The Greek philosopher Aristotle– teacher of Alexander the Great (a title given later in life and probably not while he was a student)– is quoted as saying, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” This statement applies in many areas in life, but perhaps it rings most true with the prepper/survivalist community. As a budding prepper/survivalist with three young children, the most valued commodity in our family is time. Hours of dedication spent skipping lunch breaks at the corporate office to stay employed, followed by the children’s after-school activities, make time for prep and survival as unrealistic as reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. However, this year is different; I am going to read it, right? So what advice can I provide to others who share my plight for building survival skills while fighting hectic schedules and rush hour traffic? Following are some suggestions to carve some practical survival skill sets while investing in your children’s lives. Properly executed, this will be an easy “win-win” for both parent and child!
Whether you have children or not, get involved in Cub Scouts or Brownie Scouts. While I was initially excited when my oldest son joined a local Cub Scout pack, the den leader had to gradually step down, as he worked full time and was trying to finish his college degree. As his role decreased, my duties changed from that of a supporting father to one of a reluctant interim den leader. While I still feel like I was a hapless victim of the old “bait and switch,” four years later this group of boys graduated into the more self-directed Boy Scouts. It was very rewarding to see them grow and to need less of my guidance. Early on, the boys learned to tie a series of core knots. It is humbling to admit that I had to learn these knots cold, in order to teach the scouts; the pressure to be an effective teacher is as good a motivator as any. Essential knot tying, depending on situation and materials on hand, are invaluable whether tying a proper fishing knot, securing a climbing harness prior to rappelling, or securing a load to a trailer while helping a friend move. Deftly tying the proper knot for a given situation is an art lost to many. Survival depends on many factors, but fortune smiles on the prepared. Were it not for the Tuesday night meetings, I would have clumsily tied a bunch of overhand knots until a sufficient mess was made. Aside from building a strong code of ethics, a sense of citizenship, and selling overpriced popcorn, the boys learned numerous outdoor skills that will hopefully carry on into their adulthood. Not only did pitching tents in the dark, learning to sleep in the cold, and learning to start a fire with flint and steel become second nature, a whole litany of life/survival skills were also gleaned. Here is a short list of additional skills the boys picked up (and anyone should acquire) along the way:
- Cooking over a campfire. Even picky kids learn that scorched food isn’t half bad after a long hike. More importantly, they learned how to cook healthy and hearty meals with minimal supplies and primitive cooking tools. To add challenge and adventure, foraging for supplemental food was also well-received. Since I am not a mycologist, mushrooms were categorically off the menu. Dandelions, plantains, persimmons, and triple boiled/rinsed red oak acorns (which were too much work and a weird consistency) were fair game, and sustainable collection was taught.
- Basic First Aid. As one of the skills that you hope you won’t have to use, basic first aid is a life skill that all should learn. Well beyond Neosporin and bandages, children learn basic CPR, the Heimlich maneuver, and how to properly carry an incapacitated person with both individual (firefighter’s) carry and duo (one arm and knee joint per side) carry. They also learn how to craft an emergency stretcher from long wooden poles and a sweatshirt or coat, care for a blister, remove a fish hook from flesh, and properly cleanse and treat an open cut wound. Additionally, they learned to use plantain leaves that are readily available in most of our backyards to make a poultice for application to a skin wound. Improvisation in the field improves survival odds dramatically. Mother nature offers us a plethora of medicinal plants; however, proper plant identification, preparation, and use are imperative, prior to application.
- Map and compass use. In today’s digital world, finding a proper bearing, maintaining a course, and topographic map reading skills may seem outdated. However, ask me how outdated these skills are after a solar flare or EMP attack! Finding your way from point A to point B is not pre-wired into our being; it is a skill that must be learned. Fortunately, finding true north by day or night can be a fun skill to master. Teaching some basic astronomy, along with constellations and their historical names helps keep the children engaged. Be forewarned, however, for questions regarding how a certain cluster of stars resembles a mythological beast or Greek hero. My best guess is that ancient Greeks weren’t mycologist either and may very well have inadvertently dined on some psychedelic ‘shrooms. Try as I may, I still don’t see the Great Bear when finding north. Sobriety must inhibit my creativity.
- The importance of teamwork and completing assigned tasks. Each social group is only as strong as its weakest link. Even within the family unit, each person brings their skills to the table. One cannot obtain expertise in all of the skills that may be necessary after a societal collapse. While welders can create even pools of molten steel, an abscessed tooth can incapacitate the most unshakable figure. Likewise, a dentists’ amalgam mixtures, while great for fillings, will not tack a compromised car frame together. We are social creatures and need one another; this will be all the more true during TEOTWAWKI. While not necessarily a high priority for most Boy Scouts, sewing skills can not only keep your clothing and gear functional but also serve double duty should any emergency medical stitches be necessary. (Consult proper medical attention, if at all possible.) Scouts learn to delegate duties to achieve the common good. Scrubbing cast iron cookware is not glamorous, but if improperly cleaned it can cause food poisoning, and a little botulism goes a very, very long way! Mix up menial tasks by making it a challenge. Teach them that a handful of fine gravel/sand is as effective as a scour pad and that everyone on the team must pitch in to keep a tidy and sanitary camp site.
- Access to learn skills from craftsman. While many scout leaders take their scouts to visit the local newsroom studio, volunteering as a scout leader offers ample opportunities to contact local craftsman to learn about their trade and, hopefully, learn some free “hands on” skills. Local garden clubs can teach both edible and medicinal plant classes. Blacksmiths can teach how to create a simple forge and basic metallurgy over a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. A potter can share how to properly obtain and work rough clay, how to build a coil pot, etc. 4-H clubs offer their own opportunities to teach valuable skills, such as animal husbandry, farm animal care, seed collecting and preservation, and more. Foresters can discuss the proper way to safely fell a tree as well as the types of wood in your area and its commercial uses. You can’t make effective primitive bows or darts using the wrong type of wood! Learn which wood types offer the highest heat output (British Thermal Units) for heating your home; learn the superior local, heat-producing woods, such as hedge apple, ash, oak, hickory, et cetera compared to inferior firewood types, such as pine, cedar, sycamore, et cetera. Conservation Departments can teach basic firearm safety, animal tracking skills, and basic plant identification. Universities and colleges may host your scout troop to learn about alternative energy sources and how they are used. Numerous possibilities exist, and scouting is a good portal to gain access to learn from skilled craftsman and build relationships.
While proper planning is a must, power down the kid’s electronics and drive to a nearby lake or river that offers camping. If you want to be bold, take just a tarp and some sleeping bags. After the initial withdrawal from lack of electronics, children will eventually show interest in basic camping skills. Take some fishing gear and teach your children the fishing process from beginning to end: how to tie fishing knots, bait a hook, and swiftly kill and clean a fish. Take it a step further by adding the following challenges to the camping trip:
- Teach them how to slowly smoke the skewered fish over a fire. Make bannock bread out of water, flour, and salt. Wrap the dough around a green stick, and slowly “bake” it over a fire.
- Teach your children alternative means for cooking food. This includes starting a small fire, building up a hot bed of coals, and placing smooth topped rocks on top of the coals. Don’t use chert or wet rocks pulled from the lake or river, unless you like to play campfire roulette; once heat builds up, these stones can quickly become shrapnel!
- Try different ways of sleeping. Cots are a luxury and are cold to sleep on in cooler climes, due to air flow around your entire body. Thermarest or other self-inflating sleeping pads are packable, reasonably lightweight, and provide some insulation off of the ground. Sleeping in a hammock tends to keep you cool as well; however, they’re perfect for summer or warmer climates.
By volunteering some of your time, typically a few hours a week, to your local scout troop, you build not only viable outdoor skills but share in the joy of molding and providing direction for young lives. The best way to learn a skill is to practice it and to teach it to others. Instructing others helps cement the application knowledge for recall when you need it most. Be prepared, the official Boy Scout motto, is the mantra of not only the scouting community but the survivalist community as well. By getting involved in scouting, you benefit by not only investing in your children’s lives and building outdoor and leadership skills, but you also have the opportunity to hone and teach basic survival skills. It’s a win-win situation!