Camping with kids can be a fun way to learn self-reliance skills and make memories as a family, but it also offers a great opportunity to teach outdoor safety for kids. Most children learn best when they don't realize they’re learning! And that makes outdoor family time together the perfect time to teach them.
(Psst - looking for the Camping for Kids free printable pack? You'll find it right at the bottom of this post.)
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
These outdoor safety skills for kids are especially helpful if you plan to spend time backcountry camping, hiking as a family, or even living off the grid.
In fact, one family we know lived in a tent through the winter in northern Ontario. They had purchased land and were building their log home and homestead by hand while their boys were young. While most of our children won't get to do that, camping gives them a glimpse of a simpler, although tougher, way to live. And then if the situation arises, they'll feel confident and prepared.
If you're serious about teaching your children self-reliance outdoors, keep these outdoor safety skills for kids in mind when camping.
Table of contents
- Camping and Outdoor Safety Skills for Kids
- 7 Camping Safety Skills for Kids
- #1. Put Up a Tent Safely
- #2. How to Start a Campfire With/Without Matches
- #3. Navigate in the Woods
- #4. Hiking Safety for Kids
- #5. How to Find Food in The Woods
- #6. How to Signal for Help in the Woods
- #7. Campsite Safety and Waste Removal
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Camping and Outdoor Safety Skills for Kids
Although I spent many years living in downtown Toronto as a child, I was fortunate enough to have parents who took us camping every chance they had.
And when I grew up and lived in the Toronto suburbs with my sons, we also went tent camping. Hauling water, living without air conditioning, and cooking over a campfire made for some memorable moments.
Now, most of the camping safety skills mentioned here are geared toward kids who are over the age of six or seven. They're somewhat complex. However, it’s never a bad idea to have younger kids sit by and watch while you and your older kids do things. Learning by observing at it's finest.
As with any outdoor skills, please take the time to not only teach your kids the camping activity itself, but also the safety tips. Remember, in the wilderness, safety should always be your first priority; especially when teaching children or teens.
Granted, help may be one call away if you camp in a provincial or state park. But in a truly remote wilderness situation, help could be hours away.
7 Camping Safety Skills for Kids
Yes, yes, I know there are many other important outdoor safety skills for kids. These ones are just to get you started.
I also want to point out the importance of equipping your child with a basic wilderness survival kit that includes first aid, emergency blanket, SOS signalling items, a headlamp, water purification tablet and fire starter.
#1. Put Up a Tent Safely
Learning how to properly set up a tent is the first thing you should teach your kids about camping. Proper shelter, especially in the woods, is the key to surviving.
Start with a smaller tent, like a pup tent or light-weight four-person tent. We practiced in our backyard before we headed out camping, and then worked them up to the larger 10-person sized tent.
#2. How to Start a Campfire With/Without Matches
Fire is the second most important skill your kids need to learn. With our without matches, teach your child to start a campfire. With fire you can cook, purify water and stay warm.
Start by teaching them how to find tinder and gather firewood. Next, teach them to start a campfire with a barbecue lighter, then with matches. Once they master that you can move onto using other methods such using a homemade fire starter or flint and steel.
#3. Navigate in the Woods
A child getting lost by themselves in the woods is a fear that any parent has while camping. And it's a valid one.
Teaching your children basic skills to navigate in the woods will help ensure that if they do get lost, they'll stand a better chance of finding their way out.
To begin basic navigation skills, start with hiking trails. Show them and how to read a trail map. As they get better at navigating, move up to other skills such as how to read and use a compass. Older children might also learn about navigating using the stars.
#4. Hiking Safety for Kids
Along with navigating, teach your kids how to safely hike in the woods. Hiking can be dangerous for kids and adults if you’re unfamiliar with what you’re doing or are unfamiliar with the area.
Sprained ankles, broken bones, predators and more all add to the danger of the woods. To teach hiking outdoor safety skills for kids, take them off the trail into the woods on your camping trip. And don't forget to show them how to spot danger such as snakes on the ground, bear signs, and how to safely judge water crossings on foot.
#5. How to Find Food in The Woods
Should your kids ever get lost or find themselves in the woods for some other reason, making sure they can find food and water is incredibly important; especially water.
For food, teaching them basic foraging skills. Show older children how to fashion a basic fishing rod and snare. This will help them to hunt small game, fish or to safely forage.
For water, lessons on how to find safe water and how to purify it for drinking are important. If, by chance, you or your child finds themselves needing those skills, you will be glad you got the practice and that you took the time to teach them.
#6. How to Signal for Help in the Woods
And here is another of the critical outdoor safety skills we teach our kids early on - how to signal for help in the woods.
Even a child as young as four or five can learn to make a large "SOS" with sticks, branches, or rocks. And make sure their wilderness survival kit includes a brightly coloured bandana or two. One for them to wear. And one to tie on a tree branch.
#7. Campsite Safety and Waste Removal
Finally, one of the last skills you should teach your kids while camping is how to treat the forest, trees, wildflowers, and your camping area.
Leaving the woods filled with your trash or worse is simply unacceptable. And in many areas, like ours, it is a major fire hazard.
Instead, teach your kids to live by the old adage “leave it better than you found it.” This means picking up any trash they see even if it is not theirs. And it means making sure the campfire is completely out.
Whether your family lives in the city, the suburbs, or the middle of a subarctic forest like ours does, take time to teach your kids outdoor safety skills. You never know when they will need them.