How to Teach Situational Awareness to Children – Part 2, by T.Y.

(Continued from Part 1.)

In Part 1 of this series, I covered why it’s critical that we teach situational awareness preparedness skills to children. The way I like to do that is with age-appropriate games, and I’m excited to share some of those games with you.

But before I cover the actual preparedness games, I’d like to share some suggested survival skills appropriate for various age groups. However, you know your child, so it’s up to you to decide what skills you want him or her to know and how you want to teach those skills. I hope this list is helpful to both you and your children.

Ages 3-5

  • Climb a Tree: In addition to being fun, climbing a tree is effective at evading threats. It can also give children a bird’s-eye view of their environment so they can assess danger and navigate to safety. And in foliage, they can hide.
  • Start a Fire: Teach about gathering kindling, firewood and fire safety. Start at three years old and add instructions as the child matures. Progress to starting supervised fires with wet materials as children age.
  • Stay in Place…Until: If lost in public or in the woods, teach children to stay in place so adults can find them—IF they are in a safe area and not in immediate danger. However, if they’re in public and mom or dad do not find them, teach them to ask an adult with children for help.
  • Know Mommy’s Name: Teach your child to call your real name, rather than shouting “mommy” or “daddy” if they’re lost, since it’s difficult to distinguish children’s voices in public. Repeat this over and over to young children until they understand.
  • Take Their Shoes Off: Since it is difficult for young children to remember key contact information, consider writing your name and phone number inside your preschooler’s shoe. Then teach your child that if you get separated to take his shoe off and show it to a grown-up with children.
  • Emergency Help: It’s appropriate at a very young age to teach children how to call 9-1-1 and seek emergency help. But it may not be so easy on locked smartphones. Teach them how to call 9-1-1 on your devices.
  • Swim: Swimming is fun, sure, but learning to swim could one day save your child’s life. Teach them early.

Ages 5-7

  • Read the Sky: The sky can tell children what time it is, which direction they’re headed and if bad weather is approaching. All children need to know what the sky is trying to tell them so they can be prepared.
  • How to Escape a Fire: One of the games I’ll share is called “Extinguish!” This is where you introduce children to fire safety. It’s critical that they know how to actually get out of a burning house, car or building, and how to keep toxic smoke from entering their lungs. Talk to your fire department or research if you need to, but be sure to teach your children how to save their own lives. This may include teaching them how to escape through a window, etc.
  • Basic Navigation: Point from one place to another and ask the child to determine the best route. Let some routes be safer and some faster to see how they react. Introduce other challenges as needed.
  • Know the Neighborhood: Know the streets, multiple ways to get home and who the neighbors are in case of an emergency.
  • Safely Handle a Knife: Teaching a child to safely handle a knife is scary for many parents, but it is a very important skill to learn. For young children, begin with plastic knives or child scissors that won’t allow them to cut themselves. Progress to sharper kitchen knives and allow them to help you prepare food, making sure that they always know where the first aid kit is.
  • Purify Water: Teach your child why water must be purified, and how to do so with iodine, boiling, bleach, solar purification, etc.
  • Pitch a Tent or Shelter: If you have a commercial tent, allow your children to follow its assembly instructions and let them erect the tent. Once they can do it, look for opportunities to supervise them doing it in poor weather. If you’re comfortable, allow them to build a survival shelter from natural materials.
  • Dress Appropriately for Weather: Children must understand why it is important to layer clothing, as temperatures and conditions change throughout the day and often without warning.
  • Handle Money: Teach children at this age to count money, calculate expected change from small transactions and ensure they receive the correct amount.
  • Fire a Gun: Even if you are averse to firearms, teach children about their proper use. Seek expert help if necessary so that children learn the deadly danger AND the potential life-saving nature of firearms.
  • How to Use a Slingshot: If you don’t have one you can buy an inexpensive slingshot. Learning to effectively use a slingshot provides a firearm alternative to hunting small game, such as squirrels and rabbits.
  • Use Hand Tools: Teach your child to use a handsaw, hammer and screwdrivers.
  • Make Dinner from Freeze Dried Pouch: Show your child how to boil water, interpret instructions, check the clock and serve food from a freeze-dried pouch.

Ages 7-10

  • Tie a Secure Knot: Knowing how to tie knots properly will enable children to pitch tents, secure boats, hang a clothesline and build shelters.
  • Become a Scout: The social and survival skill benefits of participating in these activities are well-known.
  • Advanced Navigation: Introduce navigating by maps and GPS. Allow children to plan trips for you and to navigate. Look for opportunities to praise decision-making while pointing out inefficiencies and threats as appropriate.
  • How to Help Others: Let your children see you volunteer at a hospital, food drive or anytime there’s a local emergency. This not only gives them insight into potential disasters, it teaches empathy, leadership and helps them realize the value of fitness and preparedness.
  • How to Answer the Door and Telephone: Teach the child that, if he’s alone, to never say, “Mom isn’t here.” Rather, instruct him to say that, “Mom is in the shower,” etc. Be sure to teach him why it’s important that he not reveal that he is alone.
  • How to Repair Things: Unfortunately, many children learn that when something breaks they should just buy a replacement. When I was a kid the motto was, “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” and that’s still a good lesson to teach children. Look for rusty cast-iron skillets at yard sales and teach children to restore them..
  • Identify Spoiled Food: There’s no “one size fits all” approach to identifying risky food, but you can teach your children that food must be safe to eat. Show them bulging cans (ask your grocer for any “bad” cans), shriveled/wrinkled potatoes, weeping lettuce or leakage in a produce bag. Allow them to smell “bad” milk and meat and look for signs of mold or mildew on lids, inside of jars or on food. At the same time, show them blue mold on blue cheese and teach them that it is safe to eat. Let children know that all fresh foods (fruits, meats, vegetables, etc.) spoil and must be consumed while fresh or safely preserved.
  • Know Basic Self-Defense: Sure, your child can take martial arts, but the best self-defense starts with situational awareness. Playing games such as Snapshot and Guts will teach your child to use their heads and avoid danger. So while you may encourage teaching self-defense fighting techniques, it’s generally best to teach how to avoid and escape from dangerous situations.
  • Develop a Love of Science and Math: Think about how these skills will help them understand ratios of purifiers to water (for potable water) or recipe ingredients, calculate time and distance (navigation, lost in the wilderness), estimate probability, how chemicals react and more. Don’t abdicate this only to school teachers—model your love of the subjects for them.
  • Forage for Food: Take a foraging exploration with your child and find something to eat! If you need training in this area, look for a class or check out the excellent book, The Forager’s Harvest.
  • Cook Over an Open Fire: After starting a supervised fire by themselves, have your children cook over an open fire using cast iron or a metal sheet.
  • Money Management: Teach your children to make a budget and calculate the cost to prepare a dinner. See if they can come up with ways to lower the cost while not decreasing calories, etc.
  • How to Survive a School Shooting: I wish I didn’t have to put this on the list, but…it’s a reality. Find out what your school shooter plan is (if they don’t have one—change schools) and assess it. Share the plan with your child in an age-appropriate manner (as with the rest of this book) so they know the plan. I want to emphasize that, as a parent of a young child, I know how hard this is. Since we’re not always there to protect them we have to help them the best we can, while always remembering that we’re trying to prepare them, not scare them.


Ages 10+

  • Earn Money: Encourage your children to safely earn money. Help them open a savings account and develop their money management skills. When they want to buy something, teach them the value of earning the money and saving for it, with the realization that there’s only so much
  • How to Hunt: This may include using firearms, archery or traps. It is a very important survival skill that all of our ancestors knew. Pass it on.
  • Internet Safety: Grandma didn’t teach me this, but times have changed. Teach your children common-sense guidelines on using the Internet, such as not sharing birthdays, phone numbers, addresses and personal information. Teach them about the dangers of predators, cyberbullying, and sexting (or whatever new concept exists when you’re reading this), and don’t rely on your search engine filters to keep their eyes protected from the real world. Rather, teach them about the real world, how to make good decisions, and how to stay safe.
  • Use Power Tools: Now that your child is older, help her learn to use power drills, saws, and so on. Build an animal pen or something survival related.
  • Tend a Garden: After playing the game Germinate!, allow your children to plant a very small garden, and have them tend it for an entire season. When they harvest the crop (s), allow them to prepare the food for the family over an open fire!
  • How to Feed Themselves: If they are alone in the house, your children should be able to feed themselves. This includes making nutritious food choices, cleaning food, prepping, and cooking. It also includes applying first aid if they have an accident.
  • CPR: When you feel they’re ready, enroll your children in a CPR class. It could end up saving your
  • How and When to Seek Help: This includes teaching teens to ask for help if they feel threatened at school or elsewhere and who can help them (parent, teacher, officer), as well as how to seek help if the child himself feels depressed or suicidal.
  • How to Mentor: This is especially valuable if you have both older and younger children. When children show and explain survival skills to others, they gain self-confidence and increase their own understanding of what they are doing and why. Let your older child know how much you need him and how important a responsibility he has to mentor and help others. If you don’t have younger children, perhaps he can mentor neighborhood children.
  • How to Travel Alone: I mentioned earlier that I grew up rather self-sufficiently. When I was younger than 10, I traveled to my grandparents on buses—alone. The trip was often 4-5 hours. Most of us wouldn’t consider allowing children to do that today, but at some point, they will have to travel safely without you. It’s best to create opportunities for that as safely as possible so that you can teach them situational awareness and safe travel habits.

(To be continued, in Part 3.)


  1. Don’t forget to read the old traditional fairy tales to your children. Many of these were written for the purpose of training children. Think of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” or “Hansel and Gretel,” for example. There are many others as well. Aesop’s Fables are another good source of training and a good way to start a conversation about preparedness and situational awareness.

  2. And, of course, begin reading Bible stories to your children from a very young age. There are many good Bible story books that are geared to the level of young children, and by the age of 8 or 10 children should receive their very own Bible to study and cherish. There is no better “instruction manual” for life.

  3. in regard to IDing your child <<>> in the US the Social Security # will be crucial – it should be “inked” along with the other ID info onto a child’s inner thigh area for a serious SHTF situation – better safe than sorry …..

    not the worst idea to have a set of “dog tags” made – more durable than a paper tag/note >> there are internet sources for a personal set manufacture – for DIY there are coin-op machines at the large chain store pet stores that allow a metal inscribing of ID info …

  4. Excellent age-specific skill development timelines, TY! So enjoyed these… The review brought back memories of time with our own children when they were young, and the ideas have inspired us for a time when we will one day (hopefully) be grandparents!

    Also agree with Ma G about the reading of fairy tales, and the all important value of reading the Bible with children, and giving them one of their very own!

  5. Great tips!! Back in the day, children learned these things as a matter of course at home, and then Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts before they were wrecked, reinforced a lot of these things.

    One thing I decided to do about a year ago is stop sending cash or toys for my grandchildren. Rather I decided that books were a better investment. This is a link to a christian school curriculum and from it I selected books I could get on Amazon. A great resource! One of my daughters decided to purchase the curriculum and keep her children home. I was so glad she did, but a resourceful person could put together a curriculum without buying one.

    1. I’m the same way about books for my grandkids…they love them. Thankfully, they are both avid readers. In fact, it’s hard to get them to go to bed and sleep.

      In regard to Boy Scouts, I was in Cub Scouts first, then Boy Scouts till I was about 17, as were my friends. Even though we are now far apart, we still get together every couple of years to canoe/camp the BWCAW (Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness). As far as I know Girl Scouts does not allow male troop leaders. However, Boy Scouts was shamed and PC’d into allowing gay scout masters. Normally, I am not judgmental of someone else’s lifestyle between consenting adults..that’s God’s judgement. But when it affects young boys trying to be in scouting then I have a problem with it . Now I see constant advertisements for a law firm suing the Boy Scouts for molestation by troop leaders as far as 20 years ago , as i recall just about when when gay men first started being allowed to be scout masters. Take a wonderful organization and pollute it from the inside out. A seeming microcosm of America’s travails.

      So, I suppose I am a horrible person, but enough is enough..Bad day!

      1. I was in Girl Scouts, but my mom was the Leader. The girl scouts were taken over by gays also. My red line is always when it comes to our children. This is a free country so you can do whatever you want in the privacy of your own home. Once you step out and start proselytizing other people’s children (or worse), that’s the last straw for me. But, I feel as strongly about public education teaching children things that are against the Christian faith. So, don’t feel bad. We are all entitled to our own beliefs, feelings, and most importantly what affects our own children. Freedom means we get to choose for ourselves and our children. I have a daughter whose best friend in college was gay (a guy) and she asked me how I could be against his lifestyle. I explained it thusly, “We follow what God says about it, but that doesn’t mean we treat him badly. He is welcome in my home should you bring him to dinner because he is your friend.” I have had several gay acquaintances and friends. I have never treated them, or anyone else to my knowledge, poorly. And it probably goes without saying, that predators who are attracted to children, may be found in all walks of life so we have to be on guard, even in the church. Sadly so.

  6. Hey T.Y., great article! As soon as its complete, I’m going to print it out and send copies to all my kids to make sure the grandkids are getting properly trained in all these areas, not just a few.

    A wonderful book for parents is Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy. It’s not only informative, but funny as well. She makes the same point that SST made yesterday that the world isn’t any more dangerous today than it was when we were all kids. It only seems that way because we hear about every little knee scrape in the 24/7 news today. I know far too many parents who won’t let their kids out of their sight and that’s no way to raise kids, it’s criminal in my book.

    Free Range Kids:

    In this article, in addition to reading the sky and basic navigation, I would hope kids are learning to be aware of which way is north. I always give directions using north/south instead of left/right and I’m always amazed/chagrined at how many people say they don’t have a clue which way is north.

    Money/math. Basic math is so important! I was in a small grocery store back in my college days when the power went out. I only had three items but the gal behind the register couldn’t add those up with paper and pencil. Wow. This week a guy at my place couldn’t figure out in his head how many times 8 went into 100. Teach kids to not only do math, but how to do it in their heads. There are all kinds of little tricks for doing that which make it pretty simple. And when adding written numbers, you can do it in your head if you work from left to right instead of starting with the “ones” column. They teach us addition all backwards in school.

    Estimate probabilities. Another huge deficit in this country, even among our generation. I don’t have the slightest worries about school shootings because kids are far more likely to get struck by lightning, but you can’t get that through the heads of school administrators and parents. My local school wants to spend a bazillion dollars building things to make the school “safer,” when the most likely shooters are students from that school and would know all the tricks to getting around those “safety” precautions. Yes, have a plan so the kids know what basic things to do but schools are going WAY overboard with this because they don’t care about probabilities. They are teaching kids to be fearful instead of learning that the world is actually a very safe place. We adults have problems with this as well and give much more importance to little things while ignoring the things which have a much higher probability of occurring.

    Identify spoiled food. T.Y., you’re my hero. People waste tons of food in this country every year because they look at dates of food packaging. Even the USDA website tells you to use your five senses to determine whether or not food is bad, just like you point out in this article. Look, smell, taste a small taste. When the milk is sour, don’t toss it, time to make waffles! Or a dozen other recipes that call for buttermilk or sour milk. Or let it get really sour until it separates, teach your kids about whey and curds, then press the curds into cheese. Not only do they learn about sour milk but also learn not to waste it, plus how cheese is made. How many dairy products are there where we purposely spoil the milk? Kefir, yogurt, buttermilk, etc.

    Safely handle a knife. I got my first knife from Grandpa when I was 8 so all my grandkids get a Swiss army knife from me when they turn 8. The first instruction they get is, “You’re going to cut yourself. When you do, if it’s bleeding a lot, make sure you show Mom or Dad so they can help you. They already promised they won’t take your knife away.” After the first cut, they get smarter and not too many kids have died from pocket knife cuts!

    Phone numbers. Kids can learn their phone number when they are 4. My mother drilled mine into my head before I went off to kindergarten, and it’s the only phone number I can still remember. When I go to Lowes and Big Lots, that’s the phone number I give them for my rewards identification. No way anyone else can trace it to me and I can remember it without even thinking. My geriatricized brain can’t remember my current phone number, I really have to think about it or get my business card out.

    Learn science and math. Taking an interest in the world around us is so important and makes life so much more interesting, and less fearful. I hate it when people are afraid of snakes and lizards, spiders, mice, all that stuff. Learn to identify all the basic critters in your area. For most of us, there are only two poisonous spiders (with very obvious markings) in our areas, and only one or two poisonous snakes (which all have long cat pupils instead of round, with the exception of coral snakes, in which case, “red next to black is a friend of Jack, red next to yellow will kill a fellow”) and learn to identify those and the rest should all be interesting instead of scary. All my kids, including my girls, have no fear of snakes. My four-year old granddaughter was here and just dying to go snake and critter hunting every day. I got a photo in my email last week of my son teaching his two kids not to fear snakes. The kids in their single-digit years were holding a 3′ long snake, learning to take an interest in the natural world instead of fearing it. I was so proud of them and my son! 🙂

    Too many other points to comment on, really looking forward the the next installment. Great job T.Y.!

    1. Re: snakes. Our place is in very snakey country. Copperheads in the garden and front beds, rattlesnakes in the creek.

      A sweet memory is when my grand, who has grown up since birth coming out to our place with us exclaimed at age 4, “This is my lucky day! I found a snake!” Indeed, there was a small snake resting at the entrance to the storm shelter. No fear. Just delight.

    2. StF, Lenore Skenazy is vary insightful. She writes a humor column for a periodical I subscribe to, Funny Times. If you or any other fellow preppers want to check out Funny Times, be aware much of the humor is decidedly left. If you are easily offended, this is not for you. However, if you can laugh at yourself, you might enjoy it.

      Carry on in grace

  7. I loved the part about situational awareness for kids. I spent several years on the Pine Ridge Reservation as a school teacher. The Lakota Sioux are frankly the ultimate long term survival specialists. The native Lakota families there are always pointing things out to their children to teach them to be observant of their environment. “Look, those antelope way over on the hill, they are there every morning.” “Watch there, grandpa needs more wood for the fire, go get him some.” “What is your cousin doing there? Tell him to come over here.” This training goes on constantly at a young age but stops as the adult sees the child noticing and reacting for themselves. Adults are very adept at communicating with a 1/8″ tilt of the head, and a sideways flick of the eyes. It’s uncanny the things they notice.

    Situational awareness is a habit that needs to be cultivated, and can be improved to a very high degree. Start early to keep your child engaged and observant.

  8. Love this article. I grew up a free range kid in the 60’s – 70’s. Learned a lot of these things just because I grew up in the country. I recommend Trail Life USA for scouting. They are a good Christian organization.

    1. “Love this article. I grew up a free range kid in the 60’s – 70’s. Learned a lot of these things just because I grew up in the country.”

      Me too!

      We had one rule, “Be home by dark.”

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