When Kids are Old Enough to Prepare, Part 1, by M.K.

When your kids are old enough to learn to prepare, then I suggest that you make it fun, and make it worthwhile.

I may be kind of weird. I love it when the power goes out. Where we live, we’ve had a lot of power outages for one reason or another. In Michigan, weather can change quickly. If you know someone who lives in our great state, you’ve probably heard jokes about how we can see all four seasons in one day. Unfortunately, it’s actually true. I remember days where it would start with relatively warm weather and rain, turn to sun in the afternoon and then snow in the evening. Being surrounded by the Great Lakes sure can swirl things up.

One positive consequence of such events is that it helps you to prepare for a large number of catastrophes. In my life I’ve been through floods, tornadoes, straight-line winds, blizzards, ice storms, and extreme heat, just to name a few. I’ve even felt a couple of earthquakes. Some strange part of me thrives off of all of this. Not that I want tragedy to strike. I do not want anyone to be hurt in such events. It’s just that it gives me the chance to test my preparedness.

At times, my wife has questioned why on earth I need all of the “stuff.” I’ve explained it several times, and she never complains when I get out the water jugs or lanterns in time of need. Being prepared has helped us through a few situations. It has also helped to teach my two boys–who are now teenagers–the importance of planning for the worst.

I want my family to always be safe. There are so many things that could happen that can put them in danger. As my boys have grown older, I’ve begun prepping them for many sticky situations. They may find themselves in a flood, or other natural disaster. It’s possible that they could find themselves lost in the woods, or worse, in a city! The political climate could cause a number of difficult circumstances that may end up in any number of negative scenarios. As a result, I have worked with them to prepare for whatever may come their way.

Enjoy Your Time Teaching

One of the easiest and most fun ways of helping my kids prepare for the worst is by getting out and doing things that could benefit them. I’m not even talking about just going and practicing how to start a fire. I’m talking about activities like camping, hiking, fishing, and hunting just to name a few.

I’ve been a teacher for many years and one thing that I’ve learned is that kids retain their knowledge best by doing, and re-teaching what they’ve done. The best part of it is that they don’t even have to know that they are learning! You can actually just have fun with your kids and teach them the skills they need, as you go.


Camping is a great way to teach your kids some basic outdoor skills. There are various levels of camping, from rustic to glamping. Why not try them all? You never know what scenario might come your way.

The majority of camping that I do with my boys is tent camping. Sometimes we have electricity, sometimes we don’t. Through this, the kids have learned how to build fires, how to cook food over a fire (not just hot dogs, either!), how to level a campsite. They’ve pitched a tent, tied knots, and done their laundry by hand.

These aren’t skills I set out to teach the boys, they just learned them out of necessity as we camped. Camping has helped them learn how to use tools like lanterns, knives and hatchets. All valuable skills in case of an emergency. It’s very possible that if I just sat them down and taught them how to do it they would have just tuned me out. However, when they are having fun at the campsite, practicing those skills in a real situation, it motivates them to do it right and remember how to do it for the next time.

Basic Camping Skills to practice with your kids:

  • Preparing a site for a tent
  • Pitching a tent
  • Gathering firewood (picking up, cutting, splitting)
  • Building a fire
  • Preparing food
  • Gathering water (this could be as simple as filling a jug, or it could involve filtering)
  • Knowing what the weather is going to do
  • Basic first aid
  • Hanging hammocks
  • Tying knots/using rope
  • Using knives and hatchets
  • Camp Hygiene
  • Taking care of equipment
  • Packing

Fishing is one of my great loves. I have so many fond memories of fishing with my dad and grandpa. I learned so much from those two as we would sit and cast, day in and day out. The two of them taught me many methods of fishing. Not by making me read books, but by taking me out and showing me. I don’t remember learning to tie a double surgeon’s knot. I just know how to do it. Why? Because somewhere along the line, one of them had me do it on one of our fishing trips.

I got my boys into fishing when they were very little. They have become very adept fishermen. I have no doubt that if they needed to catch fish for their survival, they could do it. They have learned a number of different ways to catch fish, clean them and prepare them.

My next step with the boys is to have them put together a survival fishing kit. I’ve put together some plans, and we will go through making the kits together. As I do so, I plan on having them add or subtract whatever they feel needs to go into the kit. Hopefully it will help to create ownership in the process, but it also allows them to include gear that they are comfortable with.

Basic fishing Skills to teach your kids:

  • Selecting bait/lures
  • Tying knots
  • Reading a river/lake
  • Where to cast
  • Boating skills
  • Wading dos and don’ts
  • Landing a fish
  • What to keep and what to put back
  • Maintaining gear
  • Fish identification
  • Cleaning a fish
  • Preparing a fish
  • Water safety

Once again, I go back to remembering my father and grandfather and all of the things they taught me in regard to hunting. Not having hunting land of our own, we weren’t always the most successful hunters, but the skills were taught nonetheless. I realized that when I started hunting on my own. Just like fishing, I don’t remember learning the skills. I just picked them up when I was with them.

It doesn’t matter what kind of hunting you do, make sure to include your kids. They will thank you for it and you will be glad to share the hunting bond with them. It’s also good to join others in your hunting adventures. This not only builds a sense of comradery, it can bring in skills and techniques that you may not be able to teach.

The first time I ever field dressed a deer was under the guidance of my friend’s dad. I had seen it done before, but had never done it on my own. I was pretty nervous when I started the process. Partly because it wasn’t my dad who was guiding me. I found it interesting, though that some of things he had me do were not the same steps that my father had done. Neither was wrong, but I was able to take some tips and tricks from each to develop my own methods.

Hunting is such a valuable skill for a number of possible circumstances. I do know that if anything major ever happened in our country that hunting would dry up fairly quickly. However, it is something that we would need to rely on. The more skills we develop now, the easier it will be when the hunting gets difficult in a life or death situation.

Here are some things to teach your kids while hunting:

  • Firearm safety/maintenance
  • Shooting skills
  • Scouting/recognizing sign
  • Understanding animals
  • Calling in game
  • Tracking
  • Cleaning/Storage of equipment
  • Field Dressing
  • Butchering
  • Preparing meat
  • Quiet movement
  • Listening
  • Animal identification
Hiking and Backpacking

Hiking with your family is a fantastic bonding time. It’s also a great opportunity to get in shape, explore new places and examine the world around. In my family, we have been doing day hikes since the boys were little. Now that they are teens, the door is open to a whole world of hikes we can take.

One thing I like to do with them on hikes is to make sure they are looking around and not just on the trail ahead of them. I do this by pointing out plants and trees, spotting animal sign or just having a chat about nature.

On hikes where we are on private land, we often stop and explore off the trail a little more. If the land is owned by family, we have done fun things like climb trees, build forts, or make a rope swing. I like to turn these kinds of hikes into adventures, and often it ends up revolving around survival skills.

This past winter, we were out exploring on a frozen swamp on some property near us. We know the owners and they give us access to their acreage. We challenged ourselves to building a fire with our flint and steel, regardless of the wet, snowy conditions. It took a little while, but we ended up getting a small fire going on a piece of bark that we had found. We put it out, made sure it was safe and continued on our hike. It was a little adventure within the adventure.

Backpacking trips give all kinds of opportunities such as the one mentioned above. These long distance, multi-day hikes help to build a variety of wilderness skills. Perhaps none more important than how to pack your gear in a way that it can be carried for extended periods of time. On top of that, a backpacker must be able to identify and find adequate camping sites, cook food in a minimalist setting, follow maps and a compass.

Here are some skills to teach while hiking:

  • Map reading
  • Orienteering
  • Gear selection (including socks and shoes!)
  • Packing
  • Camp selection
  • Minimalist cooking
  • Tree and plant identification
  • Reading the weather
  • Locating and filtering water
  • Fire starting
  • Shelter building/identification
  • Leave no trace
General Maintenance

I have always wished that my dad taught me more skills that would have helped me around the house and beyond. He was a great father, teaching me many things. However, I’ve always lacked in the “handyman” type of skills. The thing is, he was really good at them. He had worked through high school and college for his uncle who was a contractor. My dad could fix and repair a lot of the stuff around the house, but for some reason he never really shared those skills with me.

I’ve picked up a few things along the way. I’m fairly good with electrical, can patch holes and fix doors. I’ve put in new faucets and garbage disposals. My problem is that my lack of skills makes me a grumbler. Unfortunately, this has made it so that my boys don’t hang around when I repair things. Don’t let this happen to you! Make sure your kids are part of the work you do around the house. It will give them so many skills that I never got because I didn’t work with my dad.

Here are some basic skills to help create handymen and handywomen:

  • Basic electrical repair
  • Basic plumbing
  • Shingling a roof
  • Putting up new siding
  • Hanging a door
  • Repairing drywall
  • Basic building
  • Small engine repair
  • Cleaning and maintaining household equipment
  • Lawn care and landscaping

(To be concluded tomorroow, in Part 2.)


  1. re:
    “…find themselves lost…”

    Now, that right there, that is a ‘special’ kind of find!
    Good for you for mentoring youngsters.
    And the occasional spouse.

  2. What a great article for parents. I love the list of skills learned. I’ve bookmarked this article and look forward to Part 2.

    As kids growing up in coastal NE we all had boats. We learned many skills through that activity too.

  3. My wife has a good friend in Michigan. She sent my wife a great sweatshirt that says

    “4 out of 5 Great Lakes prefer Michigan”

    I was in Syracuse NY in February several years ago on business. I was watching the news in my hotel room. They were showing the weather on the edge of the lake. I guess it would be Lake Erie. Looked like Antarctica. Could not believe how high the ice was built up from the wind driven water spray freezing.

    Those Great Lakes are no joke.

    1. Actually, Syracuse is on the edge of Lake Ontario, so you were in the heart of the “Lake Effect” weather zone – and it was all coming down from Canada. Blame Canada!

      I grew up in a suburb southeast of Buffalo. We got our Lake Effect weather from both Lake Ontario and Lake Erie – a double whammy! Our motto was… if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute… One good thing about learning to ski there – you can ski on any kind of snow because you get to ski on just about every kind of snow over the course of a single winter. It gives you an appreciation for the numerous words the Eskimos have for snow.

  4. A very good article. My own father was an elementary teacher, principal, and our Scoutmaster. Before I was born, he was a Scout Rifleman in the 95th Infantry Division for George Patton.
    He taught us (his sons and the sons of others) all the skills you mention, and many of those Boy Scouts went to VietNam and returned to say they were thankful for what they had been taught just a few years before.

  5. Good reading this. I grew up on the creeks of the Chesapeake Bay. I was taught how to “tong” for oysters, catch the blue crab and trap muskrats, otter, fox, and fish by my father. Those lessons I remember well.

  6. “When your kids are old enough to learn to prepare.” = Maybe, another good skill for everyone would be learning how to make soft Leather Moccasins and Mittens. = The small, baby-boy looks like he will be trying to chase after his older brothers, in just a few days (or minutes = crawling as fast as he can). … There are videos & instructions on the Internet for making Moccasins, that would be ‘comfy’ on a baby’s feet.
    [A ‘how to’ article for making baby moccasins would make a good SurvivalBlog article too]

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