Leave No Trace Principles Made Easy for Kids



Last week we learned about the seven basic principles of Leave No Trace (LNT). Familiarize yourself with the LNT essentials by clicking HERE. This week, we’re exploring easy ways to share these important guidelines with the children in your life. Let’s get started:

Plan Ahead and Prepare
Adults do most of the decision-making for children. Therefore, creating opportunities for kids to make their own choices is not only fun for them, it helps build their confidence, too. When planning your next outdoor adventure, ask your children for their input. If they’re old enough, they can help research the weather and plan the best clothing to wear. Also consider providing trail choices within their hiking ability and allow them to choose their snacks for the trail.

2-LNT-1.jpgTravel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Play a game of secret explorers and detectives. Asking youth to pretend to be these, or any other characters, requires them to observe their surroundings without leaving “clues” as to where they’ve been. This role-playing game encourages your child’s imagination while also instilling awareness about their footsteps. Parents can play “detective” to follow the secret explorer’s trails as they attempt to remain unheard and unseen.

Dispose of Waste Properly
Do you remember playing “I spy” when you were a kid? This is a great game to utilize on your next hike. Challenge your kids to spy trash along the trail and create a competition among kids (or between parents and kids) to see who can collect the most litter. This game gets children thinking about accumulation of trash and its impact on the outdoors.

Another helpful idea is to give every member of the family their own bag so that each person is responsible for the own water bottles, snacks, and other items they choose to “pack in.” (As always, reusable containers are best.) Each family member is also in charge of “packing out” their reusable containers and trash created. This is a very useful teaching tool for children, especially because most children are used to an adult carrying their waste for them. Even the family dog can carry his belongings in his approach pack. Check out one of our favorites HERE.

2-LNT-4.jpgImportant note: Properly disposing of waste includes human and pet waste. Whether you’ve “just gotta go” during a day trip or your family is camping overnight, it’s essential to model proper waste disposal in the woods. For liquid waste, make sure everyone is at least 200 feet away (or 80 to 100 strides for kids) from streams, springs, and lakes. The same rule applies for the water you use to wash yourself and your dishes. And don’t forget to pack small amounts of biodegradable soap.

Deposit solid human waste in cat holes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, trails, and camp. Be sure to cover and disguise the cat hole when finished. Also, remember to pack out all of your used toilet paper and hygiene products. Never bury toilet paper in the woods.

Leave What You Find
Children are naturally curious about birds, amphibians, and animals they see outside, often wanting to get close to them. The Boy Scouts of America offer a helpful “rule of thumb” about this issue: “Help children to understand how close they can safely be from an animal by asking them to stand with one arm raised straight out at shoulder height with their thumb up. Ask them to look at the animal with one eye closed and try to cover it with their thumbs. If they are far enough away, their thumbs will completely block sight of the animal.”

2-LNT-5.jpgMinimize Campfire Impacts
Play a firewood relay race during your next camping trip. Create groups of two or more or stage a competition between parents and children. The objective is to gather downed and dead firewood of appropriate size. Next, line up the firewood from largest to smallest in diameter. Any firewood larger than a child’s wrist is disqualified. The team with the most appropriately-sized firewood wins. Finish the game by explaining that firewood should be not be large in diameter because it takes too long to burn into ash, increasing the length of time it takes to decompose, and increasing our impact on the land.

2-LNT-6.jpgRespect the Outdoors
Give kids a camera to take photos of treasures they find on the trail. After you return home, use a photo collage app like Instagram to encourage their creativity by saving and sharing pictures from their outdoor adventures. This reinforces that kids can keep their memories of the outdoors while leaving the objects themselves in nature.

Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Encourage kids to be kind and inclusive of others during your next outdoor adventure. Model and teach good manners, like sharing the trail with others. Also, avoid playing music, yelling, or talking on cell phones while exploring. It’s easier to enjoy nature when everyone is quiet enough to hear it.

Our children are always watching what we do and looking to us for guidance, especially in new surroundings. They don’t miss a single thing. Putting these Leave No Trace principles into action will not only leave an impression on your children for years to come, but will help foster outdoor explorers, who have a deep respect for nature. Now, get outside and enjoy yourselves!


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