Initiate a Survival Challenge!

By: Martianne Stanger

Last fall, upon the request of one of my children, I set up a survival challenge – and what fun it was!

I purposely chose criteria for the challenge that would tie into knowledge that my children already had, stretch them a bit further, and be more than they could do in the allotted time.

That way, they would need to think, prioritize, and use teamwork.

It worked well, and I share what we do here to inspire you in stretching your children’s survival skills and knowledge.

Of course, if you decide to do something similar, you will want to tailor what you do to your own children’s ages, knowledge, and abilities as well as to what would be safe and yet challenging to do on your property.

Everyone is in a different place and possesses different skill sets and comfort zones. The idea is to start where you and your children are and stretch a little.

For me and mine, that meant setting this premise:

You were in the woods with only a water bottle, a small snack, and maybe some hand sanitizer each when you got lost. Night will be here soon, and you are not sure when help will come. Thus, you must work together to safely survive until help comes, concentrating on having clean water to drink, food to eat, shelter to sleep, and fire to cook and keep warm. Your challenge in the next couple of hours is to take stock of your skills and work as a team to meet as many of the goals in the judging sheet as you can.

Then, for safety and supplies, I ensured each child had a small bag, bottle of water, and snack, and that, together, they had some paper cups, a gallon jug of water for keeping near fire-starting efforts, a jar for collecting water, and flint and magnesium for starting fires.

After that, I gave them a score sheet with specific items on it and set them out on a fine fall afternoon to decide what each of them would tackle solo or as part of a team so that as a collective they could score as many points as possible in the allotted time.

The parameters I delineated were:


  • Boil water.
    • Find or create a vessel to safely boil water in. (Some knew you can boil water in a paper cup!)                            
    • Bring water to a boil.          
    • Boil water for at least one minute.

 (1 point for every 10 seconds of a rolling boil)

  • Collect new water.
    • Find a source of water besides the water you brought with you.
    • In a container that you are given, collect as much water as you can from a source you did not bring with you. *For safety, do not drink this water.*


  • Find food.
    • Find and identify up to 5 wild food sources. *Do not consume them.*                                                                                           
  • Prepare and eat a ration of food or drink.
    • Use brought food to prepare/eat a cold food or drink ration for each team member.
    • Use brought food to prepare a warm food or drink ration for each team member.
    • Use found food to prepare/eat a cold food or drink ration for each team member.

*Be sure to ask the judge before consuming any wild edibles.*                                                          


  • Build a shelter.
    • The shelter is self-standing.                                                                                                                  
    • At least two people can fit in the shelter at once.                                                          
    • The shelter can fit additional people.
    • The shelter can be easily seen from 10 paces away.                                                                
    • The shelter won’t let much water or snow through.      


  • Consider safety.
    • You have a source of water nearby at all times.                                     
    • You cleared a wide area for the fire.                                                                   
    • You dug a fire pit of some depth.                                                                         
    • You outlined your fire pit with rocks.                                                       
    • You never left your fire unattended.                                                                                   
  • Fire building
    • You have collected or created tinder, kindling, and fuel.           
    • You created a teepee, log cabin, cross, or lean-to formation before lighting.                    
    • Using a flint and magnesium/steel, you lit a fire.                                                
    • You kept your fire going for at least five minutes


  • Teamwork
    • Each member of your team actively participated in the challenge for the majority of the challenge period.
    • Your team demonstrated virtues such as perseverance, kindness, resilience, etc.
    • Your team works together well, strategizing which parts of the challenge you might succeed most with, recognizing one another’s strengths and challenges, and working together to solve as many problems as you can during the allotted time using a teamwork /leadership model that makes sense for your team and its members.  
  • Creativity
    • Your team came up with a self-selected mini-challenge based on one or more team member’s skills, interests, and abilities, such as making a specific type of functional furniture, making a tool to use, foraging for something, tying up to three knot types, making a trap, etc.                                                                                                                                            
    • Someone on your team can articulate what the challenge is and why you chose it.
    • One or more of your team members worked on your mini-challenge.           
    • Your team succeeded in your mini-project.

It worked wonderfully well, and my children asked if we can do it again in the future. So, I’ve got my thinking cap on for another survival challenge with a different scenario.

I’d love to hear about any you may have done and, if you have never done one and are now inclined, hope you and your children meet with success!

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