5 Important Outdoor Skills To Teach Kids

©istockphoto/PeopleImagesActive parents often raise adventurous families, which is wonderful for kids: they get to test their limits, learn how to handle themselves in the outdoors, and grow up with a very respectful relationship to nature. Just make sure you’re highlighting these important skills.

How To Read A Map
No matter how complex our navigational technology becomes, the ability to read old-fashioned paper maps is an irreplaceable skill: it’s empowering, useful, and helps adventurers of all ages understand where they are, what the surrounding areas contain, and how to chart a course to a chosen destination. Start with the basics, like orienting charts, understanding the cardinal directions, topographic demarcations, and identifying and discerning lakes, rivers, mountains, and roads. As kids get older and more familiar with maps, move on to the more advanced skills, like the considering concepts that cause declination, finding a slope angle, and calculating distances between points.

A Basic Understanding of Fire
Everybody loves poking around in the campfire, and kids are no exception. Rather than discouraging school-aged children from experimenting with fire, teach them to respect the flames and educate them with the knowledge of how to play safely. Where are safe places to start fires in your local ecosystem? How should they be contained and extinguished? What should they do if they see a spark fly out of the fire? What are some of the most effective—and fun—ways to cook over a campfire?

Situational Awareness
Of all the things the outdoors can teach us, this is one of the most important—and the most overlooked. When you’re outside, encourage kids to practice simple awareness activities. For example, ask questions like: What’s above you? What’s below you? What kinds of noises are normal for this place? What kinds of animals might live in this environment? If you were to trip and fall, what would happen? Keep the atmosphere light and playful with fun games to encourage observational skills—but don’t underestimate how useful those skills can be.

Respect for Knives
Knives have been fascinating to kids for centuries. They’re powerful and dangerous tools, and many pint-sized scouts crave the knowledge to use their blades safely. Embrace that curiosity by teaching safe and respectful knife-handling skills: start with an age-appropriate pocket knife or multi-tool, encourage proper finger positioning and hand placement, and explain thoroughly how to evaluate whether a situation is a safe place to use a blade. The first project? Whittling the perfect marshmallow roasting stick.

A Basic Sense of Risk Assessment
Most young people understand that doing certain things causes certain results—but practicing, understanding, and talking about actions and their consequences in a controlled wilderness or outdoor environment can be a very rewarding experience. Try setting up safe situations where kids can practice their own evaluation of risk versus reward. For example, go on a walk in a local park, then ask which way they’d like to go: the shorter route, which will be easier—or the longer route, which will be harder but more rewarding? By practicing these skills with the help of family members and loved ones, young people will be more prepared to thrive in the outdoors—and in life.