Based on the effective guidelines of the well-known "Hug-A-Tree" program, here are critical steps a prudent parent can take to prepare a child who is lost to
being self-reliant in the woods -- or anywhere for that matter. Share theses
precautions and preparations with your children to help them become more savvy about this aspect of being in the outdoors.
Stay On Trails/Pick Out Landmarks
Teach children the importance of not wandering off the trail. Teach them to
recognize prominent landmarks along the way that they will remember again
Wear Bright Clothing
A bright jacket or other item of clothing worn
outdoors gives you a bright piece of material to be used as flagging for a
signal. Coming up with a special outdoor outfit or "uniform" for kids to wear outdoors could even reward them for becoming an official "outdoorsman."
An item such as a bright raincoat works for adults, too -- as a signal and body
Carry A Plastic Yard Bag (a bright one!)
Tear a hole in a large plastic bag that your child's face will fit through
before you give it to a child. Explain to them it is like a mini tent or
raincoat and how very important it is to stay dry and warm. Make this bag part
of their personalize survival kit to always carry with them.
Kids and adults should always carry a signaling whistle (not a ref's whistle
with the rattling pea inside -- if the pea gets stuck, the whistle can't
work!). Tell your child that the whistle is not a toy, but it's an emergency
signaling device! Let them know that they can "call for help" a lot longer and
louder with a whistle than by just yelling. Explain that three loud hard blasts
on the whistle is a signal for help that all rescue people and many other
outdoorsmen know as a signal for help. Tell them it is also very important to
wait several seconds and listen for a response before sending their signal
Don't Be Afraid Of Animals
Animals are usually always more afraid of people and will run off. Assure a
child that if they hear or see an animal to stay still and blow their whistle
or make some other loud noise. Let them know that they won't scare off the good
search dogs because they are trained and will still is able to lead searches to
Make A Foil Footprint
Search teams often come upon a mish-mash of footprints -- so which one is your
child's? Carefully have a child step onto a sheet of aluminum foil laid out
smooth and flat upon the carpet. Have them step squarely onto it so they make a
clean impression of the sole of the footwear they typically use outdoors. Put
the child's name on the foil.
Have A Current Photo Handy
It helps SAR personnel (Search and Rescue) to know
what the lost/missing person looks like. Have a current full frontal facial
photo of each child that clearly shows them close up and includes their name
and a current description on the back. If they have a special "outdoor outfit,"
make sure you have a photo of them in that attire as well.
Don't Talk To Strangers?
Explain to your children who good "strangers" can be. Tell them that someone
trying to find them will know their name and be calling it out. It may help to
have a special nickname or "secret word" to share -- that only a friend will
know. SAR searchers will use a phone to contact parents who can then reassure
their child that the stranger is not going to harm them.
If someone is missing the first thing you should do is call the sheriff or
other authorities. Time is essential!
Part of introducing your child to the great outdoors is helping them become
comfortable and confident. Show them how being brave and calm and using their
heads is very important. Teaching kids how to be self-reliant goes a long way
to building confidence in scary situations.
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Tom Watson is an award-winning writer who lived in Alaska for 16 years, 12 of which were on Kodiak Island. He is a frequent contributor to "Camping Life," "Canoe & Kayak" magazines, author of three books:" Sixty Hikes within Sixty Miles of Minneapolis," "Best Tent Camping-Minnesota," both by Menasha Ridge Press, and "How to Think Like a Survivor," by Creative Publishing International. He's also an avid kayaker, camper, naturalist, writer, and photographer residing in western Minnesota. He writes a weekly column on camping tips for sportsmansguide.com.