Is everyone geared up for Christmas shopping? On the first day of Christmas my five children receive presents from their parents, grandparents, and friends and by the twelfth day of Christmas....well, the presents begin earning the label of junk, lying in the basement or being “played with” by the dog and chickens in the backyard. Every year I declare I will not buy anymore useless, plastic toys - and this year I mean it!
Lest I sound too much like the Grinch, rest assured that I love giving the kids presents. I love thinking about just the right gift for each child, wrapping the presents and hiding them from curious eyes; there’s the fun of sneaking them out to the bottom of the tree after they have gone to bed and of seeing them open them with delight. So what to do?
I have decided this year to focus our gifts on preps for the kids. I don’t think this is necessarily a ho-hum thing; most kids enjoy aspects of prepping much more than we adults who do it with a slight (or large) sense of anxiety. Kids genuinely enjoy learning new skills and “playing pioneer”.
So here are some tips on shopping for “kiddie preppers”:
1. Seed kit and gardening tools
Children have a natural fascination for watching plants sprout and gathering the harvest. A seed kit with some gardening tools can be as simple as a few packs of easy-to-grow seeds such as beans, squash, sunflowers, and pumpkins or you may want to purchase a family starter kit such as the one offered at Saint Claire’s Heirloom seeds. Horizon Herbs offers a Kidzherb kit of useful medicinal and culinary herb seeds such as basil, calendula, and lemon balm that also includes a story book with kid-friendly information, herbal fairy tales and songs, and instructions for making products such as salves and slippery elm cough drops. Books like Roots, Shoots, Buckets and Boots by Sharon Lovejoy offer whimsical, yet useful projects, such as “pizza gardens” and gourd tee pees. Consider purchasing kid-size garden tools like gloves, shovels, hoes, and watering cans.
2. Sleeping bags and bedding
No, I’m not talking about those flimsy sleeping bags with a cartoon princess on them; I’m talking about the real deal. Now this might not be exciting unless you promise the kids that they’ll use them on a camping trip. Another idea is a new comforter or quilt. I never seem to have enough blankets as they are often serving as forts and the kids tend to fight over the favorite ones. This way, everyone will have their own special quilt and the bedding will serve your family well should you experience a power outage or need to turn the heat down (or off) to save energy and money.
3. Bug out bag - kiddie style
First things first, get some durable backpacks. What you put in them will, of course, depend upon the age of the child, but the great thing about this gift is that you’re not only providing a gift and teaching them about being prepared, you’re also knocking out an item on your prepping to-do list. Some ideas for kid bug out bags are: flashlight, a magnesium fire starter, compass, important numbers and info on a laminated card, a deck of playing cards, nonperishable snacks like jerky and candy, small mylar blanket, small bottles of children’s pain relief and cold medicine, chapstick, wipes, straw water filter, a tin mug, and a pocketknife.
4. Non-electric games
Imagine, games without noises and glassy-eyed kids. Consider buying a durable chess set and a checkers set. Purchase Hoyle’s Rules of Games and some nice playing cards. Nowadays, decks come in quite a variety, from art masterpieces to tree identification, so you have entertainment as well as sneaking some education in. Other classics to consider are Scrabble, Sorry, and Clue. For the younger crowd, there are concentration games like Memory, Connect Four, and alphabet or number games. I would suggest something like Candyland but you might be stressed enough and yet another round through the Peppermint Forest might have you banging your head on the wall.
5. Survival fiction books
Fiction books are a great way to introduce morals and valuable skills without seeming to lecture. In books such as My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George, Sam not only learns survival skills such as making fishing hooks, building a shelter in a hollow tree, and making clothing from deer hide, he also learns lessons about courage, independence, and making peace with solitude. Likewise, Brian in Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet series learns how to gather edible plants and build a raft from driftwood, but he also learns about self-discipline and perseverance. Other titles include the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, and Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare.
6. Knot games
One of the most useful skills to learn, and one of the easier ones for nimble, little fingers, is knot tying. Companies such as Ramco produce a game wherein the players match the knots on the cards, with each card being worth a certain number of points based on difficulty and Think Fun Knot So Fast has players trying to tie the knots the quickest. There are also numerous how-to books available.
7. Books on wild edibles, traps, and nature skills
Help your children begin to develop a prepping library of their own. A great start is Tom Brown’s Field Guide: Nature and Survival for Children. What I like about this book is that it includes the more usual information - shelter building, wild edibles, first aid - but it also covers nature awareness and “lostproofing”. For example, it includes exercises for training kids in better orientation in nature. Other books to consider are wild food books like Linda Runyon’s or Euell Gibbons’s (for sheer enthusiasm), first aid books, Boy Scout books (usually available for cheap at thrift stores), and books about Native Americans (such reading inspired the likes of Eustace Conway - “the last American man”).
As mentioned above, child sized tools can encourage an early love for gardening. Likewise, consider giving your child useful tools such as basic woodworking and handy tools. When my son got into Survivor Man, we purchased a multitool and, as he got older, he saved up his money to buy a Gerber survival knife and a hatchet. These have provided great lessons in knife safety and tool care. Along these lines, consider buying basic, but high quality, cooking ware and utensils. Tools such as these not only provide a back-up set for your family while your child is young, they will serve as a good “start up” for your child when he moves out on his own.
9. Beginner’s arms
After the popularity of The Hunger Games, it wouldn’t be hard to talk your teen into learning some bow skills. Decent quality bows can be found online or even consider making a self bow. Consider introducing your kids to BB guns as practice for target shooting and for use of larger firearms in later years. Early introduction to bows and rifles help kids better understand the uses and safety rules of such items. In addition, consider purchasing sling-shots or the material for putting together traps and snares.
10. Gift cards
No, not gift cards to the big box stores or for more electronics. I’m talking about cards or passes that give your child an experience, hopefully with a survival slant. For instance, consider buying passes to the national parks and camping grounds. Or lessons in basic knitting, cooking, quilting, or pottery. My town has a rock climbing gym and lessons would encourage physical activity while teaching the kids courage, problem-solving, and determination. Even buying some music lessons would provide the kids with the opportunity to learn an entertainment skill that doesn’t require electricity (think of Pa Ingalls with his fiddle).
11. Craft kits
There are kits galore to help kids of all ages (and their parents!) get started with a useful skill. A quick check online will offer up kits for beginning sewing, quilting, knitting, woodworking, and leather working.
For the really ambitious, another gift option is a “start up kit” for livestock. Ready made coops and chicks can be purchased via Craigslist (or online if you really want to pay a lot). Better yet, select a kid-friendly book on chicken raising, gather the necessary materials for building a coop, and purchase necessary equipment like waterers and feeders. In this way, you can spend the winter months building the coop and preparing for chicks in the spring. Other options to consider are worms, bees, or rabbits. While I don’t have experience with the last two, I can attest that worm “farms” for composting definitely have a degree of grossness that attracts little kids!
So here’s the challenge this year. Instead of plunking down that hard-earned money to buy some junk made in a country with dubious government policies only to have that junk clutter up your house later on, consider replacing at least some of those purchases with gifts that will truly benefit your family. Help your kids add to their own preps as well as their prepper skill set.