Teaching Survival Skills in Your Homeschool (Even if Your Life Doesn’t Depend on It)
By Lynn Dean
You never know when you might need survival skills. Should you find yourself in the wilderness for some reason, your knowledge of such skills could mean the difference between life and death. However, there are many benefits beyond basic survival. Know the reasons—appreciation, self-esteem, family bonding and more—to teach survival skills in your homeschool, as well as places to learn them!
Why Teach Survival Skills
One morning, my friends and I left our cars at a ranger station and hiked into the rugged wilderness. We prepared to survive with nothing more than our good sense and the items we could carry on our backs. Everything was an exciting adventure that first day, but when I woke to the sound of rain on my tent the next morning, with my body bruised and blistered, reality settled in.
My evolution from comfort-loving co-ed to hardy hiker was an arduous process, but by the time we got back to civilization my 30-pound backpack wasn’t the only weight lifted from my shoulders. I experienced a surge of confidence from knowing that I could take care of myself. I now understood that few things are truly essential and I gained a fresh appreciation for those things that make life more comfortable.
Based on this enriching experience, I strongly recommend teaching children life survival skills. Even if your family is more into suburban convenience than “homesteading off the grid,” knowing a few survival skills can be empowering. Here are a few reasons.
Appreciation of History
Most of our ancestors had few possessions and often risked what little they owned for the opportunity to better their lives. Whether they immigrated from overseas or moved west as pioneers, they relied on adaptability and survival skills to get them through every challenge. The more we put ourselves in their place, the more we understand their motivations, struggles and appreciation of freedom and opportunity.
Emergencies don’t give advance notice. Would you know how to survive if you were lost in the woods, if a natural disaster resulted in the loss of technology or if there were an accident that required first aid? Skills such as orienteering, hunting, building shelters and fires, water purification, food preservation and first aid could mean the difference between life and death in perilous circumstances.
Teaching children how to “rough it” can lead to greater confidence in their own abilities. From tying their shoelaces to tying a half hitch in a tent rope, children take great pride in doing things for themselves. Pastor and leadership expert John Maxwell says, “If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone.”
Introducing real-life skills may take children out of their comfort zone, but developing self-sufficiency builds the confidence that increases our comfort level. That will make us want to get off the couch and get outside more.
Children will find new meaning in, and appreciation for, industry when their survival depends on it. Many of the difficulties we’ve come to expect from children and teenagers—laziness, contrariness and lack of responsibility—are partly caused by the age of convenience that we live in. Exposing children to the wild and to survival situations can spark conversation and unparalleled understanding about privilege, luxury and gratitude.
Ready to have family adventures? Begin with short hikes and overnight camping trips. This will help develop the group rhythm and smooth out family dynamics in these novel circumstances. Eventually, build up to full-day hikes and extended trips such as three-day canoe or camping excursions.
Remember that not everyone will be a “happy camper” at first. Reluctance to try new activities is absolutely normal. We grow when we consider the strengths and weaknesses of others and make accommodations for the good of the group. As a family, this can bring a deeper understanding of each person’s uniqueness and role.
No matter where you start, it’s important to get out of your comfort zone once in a while and stretch your survival skills. Your children should come back from each adventure more open and receptive to the experiences. They’ll also come back well-exercised and tired . . . two more benefits!
Where to Learn Survival Skills
If you’re looking for places to start learning primitive or antiquated skills, here are a few suggestions.
7 Places for Homeschoolers to Learn Primitive, Pioneer and Survival Skills
Take field trips to places that show how our resourceful forefathers lived. Many interpretive historical sites will let children experience activities such as spinning, weaving, soap and candle making, home building, farming and harvesting.
Barrington Living History Farm, northwest of Houston in Washington, Texas, allows you to step into 1850 as you explore the home of Dr. Anson Jones, the last president of the Republic of Texas. Costumed interpreters welcome you to lend a hand with chores! Call (936) 878-2213.
Texas Survival School in Royce City (Dallas area) hosts church groups and father-son survival weekends, as well as a variety of one to three-day classes. Call 214-883-0163 or visit
Camp Tonkawa in Collinsville (one hour north of Dallas) conducts special day camps and field trips for homeschoolers. Call 940-440-8382 or visit CampTonkawaTexas.com.
The Human Path near San Antonio is a survival school with a unique focus on wild edibles and herbal medicines. Call 210-807-0891 or visit TheHumanPath.org.
Earth Native Wilderness School in Bastrop offers a wide variety of summer and day camps, as well as custom classes on a wide range of outdoor and survival skills. Call 512-299-8870 or visit
Omega Survival School in San Angelo offers instruction in primitive skills, self-reliance, survival and bushcraft. They offer 20 percent off for military, first responders, police and firefighters. One child
under 18 comes free with a paid adult. For more information, visit OmegaSurvivalSchool.com.
Primitive Texas and Louisiana hits the road with their day camps and lessons, teaching in College Station, Huntsville, Lewisville and other places. Call 979-777-3902.
Friends or relatives are often founts of knowledge and can teach your children to cook, sew, quilt, garden or fish. Maybe they have a grandmother who cans garden-fresh produce or bakes bread. Some of my fondest memories are shelling peas and baking bread with my grandmother. Look for opportunities that build skills and relationships.
Other survival skills such as drown-proofing, swimming and first aid are taught by service organizations—the Red Cross and the YMCA, for instance. The Red Cross and the American Heart Association teach CPR, a skill everyone should know. Check the availability of summer programs in your area.
8 Organizations that Teach Scouting and Survival Skills
Trail Life (for boys) and American Heritage Girls are Christian scouting programs where children can learn and have adventures, just like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. These programs teach the significance of primitive skills and more while encouraging personal development in a Christian learning environment.
Navigators USA is a secular organization to help children and their parents spend more time outdoors, getting to know what nature has to offer while getting to know each other.
Military Clubs teach survival skills in an environment of discipline and military culture. Programs start for kids as young as eight years old. Find a club near you, or start one yourself: Young Marines, Military Cadets of America (has divisions for the four major branches of the military) and Sea Cadets.
Lynn Dean was a reluctant historian. Bored with school books that chronicled battle dates and dead people, she feared inflicting mind-numbing data on her own students.
Fortunately, she discovered the classic appeal of storytelling—adventure sagas about real people who struggled to overcome obstacles while pursuing their dreams. For more than a decade Lynn has combined unit studies, field trips and quality literature to create unique experiences in discovery learning. www.DiscoverTexasOnline.com
Three Primitive Skills That You Can Learn at Home
By Alisha Mattingly
Supplies: 12-inch strips of fabric (16-28 strips); two heavy items such as rocks, books or book ends.
Why it’s important: Many useful tools such as baskets, blankets, traps and clothing are produced through weaving. These tools can keep a person fed, warm and protected from the elements.
What to do: Begin by laying 6-12 strips of fabric horizontally in a row. Space these strips about a ½-inch apart. Place the heavy items at the end of the strips, one at each end. This will secure the strips in place for weaving. Weave one strip at a time vertically through the horizontal strips by alternating pushing the strip under and over the horizontal strips. Continue with an additional 6-12 strips, sliding each vertical strip close to the previous one. Once done, secure the weave. At the end of each side, wrap the leftover strips in a circle around the horizontal strips near the end of the vertical strips. Alternate by going over and under in a similar fashion before circling the strip. Tie off the ends of the final strip and do the same thing to each side of the weave. Remove the heavy items. The weave is now complete!
Take it to the extreme: The Yucca plant, native to Texas, is excellent for weaving and making cordage. For added difficulty, use Yucca leaves as strips of fabric. See this instructional video from Camp Liberty.
Supplies: Rope or string.
Why it’s important: Tying knots is one of the most important survival skills. A knowledge of different knotting techniques helps with fishing, first aid, crossing water and scaling mountains or trees.
What to do:
- Square Knot. This knot uses two rope ends to secure a rope together. Hold one end in the right hand and the second end in the left hand. Place the rope ends over each other, right over left. Then reverse the order and do left over right. A firm tug will secure the knot. A square knot is useful for bundling firewood, elongating a rope and tying bandages.
- Bowline Knot. Make a
loop with the free end of a rope. Pass the free end through the loop and around the back of the line. Bring the free end back down into the loop and then pull the line to tighten. This knot will take some practice. The further up the rope you go, the larger you can make the loop at the end of the rope. A bowline knot is useful for hanging hammocks or shelters, suspending food from a tree or rescuing a drowning person.
- Flemish Knot. Form a loop by passing the free end of the rope over itself. Continue that end around the base of the loop and then pass the free end through the loop. The final knot will look like a figure 8. This knot is useful for securing rope or cordage to a ring or post.
Take it to the extreme: See Outdoor Life’s listing of “20 Knots You Need to Know.” They begin easily enough, but your fingers will have experienced quite the workout by the end.
Supplies: Chairs, poles, or other sturdy foundations; a tarp or sheet; rope; blankets; books, rocks or other heavy items.
Why it’s important: Obtaining shelter is one of the top three priorities while in the wilderness. Shelter is important for maintaining body temperature and protecting yourself from the environment.
What to do: The lean-to is the most basic shelter to learn. In the wild, a lean-to would be built between two trees. But for an at-home lesson, use chairs or other foundation pieces. Place the chairs no less than four feet apart. Tie a taut rope between the two chairs. Place the sheet or tarp over the rope and firmly pull the sheet to the ground in a diagonal. Place heavy items on the back of the sheet to secure it. Finally, lay blankets and pillows inside the shelter and take a nap!
Take it to the extreme: Practice all three skills! Weave a large cover for the shelter and knot it to the household items that you are using as poles.
Adventure further: Check out this wikiHow guide and try to build a lean-to outdoors using natural materials. Camp overnight in your new shelter!
Alisha Mattingly has a bachelor’s in English with a focus on cultural diversity. She is a freelance writer and currently serves as interim managing editor for THSC. Alisha and her husband, Ian, home school their two daughters, ages 7 and 14. In her free time, Alisha enjoys working as props mistress for a local theater director, participating in renaissance festivals and traveling.
As a Boy Scout for almost 13 years, I have taken part in many camping trips. I have learned that to have fun while camping, you must be miserable—at least part of the time. If you go camping to be comfortable, you’re missing the point: to have an adventure!
This summer was my last campout as a scout, I wanted to do something I had never done before—the High Adventure Horseback Riding trip, which consisted of a ride to a remote campsite where we would pitch our own shelters. Sounds simple, right? Wrong! I had never touched a horse, and now I was going to be taking care of one.
A week before camp, I decided to get a quick horseback riding lesson, and in doing so, I earned my horsemanship merit badge. I felt ready as we hopped in the car and headed from the great state of Texas to Oklahoma. During the seven and a half hour trip, the other scouts had to use the bathroom every time we passed a gas station. When we finally arrived at the camp, we ate chili dogs and were treated to some hilarious skits performed by the other scout troops.
The first day was uneventful, except for the demon moth the size of my hand that attacked my brother! Needless to say, I killed the beast. (It was actually a Corydalus cornutus dobsonfly. Feel free to Google it).
On the second day, I packed my stuff, grabbed a bite to eat, and headed to the barn with five other scouts. Our guide assigned each of us a horse or mule. I had a white horse named Elsa (yes, after the Disney character). Before saddling up, we had to brush our horses and were told to talk to them so that they would be comfortable with us. I asked Elsa who she liked in this presidential election—no comment. While we were tacking up something spooked one of the horses, causing the rest of them to go beserk, run backwards, and take the fence attached to their lead ropes with them. This is how our day began.
I didn’t really notice the heat until we started riding. Riding for two or three hours in upwards of 90-degree heat with humidity gets to you. When we finally reached our campsite and tied up the horses, my first priority was to make a shelter. Unfortunately, the only place suitable for making a shelter was in some tall grass which was definitely infested with ticks and chiggers! Instead, I just laid down a tarp and put my sleeping mat on it. Before bed, I sprayed the tarp with bug spray to keep the ticks away. It worked.
Attack of the Leeches
On day three, we rode our horses for about three hours then returned to our remote campsite, First order of business was to cool off, but in order to get to the lake, we had to run through that field of tall grass filled with ticks and chiggers. After a hotride, this was a risk we were willing to take. The water was nice and cool, but when we got out, we discovered our legs were covered in leeches. Thankfully, they were small enough to be pulled off by hand. We returned to camp to tend to our horses. I spent 30 minutes swatting horseflies from Elsa.
The fourth day, we returned to base camp. As we were unloading, a scout’s mule ran off. Three scouts went to retrieve the animal; an hour later they returned empty-handed. Later, we got a phone call saying the lost mule had shown up at the Trading Post (a store at the camp). The mule and rider returned 45 minutes later.
This is a recap of one of the many adventures I’ve had as a scout. I’ve camped through all types of extreme weather and experienced dehydration and heat exhaustion. Fortunately, this trip didn’t involve much suffering—and I still feel I went on quite the adventure!
Scouts, God’s Tool for Boys and Dads
By Romeo Evalle
I remember the event quite vividly. As my wife and I walked into the local Boy Scout council office to speak to Doug, the local Boy Scout executive, about starting our own troop, my feelings of uneasiness and incompetence overwhelmed me. I had not been a Boy Scout myself; I think I may have spent a year as a Webelos Cub Scout, but that was the extent of my scouting experience. However, unlike me, my son, Daniel, and the other five homeschooled boys in Cub Scout Den 633 were about to bridge over from Webelos Scouts to Boy Scouts.
Why I Started My Own Homeschool Boy Scout Troop
We came to a point of decision. We either had to join another troop or start our own from scratch. It seemed obvious to us that instead of re-inventing the wheel, we should merge into an existing troop. We proceeded optimistically, visiting several Boy Scout troops, hoping to find one that met our expectations of elevated parental involvement and a high percentage of Eagle Scout success. To our disappointment, none met our high expectations. That should not have surprised us, but it did.
Besides these high expectations, we wanted to avoid the horror stories that we had heard from friends and families about the negative experiences of scouting. Moreover, it was a spiritual matter for us—the Cub Scout den came up with the 633 nomenclature based on Matthew 6:33: which says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Last, as a home schooling father, I looked at scouting as an avenue for engaging with my sons, for restoring their hearts to myself (Malachi 4:6), and ultimately to the Lord. So, we found ourselves speaking to Doug.
I think in the back of my mind I was hoping to hear that it was going to be too difficult, too expensive, too time consuming, and that one needed a myriad of outdoor experiences to start a troop from scratch. That was all I needed to hear to start heading out the door. I did not feel qualified. It was enough of a challenge to lead and stay engaged with my own two boys, let alone six of them.
I had no clue how to run a troop. Subconsciously, I wanted to hear anything that would convince me not to proceed with my original intent. However, Doug was very patient with us and answered each question with grace and a smile. He was very encouraging and assured us that we could handle this endeavor and that he would come alongside us every step of the way. (By the way, I am here to say that he kept his word, as a good Boy Scout should.) Without me knowing it, like a cunning salesman, he presented the paperwork, and before I knew it, I was signing on the
dotted ine and cutting a check that would seal our fate. With some hesitancy and with mustard-seed-sized faith, Boy Scout Troop 633 was born.
Homeschooled Scouts Achieve Life Scout and Eagle Scout Ranks
I now look back at that day with much thankfulness and with no regret. Just like the Bible story about the boy with the five loaves and two fish, God has shown Himself faithful with the little faith that we had brought to the table. In the short four-year history of the troop, through trial and error and much learning, Troop 633 has grown to twenty-seven boys and has managed to graduate three Eagle Scouts to date. Of the twenty-seven, there are currently twelve boys who have achieved the Life Scout rank—that is a forty-four percent success rate, so far, for Life Scout
Of the original six Webelos Cub Scouts who bridged from the den, all five remaining scouts have achieved the Life Scout rank, and of those five, two of them are finalizing Eagle Scout projects as I write this article. So far, we have managed to beat the odds, and if the five from the original six reach Eagle Scout, that would mean an eight-three percent success rate for attaining that coveted rank. This success rate is exceptional, considering the national average for attaining Eagle Scout is in the single digits.
I would like to say that the reason for our success so far is that the boys always take the initiative, are highly self-governed and self-motivated, and that the parents of the boys are just plain awesome. Well, the fact of the matter is that the reason for our success, in my opinion, is that the parents, particularly the dads, simply show up and make it a point to engage themselves with their boys.
From the start, we wanted to avoid being and recruiting what I termed, “red-taillight parents.” In other words, we expected the parent or parents to stay and not just to drive away, showing their red taillights. In a lot of cases, both parents are involved–the father is a scoutmaster or assistant scoutmaster, and the mother sits on the troop committee or serves as a volunteer for another committee. On campouts, it is not uncommon to have two dads to every three boys present. Additionally, the consistently high parent turnout allows for relationships to be built, values to be shared, and trust to be established. Because of this relational foundation built on trust, on the occasions when I am not present, I can be assured that the parents who are present will nurture, and discipline (when necessary) my boys as I would. This is scouting at its best, and I am proud to know each of the parents and each of the boys of Troop 633.
Why I Recommend Scouting to Homeschoolers
Oddly enough, I do not think the main reason is to reach the rank of Eagle Scout. What is more, I do not think it is to make the boys “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent” (the Scout law). Although these are great goals, they are not the ends in themselves. They are the means to an even greater end.
Do not get me wrong. Of course I want all of the boys to attain the Eagle Scout rank and to embody the Scout law. However, having a rank and abiding by this law do not necessarily make the boys the kind of people God wants them to be. In fact, if we are not careful, we might very well be raising hypocrites. As I mentioned earlier, I wanted an avenue that would allow me to engage with my sons and to restore their hearts to myself and ultimately to the Lord. This was my goal—a goal we, as fathers, should all endeavor to attain. Allow me to elaborate.
The troop has afforded me time to “sit down and walk along the road, lie down and get up” (Deut. 6:7) with my boys when I could ask the tough questions in life and to challenge their worldviews. It has provided me opportunities to challenge their initiative, sense of responsibility, and integrity when meeting certain merit badge requirements. Further, it has allowed me to challenge them physically and mentally so they can build character, grow strong, and grow in perseverance. Last and certainly not least, on a spiritual level it has granted me many occasions for corporate prayer, worship, and reading of scripture and for challenging theological discussion. I am eternally grateful to Doug and the entire Boy Scout organization for allowing this home schooling father to accomplish these important goals.
A Challenge for Dads
Allow me to challenge you fathers who have sons. What is your reason for participating in scouting (or anything, for that matter)? Do you have an eternal perspective? Are you embodying the kind of example—in your heart as well as in your actions—that Christ expects of you in front of your boys? Are you preparing them for a great life here on earth and an even better life in heaven? Are you being the spiritual leader of your home and training your boys to become the same when they have families? These are tough questions, I know. My hope and prayer is that as you engage your boys, whether in scouting or not, you would do so in such a manner that would make them strong, build integrity and godly character, and ultimately turn their hearts to the Lord.
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