Five 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.