How to Teach Survival Skills That Instill True Outdoorsmanship

How to Teach Survival Skills That Instill True Outdoorsmanship

Bethany Johnson headshotPosted by Bethany Johnson, guest blogger

Outdoorsmanship is much more than an activist mindset; a true outdoorsperson loves being in nature. Organizations like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America have long helped parents instill in their children a deep appreciation and love for the outdoors. This includes map-reading, compass-making, knot-tying, and even basic survival skills like how to build a cooking stove out of a tin can.

What is geocaching, if not a perfect way to instill outdoorsmanship?

Outdoorsmanship doesn’t just use survival skills to learn how to be resourceful. It inspires a passion for nature in kids that lasts a lifetime.

My kids aren’t in any scouting organizations, so we’ve gotten creative in order to cultivate a true spirit of outdoorsmanship with some of our own activities. My inspiration has always come from Stevan Sheets, a blogging dad in Hyde, Pennsylvania, who is probably outside more often than he is inside. I caught up with him to get an idea of how a modern parent would go about growing this admirable characteristic in young kids.

Locate the ‘You Are Here’ Marker

Acknowledge your hopes, but keep your expectations realistic. You aren’t Davey Crockett, and you can’t turn your kids into Eagle Scouts overnight. Instead, focus on goals like cultivating interest, having fun, making memories, and getting fresh air.

walk in the woods

Sheets agrees. “I would recommend that those with children explain what they know of the outdoors, like plants, animals, and insects,” he says. “Then, inform them that there are many others who know much more.” Teaching kids there are experts in biology, botany, geology, and cartography takes away the pressure to learn it all, so you can enjoy playing guide instead. It also instills the aspiration that someday, they may want to become one of those experts themselves.

survival skills start small

‘Cache’ Your Route

Next, choose a go-to activity for your family to do on a regular basis. Novices with an infant might stick to weekly hikes or backyard camping. Elementary-school aged children might love to explore their local watershed. According to Sheets, however, those pursuing an adventure for both mental and physical exercise should try geocaching.

What is geocaching? As played by Sheets, “Geocaching is a world-wide treasure hunt of sorts. It involves hidden containers that can be found by knowing the latitude and longitude coordinates of the container. Players use the website and a GPS-unit or smartphone app.”


Whatever you choose, do it multiple times before deciding if it’s worthy of tradition. Kids love a variety of activities, but are sure to enjoy a strong sense of family identity when parents and kids adopt a mutual favorite outdoor activity.

infants and small children

Mark Milestones and Points of Interest

Next, be ready for the milestones (not just the literal ones). If you cultivate outdoorsmanship in your family through group activities, the fruits of your kids’ labor will last forever. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), children who spend time outdoors ultimately enjoy lower stress levels, better physical well-being, superior concentration, and more creativity.

So whether you’re canoeing, foraging, geocaching, gardening, or camping, don’t be surprised if you notice fewer arguments and more smiles. When kids learn teamwork or resourcefulness, for example, these real-world survival skills produce developmental milestones that stick with them for life.

survival skills goodness

Sheets listed a few of the things his own kids have gained by spending so much time outside. “By spending time outdoors, my children learn to appreciate what we have access to,” he says. “They learn to explore, to think for themselves, to problem-solve, and to enjoy nature.”

Take a Detour

From fire ants to leaky canoes and curious bears, my family has seen every possible mishap in our quest to get outdoors more often, and yours will, too. But don’t be discouraged; overcoming these detours should feel rather rewarding. After all, they’re what great stories are made of!

We keep books like “How to Stay Alive in the Woods” and “The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook” handy at home for creative solutions to the most unexpected what-if problems.

Enjoy the Journey

When asked how his own love for the outdoors has influenced his parenting, Sheets smiled. “Growing up with the benefit of hunting and fishing from an early age, I remember thinking about how much I, too, would enjoy teaching my son [or] daughter how to do the same,” he recalls. “I desire my children to experience some of the great things I experienced at an early age. I want to excite them about the things that excite me—whether that’s exploring a local forest or planting seeds in a garden and producing our own food together.”

survival skills

What about you? How do you instill outdoorsmanship in your family’s lifestyle? Will you try any new outdoor activities this season? Leave a comment or tweet your best outdoor adventure image to @TomsofMaine.

Image sources: Bethany Johnson

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.