Survival Skills Camps Cater to Needs of 21st-Century Children
Studies indicate that fresh air and sunshine are essential to a child’s health and well-being, yet most kids spend half as much time outside than their parents did when they were growing up.
Several local camps are addressing this need by taking outdoor activities to the next level through survival skills-themed experiences.
Kristen C. Wynns, owner of Wynns Family Psychology in Cary, believes that participating in these camps teaches important skills beyond building a campfire.
“Survival skills camps are lots of fun — the good, muddy, wholesome kind — and they also offer huge benefits to kids and teens by boosting their self-esteem and self-confidence,” Wynns says. “These camps allow a child or teen to become more self-reliant and to trust in their own abilities. Kids can also learn valuable skills about how to analyze a crisis situation, and react calmly and rationally.”
Cary parent Michael Wood worries that many kids spend an excessive amount of time inside looking at screens, so he was thrilled when his children — Thomas, 11, and Gracie, 10 — attended and enjoyed the Outdoor Survival Camp offered by CraZBrain Science Track Out and Summer Camps in Durham.
“It may sound like a simple thing, but you can learn a lot about yourself when you’re trying to figure out how to pitch a tent,” Wood says, adding that his family enjoys “outdoorsy stuff.”
CraZBrain’s camps are geared toward second- through eighth-graders and are offered year-round. Each camp begins with a discussion about basic needs (food, water, warmth and shelter, for example), which then become activity themes as the campers learn how to build a campfire, make popcorn with foil pockets, convert a pizza box into a solar oven to make s’mores and build an aqueduct system to create a constant flow of water to a campsite. The aqueduct construction is an indoor activity, since there is no water source near CraZBrain’s outdoor area in Research Triangle Park.
Wood was impressed with how CraZBrain’s founder, Aaron Rothrock, introduced campers to outdoor survival skills. “Aaron is great at engaging the kids and encouraging them to problem-solve through fun and interesting activities. Thomas and Gracie can’t wait to go back!” he says.
Rothrock says survival skills help kids learn to cope with failure.
“As parents and educators, we want our children to be successful so much that we don’t allow them to fail a few times first. As a result, kids do not learn how to cope with failure — and problem-solve,” Rothrock says. “At camp we encourage them to analyze why their shelter fell apart after half an hour and rebuild a stronger structure. Frustration is part of the process, but eventually they figure it out while learning skills that will help them survive and thrive in the woods — and in the classroom and work settings.”
Reconnect With Nature
Children ages 4-18 can participate in survival skills camps offered by the Piedmont Wildlife Center, which is located in Leigh Farm Park in Durham and operates daily and weekly camps that focus on what to do if you are lost in the woods. Campers learn how and where to build a debris shelter, how to find and purify water, how to make a friction fire and how to identify edible plants, among other skills.
Survival skills camps help reduce “nature deficit disorder,” says Karen McCall, education and volunteer coordinator at Piedmont Wildlife Center. “Being outside is healthy for kids. They connect and learn to respect nature. They run around, get dirty and go home exhausted — which the parents love!” she says.
Participants are grouped into “clans” that work together to accomplish survival tasks. “We foster a community atmosphere where the older kids mentor the younger ones, and we are supportive of one another,” McCall says. “As they learn about the environment, they become more invested in protecting it and that ‘community’ mindset raises our collective quality of life.”
Prepare for Hypotheticals
The Wilderness Survival Skills Day Camp at Harris Lake Park in New Hill teaches participants to respond to getting lost in the woods by considering the Rule of Three: How long can you survive without air (three minutes), without warmth (three hours), without water (three days) and without food (three weeks)?
The camp is designed for children in fourth grade and above. Campers meet at the Cypress Shelter within the park’s 700 acres, rain or shine, to learn how to collect material to build a shelter, find food and dig a solar still to create a water supply.
Each camper is equipped with a backpack containing items that can be used in a survival situation, such as aluminum foil, a flashlight, a compass, rope, fire-starting materials and other items.
“We emphasize that the brain is our greatest asset and show the kids how to use their own intelligence to survive,” says Jackie Trickel, assistant park manager of programs. “Using the items in their backpacks, we challenge campers to be creative (by asking): ‘How many things can you do with a bandana?’”
Trickel notes that the camp emphasizes the STOP strategy posted at equipped.com/kidprimr.htm and originated by Equipped to Survive, an online resource for independent reviews of survival equipment and outdoor gear, as well as survival and search-and-rescue information.
Stop. Take a deep breath and acknowledge where you are and what has happened.
Think, do not panic. Consider the possible consequences of every action before you do it.
Observe your surroundings and note your options and resources.
Plan to prioritize your needs and how to meet them.
“Problem-solving is a skill that is missing among today’s children, but it’s essential in a survival situation. It is neat to see when the ‘light bulb’ comes on and they figure something out,” she says. “At our camp we ask the kids to put themselves in a situation where they can only use the resources in their backpacks, what they find in the woods and each other’s knowledge and skills. It’s an exciting adventure.”
By participating in a survival skills camp, children can learn how to set up camp during the family’s next foray into the woods. More importantly, though, they gain knowledge and experience with problem-solving, teamwork and leadership that will help prepare them for future life challenges.
Maria J. Mauriello is a freelance writer, communications professional and mother of two children. She lives in Raleigh.