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Keep Kids Safe In The Woods

Updated on March 20, 2011

Summer is peak time to bolster a child's education outside the boundaries of the schoolyard. But before parents head to the woods or mountains, park and wildlife officials want them to learn a few lessons.

The first order of business has to do with parent education. People think, 'What could happen, it's the woods?' But 'the woods' has its own set of rules. There are some parents who have a lot of experience and some that really don't have any outdoor experience, and they're blown away that there's wildlife out there, that it's not a Disney kind of ride.

Keeping children in the line of sight is a good start, but it's not enough. Don't allow your kids to scamper away too far, even if you can see them. Not only is there the danger of wildlife, they could fall into a stream, or fall off a large rock, breaking arms, breaking heads.

Children are apt to dig, grab and taste new and possibly harmful substances. Kids will put just about anything in their mouth at any age. Make sure they don't eat berries or other wild herbage that might look tasty to eat.

Know What's Out There

Rattlesnakes sun themselves along the trails and, like most wildlife encountered, just need to be given some room. However, snakes usually will do their best to get away from noisy pint-sized hikers. The same is true for other critters.

Encounters between people and mountain lions, and certainly attacks, are extremely rare but not unheard of. Wildlife is most active at dawn and at dusk, when your visibility isn't as good. There's no set convention for types of wildlife that have run-ins with their two-legged counterparts. There are a number of species out there - bears, lions, coyotes, even red fox and other critters - that need to be given some room.

Prepare For The Worst

It's important for adults to set guidelines for children before anyone sets foot outside the SUV, but adults still should prepare for the worst.

Teach them about staying together, having a water bottle and something to eat. In the higher elevations, you lose water quickly and dehydration presents a new set of problems. Your brain is your most important tool - or your worst enemy - if you're not thinking straight.

If a child does get separated, well-prepared children need only look to the wisdom of Disney's Jiminy Cricket and "give a little whistle." A whistling device can be invaluable. Even park rangers, when they're out hiking, will take extra whistles to give out to hikers. Be sure to educate your children on proper use of whistles, because fellow outdoor enthusiasts shouldn't be subjected to cry-wolf whistle-blowing. Three blows on a whistle is the international distress signal.

The Hug-A-Tree program is also highly touted by park and wildlife officials. Children should be instructed that, if ever separated, they should stay put, hug a tree and wait to be found.

Parents should not be confident that their child will know how to use elaborate kits or gear. Compasses and maps are helpful in the hands of a youngster who knows how to use them, but a lot of them don't.

If your child does go missing, leave someone where the kid will look first then fan out to search - in doing so try not to get anyone else lost.

Keep Children Safe In The Woods

  • Set rules: Establish firm guidelines, instructions.
  • Animals: Heed posted wildlife warnings.
  • Whistle: Equip kids with a whistle. Instruct him or her to, if separated, blow three times, the international signal for distress. We found, above, a $5 whistle that registers at 118 decibels.
  • Hug a tree: Teach kids to stay put if separated from the group and hug the nearest tree in a grove, preferably one close to open area.

In addition to the above:

  • Dress for success: Bright colors are easy to spot. If you want to be less invasive, a reversible jacket with bright orange on the inside is a good idea.
  • Cell phone: A cell phone with geographic information system capabilities is always a good idea.

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