Upgrading my kids’ wilderness survival skills

posted in: Bushcraft, Knowledge, skills, Survival | 0

3 days of practicing knots, shelter building, axe handling and more.

May is supposed to be fairly warm in Denmark. But the last few years the climate has been really messed up. This year May felt more like autumn than late spring. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go camping bushcraft style of course.

The trip wasn’t well planned. I had thought about going with my two sons aged 6 and 8 but it wasn’t until the day before I decided to actually do it. So I went to a local Silvan (a Danish DIY store) to buy two tarps measuring 2×3 meters. They sell them for only DKK 13,95 (about $2). A few days earlier I had taken both of my kids to a surplus store where we bought a pack of paracord for each of them. I let them choose their own colour which resulted in us walking out of the store with one neon green and one triple coloured blue paracord. Not exactly my favourites but whatever motivates them I guess.

You see I had a little plan in store for the two who are more than used to primitive camping. This time I wanted them to build their own shelter. The younger one just learned how to tie his shoe laces recently, so I wasn’t expecting him to be able to make everything himself. I felt quite confident that the older one could do it though. I wanted to give them an understanding of how simple it is to make a shelter and at the same time boost their self confidence. I wanted them to be able to build a simple structure that would get them out of the wind and the rain.

At about 12 o’clock we got off the bus and after a short hike we arrived at the camp site which was right next to a lake. My kids were more concerned about playing around. I normally let them run free in the forest. They know the rules: Their knife must be in its sheath and they must wear their whistle around their neck. It’s amazing how fast kids become responsible when you show them that you trust them.

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I went straight to work though. I unpacked my knife and my hatchet, put both in my belt and headed out to find some suited material for building my own shelter. After a short while I asked my kids to come and help me. I told them that we needed to collect some branches for our shelters and that they would need to carry their own. They had no objections about that although they did argue a bit about who was to carry the heavier branch of two. I told the older one to take it. After a while we had plenty of material and I was well underway with my shelter which I also wanted to work as a place where we could all sit if it was to rain. My kids were still playing around.

Had it been a little warmer I would have left it to their own sense to get going with their shelters or I would have let them sleep on the ground. But with only 7° C at night, windy conditions and possible rain I wanted to make sure they were safe during the night. So I asked them to get going with their shelters as I started to clear an area for our campfire. I showed them the principles of a standard A frame lean-to and how to lash the branches together. Amazingly what they did afterwards was to work together and help each other build their shelters. The younger one lashed his tarp to the frame using the same knots he just learned to tie his shoelaces with. To me however the most important thing is that now they have an understanding of how to make a basic shelter for themselves should they ever need to. Even if we didn’t make the shelters with all natural materials, we talked about how to do it during the process.

While they were finishing their shelters, I had build a small fire. So now our camp was ready.

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The next day we took a stroll in the forest and on the shore of the lake a few hundred meters away from our camp we found a natural shelter that someone else had built. So again we had a talk about how it was made with no cord, no tarp or anything. All adding to their understanding of how to make it themselves. The big difference is that even though they have seen me build a shelter a thousand times, it is not until you try doing it yourself that you start to learn properly. And with kids the key thing about learning is that it has to be fun at the same time.

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All in all it was a great trip where we also got the chance to do both some foraging, some fishing as well as some hatchet practice. The weather forecast said the last day would be rainy. And although the kids loved sleeping in there own shelters they missed the cosiness of us sleeping together. So I rearranged my shelter to fit all three of us. I then used one of the kids’ shelter for storing some dry firewood.

The next day when I woke up the weather was still dry so I made myself a cup of coffee and enjoyed the silent morning. While I was still finishing my coffee the rain started dripping though. I then moved the shelter I had used to keep the firewood dry with over the campfire to protect it a little from the rain. Often when it rains in Denmark it is just sporadic showers of rain. It was the same this day. After a while the rain paused, and when the kids woke up we roasted a final sausage over the fire before packing up. The only real downside of the rain of course was that we had to pack all our gear in wet conditions. But everything went well and we finally hiked back out as the rain quietly fell.

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