as they get old enough to tell the difference between weeds and plants. Get them involved when it’s time to harvest the garden too. This will also give them a whole new appreciation of the food that they eat on the table.
20. Scavenger Hunts
This activity is a great way of looking for usable items in case disaster strikes and the supplies run low. Have them collect as much as they can and teach them which objects are useful and which are not.
Guide them to consider new places to forage for usable items and to think outside the box. Stress the importance of timing, respect for nature, and avoiding other desperate people when foraging.
Encourage them to think of uses for the items or ways to modify them for use that you may not have thought of.
21. Staying fit
If their playtime consists of playing video games and sitting on the couch the whole day, better get them outside pronto. Make them eat those vegetables and have them exercise.
Playing outside can be counted as exercise so it shouldn’t be that hard. Just being able to walk or run long distances, sprint for short distances or climb trees can help kids stay fit.
It’s also a good workout to teach kids how to swing an axe, push a lawn mower, rake leaves, etc. Physical fitness can be crucial in survival situations and can sometimes be the difference between life and death.
22. Bartering and negotiation
When you go to yard sales and flea markets, take the kids with you. Let them learn up close how to bargain for good deals.
Talk to them about the importance of respecting the other person, as well as the value and quality of items. Teach them how to spot quality items and which items can be found cheaper at flea markets than in the stores.
This can help teach them how to save money as they progress in life and may be necessary for extreme situations where you need them to help barter for essential supplies following an SHTF event.
23. Communication skills
Every family should have a plan for communicating with one another when plans change, or things go wrong. If you teach your kids the importance of communicating their whereabouts daily it will ensure that they do this in a survival or SHTF situation when their life may depend on it.
One of their first instincts in an emergency should be to get a message to you. Your kids should know your phone number and at least two other phone numbers of trusted adults they can contact in an emergency. Just having numbers in their phone is not enough.
Emergency numbers should be memorized and should also be written down in their backpack, wallet, or purse so they have them even if their phone dies, is lost, damaged, or is stolen.
If possible, they should have alternate ways to contact you, using either a pager, walkie-talkie, or even a note or visual signal if phone systems are down.
Communication is the number one rule in our household. My kids know they must tell me where they are going and who they will be with. If plans change, they must notify me and get a response from me before they move to a new location.
Timely communication ensures that I know where to look for them in an emergency. This rule will save precious time and allow me to get to my children quickly and without having to call numerous people or check several locations to find them.
They may be just kids but they should also know how to protect and defend themselves. Whether it’s martial arts, boxing, or something else, every kid should know how to defend themselves from a personal assault.
Teach them or let them learn some basic self-defense moves so that when they’re in a tight situation, they won’t be so helpless. This will be useful for many scenarios, even when they’ve grown past puberty.
25. How and where to fish
Kids can learn how and where to fish from a very young age. Make sure they know how to find bait, what type of bait to use, and how to fish safely.
Teach them to identify fish, the best times to fish, and how to fish with a pole but also how to fish using a net, their hands, or even a t-shirt if need be. Let them practice as much as possible so they learn to bait their own hook and how to unsnag a line, remove a hook from the fish, etc.
26. Proper cleaning and cooking of fish
If you are teaching your kids how to fish, it’s a good idea to teach them how to properly clean and then cook each type of fish. Being able to catch, clean, and cook fish can go a long way towards keeping them fed in a survival or SHTF situation.
27. Weather patterns
No matter what age your kids are, you can teach them to pay attention to weather patterns so that they can have at least some advance warning of bad weather.
Teaching them to take note of the weather, how to check weather forecasts, and what to do when a storm or other inclement weather will serve them well as they get older.
Kids should know what types of changes indicate severe weather such as a tornado, hurricane, lightning, or other storm, and the safest options for shelter for each type of storm.
In a survival situation, simply observing small changes in weather can give your kids enough time to take shelter before it’s too late.
28. Staying warm
Exposure to the elements can cause a whole host of problems. It’s important for kids to learn why it’s vital to stay warm and dry and how to dress to be ready for the weather. Young kids can be taught to always carry a jacket with them, and to wear warm socks and boots in winter.
They should know how to properly layer clothing to insulate against the cold and how to watch for symptoms of frostnip and frostbite, especially as they get older.
It’s also helpful to teach kids about insulating shelters with natural materials, how to block drafts, the importance of an insulating layer between their body and the ground, etc.
29. Food safety
The importance of food safety should not be ignored when teaching survival skills to kids. They should know the safe storage and cooking temperatures for food and how to identify food that might be unsafe to eat.
If your kids have allergies, teach them how to check their food to make sure it doesn’t contain the things they are allergic to and what to do if they do ingest food, containing an ingredient, they are allergic to.
30. Identifying animal tracks
Another survival skill that kids can learn from a pretty young age is how to identify different animal tracks. This can be a game when they are young so that it is something fun and entertaining.
As they get older and they can navigate on their own, you can encourage them to locate and follow game trails or other tracks as practice for hunting or trapping.
31. Hunting small game
One of the skills that kids can learn early is how to track and hunt small game and poultry. Start by identifying animal tracks you find in your yard or around the farm.
Children from a young age, if mature enough, can participate in adult-supervised hunting trips using an age-appropriate firearm or in some cases a slingshot or another alternative weapon. Even young children can learn to use snares and other traps to catch small game.
32. Proper butchering and cleaning of small game
Just like with fish, kids need to learn how to properly clean and butcher small game they hunt. Most adults aren’t knowledgeable enough in how to clean and butcher small game but it’s a great skill for kids to learn if they are willing and able.
In a survival situation, if you aren’t around, your kids could be valuable members of a group if they know how to butcher and clean animals properly.
33. Food preservation
Food preservation, without electricity, is one of the essential survival skills your kids need to learn. Many of the older adults who know the details of food preservation are getting older.
In an extended SHTF scenario, the ability to safely preserve what little food you can grow will be vital to long-term survival. Kids can learn home canning, meat drying and smoking, how to dehydrate vegetables and herbs, how and when to use a root cellar, or spring house, etc.
Teach your kids how to help with this process from the time they are young and increase their skill level as they get older.
Not only can they help you with food preservation, but they can be a valuable member of a group if the time ever comes when you are not around.
34. Importance of good hygiene
One of the things that is often neglected when preparing for an SHTF or survival situation is the importance of good hygiene. Talk to kids about germs and bacteria and how good hygiene habits prevent infection.
Teach kids from a young age to wash their hands, how to keep themselves clean, and take care of their teeth and gums.
Good personal hygiene habits will go a long way toward preventing infection in a survival or long-term SHTF situation.
35. How to sew
The skill of sewing had almost become a lost art, but it has recently made a comeback. Basic sewing techniques are something that every child should learn at some point.
The ability to sew a button, repair a torn jacket, or mend a hole in a sock just might come in handy in a survival or SHTF situation. If your child has an interest, go beyond the basics and teach them to make their own clothes, knit a scarf, hat, or gloves, etc.
36. Using a Pocketknife
When they’re old enough, entrust them with a pocket knife of their own. It can be useful for peeling fruits, opening bottles, fishing, whittling wood, or making arrows, and even for self-defense.
You should never forget that it’s still a weapon and teach them to use it with caution. Make sure you and your child know and follow the laws and regulations regarding the carrying of pocketknives in your community.
37. How to make cordage
Another skill that can go a long way toward helping your child survive is making cordage from natural or found materials.
Start by teaching your child about paracord and how to divide the strands of a bracelet, braid strands of paracord to make it stronger, etc.
Then teach them how to make their own cordage from materials they can find. There are a wide variety of materials that can be used for cordage if your child knows how to locate it and prepare it so that it will be strong and get the job done.
38. Knot tying
Another skill that kids can learn from a very young age is knot tying. No matter what type of survival task they are trying to complete, the ability to tie a good knot will come in handy.
Teach your child different knots and when to use them for shelter building, fishing, securing gear, traps or snares, etc.
39. What to do when they encounter wildlife
Kids of all ages are naturally curious about wildlife animals they may encounter.
Some kids may instinctively panic or be afraid of wildlife and react in a way that can increase the danger either by causing an animal to attack or by running away and being injured because they trip, fall, or run into a tree or another dangerous area.
Teach your kids which animals are truly dangerous, which should simply be observed or avoided, and what to do if they encounter a dangerous animal.
40. Proper way to turn off utilities
In an emergency, such as a storm or natural disaster, knowing how to quickly turn off utilities can prevent further damage or injury. In most cases, you or another adult should be around to do this.
But if your child stays home alone or if you are for some reason unable to turn off utilities yourself, it’s important for children to know how and where to turn off utilities in your home.
41. How to start and maintain a generator safely
If you are far enough along in your prepping endeavors, you should have at least a portable generator for backup power to your home.
Make sure to teach your children how to safely operate your generator in the event they need to take over this task.
Let them practice turning it off or on and if age-appropriate, how to fill the generator and maintain it in case they would ever need to do it without you there.
42. Change a tire
Every child at some point before they reach driving age should learn the proper way to change a flat tire. This is not only a skill that can help them in a bug out or SHTF situation but it’s an essential life skill.
Many adults have been unnecessarily stranded on the highway with a flat tire. Without the knowledge and skill to change a tire, older children could be in further danger if they are forced to accept help from a passing stranger or if they have to wait in a dangerous area for you to get to them.
43. Pump gas and siphon gas if needed
Kids starting at around the age of ten years old can learn how to pump gas under your supervision at a gas station. This is a skill that they will use frequently once they begin to drive themselves.
Teach your kids about the different types of gasoline for cars, proper storage and transport of gasoline, and the importance of being safe around gas pumps.
Older kids can also benefit from learning how to siphon gas in the event of an SHTF event where gas stations aren’t operable.
The ability to safely siphon gas from an abandoned car or other sources could make the difference between them reaching your rendezvous point by car or having to struggle to get there on foot.
44. Basic car repair
The ability to perform basic car repair and maintenance is another essential life skill as well as a survival skill to teach your kids.
Even kids who aren’t yet driving a car of their own can learn how to change fuses, check oil, change an air filter, check radiator fluid, and brake fluid, and perform other basic repairs.
Not only will it keep your teenager safe when they are driving on a daily basis, but it will serve them well in a bug out situation if they are trying to make it safely to your meetup location.
45. How to keep a positive attitude
One of the most critical skills your child can have in a crisis or SHTF situation is the discipline to keep a positive attitude regardless of what may be going on around them.
Negativity in a crisis can result in reactive thinking or even depression or suicidal thoughts. Teach your kids to persevere no matter what life throws at them so that they can keep going even under the worst circumstances.
46. Avoiding a confrontation
For children of just about any age, one of the best survival skills you can teach them is how to avoid a confrontation. Many kids have an air of invincibility or believe that the worst-case scenarios won’t happen to them.
This is an important belief for kids to have but it must be tempered with the knowledge that most adults, especially those with a weapon, will simply have an unfair advantage.
The best way to keep your kids safe is to teach them how to avoid getting into a situation where the odds are stacked against them.
This means teaching your child how to hide or move without being seen, how to de-escalate a situation, and how to move quickly to get away from potential danger in a riot or other public situation.
47. Perimeter control and defense
Another survival skill that kids can learn is how to help with perimeter control and defense. Of course, you want to introduce this at an age-appropriate time for your child.
But even young children can begin to learn this by learning that it’s not okay to open the door of your home to strangers or to allow strangers to approach them when playing in the yard, etc. Teach your child what to do if they are approached by a stranger.
Make sure they know what the boundaries of your property are and let you know if someone strange is lurking about.
Kids can learn how to set up a basic alert system around a campsite using cordage and tin cans to alert them to animals or other intruders.
As kids get older, you can teach them to help in fixing fences and what to do if you need to defend your home against an intruder.
Here’s a PDF list of all of these skills just in case you’ll find yourself in a situation of teaching your child a new survival skill, and not knowing what. Print it out to have it when the power grid or the Internet may not be available for you to come back to this article.
Born and raised in NE Ohio, with early memories that include grandpa teaching her to bait a hook and watching her mom, aunts, and grandmothers garden, sew, and can food, Megan is a true farm girl at heart.
For Megan, the 2003 blackout, the events of 911, and the increasing frequency of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, spurred a desire to be more prepared. Soon to be living off-grid, this mother of four and grandmother of ten is learning everything she can about preparedness, survival, and homesteading.