Teaching Kids to Stay Found

How to Avoid Getting Lost—And What to Do if it Happens
By Heather Stephenson, AMC Outdoors, April 2013

Wanda Rice has organized popular workshops to help kids “stay found” and has given plenty of trailhead talks on safety as leader of the family outings committee of Appalachian Mountain Club’s New Hampshire Chapter. But still she has been on trips when kids wandered away from the group or forgot they had a whistle, even though it was hanging off their backpack.

“No matter how much the kids know the concepts, you can’t stress them enough,” she says. “It’s good to keep reinforcing.”

Here are the basics that she recommends to help children avoid getting lost and to make it easier to find them safely and quickly if they do stray.

Top tips to teach kids for avoiding getting lost:

  1. Stay together. Don’t stray so far that you can’t see any grown-ups. If you think you need to leave the group, talk with an adult, don’t just tell another child and leave.
  2. Stay on the trail or path.
  3. If you get ahead of your group when hiking, stop and wait at trail junctions, to make sure you all turn the same way.

Top tips to teach kids for dealing with being lost:

  1. Stay in place. The more you wander, the harder it is for others to find you. You may even wander into an area they have already searched.
  2. Take out your whistle and blow three short blasts (think “come here now”), pause, then blow three short blasts again. Rest and repeat. Don’t sound like a bird: Make a sound that will stand out from the other noises of the forest.
  3. Don’t hide. Make yourself as warm, dry, and comfortable as you can, but don’t try to make yourself hard to find. If people are yelling, respond by answering or blowing your whistle and stay where you are, letting them come to you; they are looking for you and will be glad to see you.

Rice says that repeating these basics—and providing your child with a whistle—is key to preventing problems. It’s great to also help kids learn additional outdoor survival skills, like how to make a warm “bed” or shelter.

And while Rice often teaches such skills as part of outdoor excursions, they are relevant closer to home too. “It’s important for parents to not just stress these when going out hiking,” she says. “Most searching [for lost children] is for kids who’ve wandered out in their backyard and kept going.”

Learn More
Rice credits New England K-9 Search and Rescue, which leads the workshops she organizes, for helping her learn these tips. Their web site has more information and links.

Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) has materials for teaching children these lessons, including a DVD that members of AMC chapters may borrow from the library. AMC staff can also offer a workshop on staying found for chapters on request. For more information about library materials, call the archivist at 617-391-6629 or email amclibrary@outdoors.org; for more information about the workshop, contact Faith Salter at fsalter@outdoors.org or 617-391-6614.

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