Educating The Younger Generation

As you may remember I’ve been putting together a camping kit for my two nephews who don’t spend a lot of time in the wilderness.  The boys not getting any dirt time has been weighing heavy on my mind, but instead of letting it get me down I decided to take action and do something about it.

This past weekend my youngest nephew told me he was heading to boy scout camp and that he didn’t have everything he needed, so I decided to give him his kit early.  (I was waiting for his birthday in early May to give it to him.)  Last weekend I had a friend come over with his kid and and his son’s friend – both 12 – and my nephew who is almost 11.  The idea was to test out the cold weather tent I’d just bought, but in reality it was a chance to give my nephew his gear.

Knife's Edge - Mt. Katahdin in Maine

Man, I couldn’t have been more surprised at his reaction!  As I pulled stuff out of the pack: knife, canteen with cover and cup, firesteel, cozy, stove, compass, head lamp, poncho, etc, his eyes kept getting bigger and bigger.  He kept asking, “Is this for me?  Is that mine?”  I’d smile and say, “Yeah, Buddy.  This is your stuff.  Now I just have to show you how to use it in the woods.”

When I was done he came over and gave me a hug and said, “You’re the best uncle ever!”

According to my sister he’s talked about nothing else since Saturday.  Now that makes me feel good, but it’s not the end of the story.  He wants to come over now and learn how to use the stuff, which to me is far more important than any amount of gear I could give him.  My grandfather, dad, and some uncles taught me some wilderness skills and I picked up others by myself.  It’s an ongoing process and anybody who tells you that they know it all has reached the sad state where they’ve stopped learning.  I don’t know any true outdoorsman who isn’t interested in learning something new or seeing a new way of doing an old task.  I want to continue the tradition and pass on some knowledge to my nephew.

Knowledge and experience are the best tools you can take into the woods… you can make just about everything else if you really need to.  Not only do you learn how to survive you also learn to respect nature… something lacking in a lot of people today.

So, my plan is over the summer to have him over for several camp outs and to teach him a few of the things he’ll need to know in order to camp successfully and even to survive if he ever finds himself in a tight situation.  Some of the things I want to teach him are responsible fire making, how to use a knife properly, basic compass, making potable water, and some first aid.  And I’d like to do one big adventure like climbing Mt. Katahdin, which would be huge!

If you were in this situation what would you like to teach your nephew or niece?  I’m open to all ideas.

Sound off below!

-Jarhead Survivor

25 comments… add one
  • kevin April 20, 2012, 7:55 am

    im kinda a martial arts nut i would be teaching all the very simple direct stuff thats NONLETHAL but will stop somebody in there tracks

  • Ranger Man April 20, 2012, 8:08 am

    I’m planning a Katahdin trip, too. Probably September when it is a bit cooler and there are fewer people.

  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. April 20, 2012, 8:39 am

    That is way cool, your nephew sounds like a great kid. I hope he has a great time.

  • john April 20, 2012, 9:47 am

    I taught my kids and the neighbors kids last summer how to use a sawzall and I taught them yesterday how to properly cut down a tree and the difference between an open, humbolt, and dutchman (a no-no) cut. We used the sawall on small 2-4″ trees yesterday and I taught them how to use a rope (never wrap it around your hands) to pull it as a team while the other person is cutting.

    So, I guess I would teach them how to collect water, then how to make a fire, and then how to get firewood safely.

  • Joe April 20, 2012, 9:56 am

    AWESOME, Jarhead! Simply awesome.

  • irishdutchuncle April 20, 2012, 10:36 am

    good job.

    have him bring his scout handbook with him for your review. (speaking of indoctrination…) and he should actually read it sometime, himself.
    there are certain “required” merit badges he’ll have to earn… he’ll also have to learn how to swim. (if he doesn’t already know)

    i had to leave scouting at age 14, because i hadn’t made “first class”. (i probably should have been kicked out, way before that)

    the most important thing he needs to know as a scout, is what it means to be “morally straight”. (he should never be doing anything, anywhere, for which he should be ashamed. whether or not anyone could ever find out. and that has to come from inside himself.)

    • irishdutchuncle April 20, 2012, 11:43 am

      … and i wish i didn’t have to say it: to, or with anyone.

      at his age, he should still be almost totally innocent. that doesn’t mean he can’t do harm to someone else, unintentionally. also there are too many out there who want to destroy his innocence.
      your nephew needs to know that he can tell you everything, anything, and come to you any time for guidance.

    • irishdutchuncle April 21, 2012, 11:36 am

      TLHFCKOCTBCR, for now, not TEOTWAWKI, until he goes for the “emergency preparedness” merit badge.

      “to keep myself physically strong; mentally awake; and morally straight” constitute his “duties to himself”.

      i don’t think they have hunting and trapping merit badges, so those are activities he’ll have to do with family.

  • Bill April 20, 2012, 10:36 am

    Great topics to teach Jarhead.

    Some other simple and interesting topics are basic knot tying (bowline and halfhitch are very useful), and simple shelter building (lean to, utilizing terrain, and where to properly site your shelter)

    Teaching them how to properly care for and sharpen a knife and hatchet are also important skills.

  • Jason April 20, 2012, 10:51 am

    This was a very cool article Jarhead, your response to your nephew was excellent – “I need to show you how to use this stuff” (paraphrase). That in itself, was the best part of the gift in my opinion because it set a greater context & showed the depth of thought into the present for him.

    Too often people attempt fulfill the seeming obligation of buying a present for a child for the short lived smile not understanding the real gift is completing the connection opportunity. There is a reason why that old saying has such staying power “it’s the thought that counts”.

    You ask “If you were in this situation what would you like to teach your nephew or niece?” I think it is more of a “why” question because that leads to personal passion, which your article illustrated to me.

    This is an example but feel it can be completely relative …

    I grew up surfing & many would consider me an expert in the surf (30 years of dedication doesn’t hurt either!). I am knowledgable about riptides, swell directions, can read weather maps & understand patterns, equipment needs & so on. What good would it do if I bought my nephew, niece, son or daughter a surfboard & wetsuit then sat on the beach, pointed towards the water and said “have fun”?

    The real gift begins when I suit up & walk them into the water & talk about the various (positive) things to expect. Lay them on the board in the correct balanced spot, crash through a couple small waves on the way out to get into a beginners position, turn them around & push them into a small wave and encourage them to stand up. Regardless of what happens – stand or fall, cheer for them and do it again & again & again.

    Whether they develop the same passion for that sport or not is immaterial, what they take with them the rest of their lives is the care we displayed.

    Conversely, my soon to be 7 year old adopted son wanted to try Little League. I am pretty hands on but I never butt into a coaches business because it creates conflict, primarily in a child.

    Sadly, the coach had little if any experience coaching kids this age & did not teach age appropriate. These are kids at a very low skill level who, if you lightly threw a ground ball directly at them, stood a 75% chance of missing it. He did not teach the real basics like running bases, eye contact with the ball & so forth. In other words, too many assumptions were made & no thought or time was spent in creating a connection – even at the most basic levels.

    The result, my son begged me to quit a quarter of the way through the season because it was not fun and the coach appeared “mean” because he wasn’t patient. My son is a very coordinated kid and, like any child, just needed a little hands on – age/skill appropriate encouragement. I thought about it long and hard & did let him quit because his taste had soured & wasn’t about to let that poor example continue shape his thoughts at such a young age.

    (My son plays soccer, tennis, tetherball, football & rides a skate board at a skate park & never wants to quit, so I felt it was not damaging or detrimental allowing him to quit baseball).

    Sorry for being so long winded but in my opinion, you have only ONE chance with the young ones & as stated prior, the complete connection with the event is more important than the event itself – be it checkers, backpacking, surfing, cycling, ice fishing or what have you.

    • Cold Warrior April 22, 2012, 12:47 pm

      Please allow me to say how much I admire your writings. You should do a great deal more of it and maybe even center in on a topic for an article or two.

      God Bless

      • Jason April 23, 2012, 11:56 am

        Thank you for the wonderful compliment & have considered several ideas to post.

        I have had some rare opportunities in life both good & very bad and learned the true survival mechanism of any value is mindset & my relationship to God.

  • Newg April 20, 2012, 12:03 pm

    I would add fishing and scaling and cleaning fish to the instruction. Fishing really is an art and there is a ton of stuff to teach, even if the kid has fished before. Besides, fishing provides a great bonding experience. And who could argue that knowing how to handle fish and clean them to eat is often a lost skill on today’s folks.

    • j.r. guerra in s. tx. April 20, 2012, 1:45 pm

      Very good point on the fishing information, I read a book which a judge that handled juvenile criminal matters noticed that no cases of criminal activity was found where their hobby was fishing. Well, unless you describe ‘exaggerating’ is a crime (he was THIS big! 8^)

      Great hobby fishing, nice way to spend some quiet time, contemplate the universe and get to know yourself.

  • RemoteCoder April 20, 2012, 2:30 pm


    Many of us don’t realize the power of influence we have as Uncles even if we choose to not have kids of our own. My nieces and nephews can not only count on me to tell embarrassing stories about my siblings when we were young, but I shoot rifles and bows, camp, know martial arts, and many other skills that I can pass on to them.

    Being an uncle has just as much responsibility as being a brother, a father, or a grandpa. If you subscribe to the notion that family comes first.

  • Jason April 20, 2012, 3:37 pm

    I subscribe to “Quote of the Day” & today’s was pretty timely:

    “Children have more need of models than of critics.”

  • Jon April 20, 2012, 4:44 pm

    Fantastic post Jarhead.

    I’d add animal tracks and sign, and identifying common trees and plants.

    The tracks and sign can give a deeper appreciation and respect to the other critters of the woods, and maybe open the door further down the road to hunting and trapping if he is so inclined.

    Common trees and plants can be as simple as the best wood for a campfire, or how to avoid poison ivy and other hazards. Over time, it can be built into other uses and skills.

  • Spook45 April 20, 2012, 5:56 pm

    Lukily we live in a place were hunting and fishing are the norm so its not hard to do those things. Theres always a lil camping and other skills blended in and thru the coarse of time they learn what they need.

  • Adam April 20, 2012, 7:20 pm

    I think you should teach them about plants, which ones are edible and which ones are poisonous. I agree with the first aid as well. Another thing that is important is the weather. You can tell a lot by the formation of clouds, the way the sky looks, etc. It’ll have to be constant though as sometimes the signs of a rainstorm come 2-3 days prior to the storm itself.

  • Nor' Country April 21, 2012, 7:36 am

    Good ideas by all…

    My grandfather taught me to make things myself. One time I wanted a really cool sling-shot. It was at the local five and dime store. (anyone old enough to remember those?) Anyway, I showed it to him in sort of a begging type way to get him to buy it for me, and took one look at it and laughed. He said, “You could make one better yourself that won’t break and will shoot farther and I’m going to show you how.” So Grandpa showed me how to find a good forked stick and how to cut up old inner tubes for the bands. I hunted birds and terrorized neighborhood cats with it for years. The store bought sling-shot would probably have lasted one afternoon.

    Fast forward a few decades and now I have only two pieces of “store bought” furniture in my house because I decided that I could make whatever I needed instead of paying big bucks for crummy imported stuff that breaks within the first six months of use… The lesson learned was that if I wanted something, I should try my best to make it myself and that most of my self-made items are probably better than the store bought variety. Of course there was a learning curve and some of things I tried to build ended up being dangerous because I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, but I learned. I’m just as comfortable doing some hobby blacksmithing as I am designing and constructing tents from painter’s canvas drop cloths and building cabins.

    To sum it up: teach the next generation that they are capable of doing things like that and their skills will naturally spill over into the different parts of their lives like survival and prepping… Foster independence and creative thinking / problem solving and no matter what happens in the future, they will be more than likely miles ahead of their peers.

    If nothing else, be sure to teach trapping and snare building. I did and my kids will never go hungry.

    • Jason April 21, 2012, 11:25 am

      Great comment & couldn’t agree more. The 5¢ and 10¢ store eh? Brings me back to my childhood & my parents shopping there before they were phased out.

  • Lucky April 21, 2012, 10:15 pm

    I take my kids, my nieces and nephews, and my kids friends out on hikes and show them edible wild plants. We bring stuff home and either make salads, or throw stuff into the spaghetti sauce, or I show them how to dry things for saving. The older ones I talk to about what makes good medicine in our area and how to use it. My kids, and my siblings kids all know the story about how their grandpa had kidney stones once a month for a couple of years until I talked him into adding a certain root to his coffee habit and made him a believer. I also teach them about cooking over an open fire and other alternatives to cooking outside. It’s easy to make a fire, but not so easy to cook over a fire, especially for today’s kids. One of my kids friends didn’t even know how to microwave oatmeal, let alone cook on the stove. Now he can bake bread outside and knows what kind of local plant life will taste good in stew.
    Shelter building, simple string traps, fishing, cleaning/gutting/skinning/scaling, how to get water when there isn’t, reading a map, simple tracking, safe ways to store food in the outdoors (bears man) all that stuff that comes naturally to someone who spends a lot of time in the outdoors that isn’t just their backyard. I think simply hanging out, and putting on a teachers hat while doing it will bring up a lot more knowledge to be passed on that what all of us are going to remember in a comment though.

  • izzy April 23, 2012, 5:42 am

    right on, Jarhead!
    Maybe start with “in case you get lost” if he hasn’t been taught already – locate water, one common edible plant, read terrain map, make shelter in place.
    And how to track & beware of dangerous animals!!!! (because the fewer there are, the more the idea adds excitement to any youngsters camping trip ;)
    yah, do the Scouts still have the Fieldbook? If not, get him one.

    • irishdutchuncle April 23, 2012, 7:27 am

      excellent point about “in case you get lost”.
      it’s easier to get “found” again if you stay in one place.

      “Fieldbook” is also excellent. haven’t seen it on the shelves for years.

  • Child of Odin May 2, 2012, 3:47 pm

    I don’t see most of my nieces and nephews, as they live on the coasts, or in Montana, and I’m stuck in Utah. But, I am teaching my daughters. I want them to be ready, and also to show up any boys they know, lol. My oldest used a firesteel for the first time, last night, and she’s still excited and her sisters jealous.


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