Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Using a map and compass

Everyone can benefit from learning to use a map and compass! Most people nowadays are used to using electronic devices to get from point A to point B. But what if they are not working, you are somewhere without any signal, or you do not have them? Can you make sense of even a GPS map of the forest, without any roads as clues? This is why experienced outdoor adventurers bring their maps and compasses.

Even experienced adventurers have found themselves lost in the wilderness, unsure of the way out. Our co-worker Darcy even got lost in the woods behind her house once. This can turn a simple hike into a dangerous situation. If you know how to use a map and compass, you can prevent this problem, and find the way out more easily.

Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Water Filtration and Purification

Last week, we covered the first things you usually need to do survival situations: taking care of your brain, followed by making shelter. But how will you get water? That’s the next priority.

When out in the wilderness, plan how you will get water before you go! Always pack plenty of water in your bag. The average adult should drink 3-4 liters of water a day, and children should drink anywhere from 1-3 liters per day depending on your age and size. So, if you don’t want to carry all of that water with you, you’re going to need a way to collect water when (or better yet, before) you run out.

Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

How to Build a Shelter

The first time I slept in a shelter I built myself, I was camping out with many other families. Everyone else had tents. But I was determined to try something new. 

The shelter I slept in that night looked a lot like this.

I found a solid tree to support a stick frame. I covered the sticks with thick, thick layers of leaves. Luckily, the kids helped carry big armfuls of leaves for the roof and the ground. It went much faster with many hands! I only barely fit inside the small lean-to.

As evening fell, the sky grew dark. Gulp…it was going to rain.

Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Shelter Insulation

On Monday, Nate talked about basic wilderness preparation and what to take care of first in a survival situation. After air, what’s the most urgent priority? Shelter!

Today, we’ll talk about the science of staying warm and dry, and learn from animals. Then, we have an experiment: can you build a shelter that stays warm?

What makes a good outdoor shelter? 

Top of a basic wilderness shelter.

You might think about how comfortable the shelter is, or how protected it is. But one of the most important elements of a good shelter is how insulated it is.

Insulation is material that slows the loss of heat.

It is much harder to survive outdoors in the elements when your body is not at the ideal temperature.

Too much heat loss can even lead to hypothermia, a potentially deadly condition in which your body is way, way too cold.

The ideal body temperature for humans is between 97.7 and 99.8 degrees Fahrenheit. To stay at this temperature, our bodies constantly adjust themselves. We might sweat or shiver to cool off or warm up. Other warm-blooded animals, like deer or birds, do this too.

In contrast, cold-blooded animals like lizards and turtles can’t control their body temperatures internally themselves. They have to use the outside environment instead. If you see a turtle basking in the sun, it is using the sun to regulate its body temperature!

We want to keep as much heat as we can in our shelter! To do this, we have to slow down conduction.

Conduction happens when two objects of different temperatures touch each other. Heat moves from the warmer object to the colder one. In a shelter, this could be heat traveling from your warm body to the cold ground.

Insulation slows conduction. Fluffy materials that trap air inside are good insulators: think of piles of leaves, bubble wrap, down feathers inside a coat, or bubbly styrofoam. The trapped air is a barrier for heat transfer between two objects.

In winter, this is why we humans wear extra layers of clothing! Clothing itself does not provide heat. But air gets trapped in a few places: Air gets trapped in the fibers of your shirt, or the fluffy stuffing of your coat. And air also gets trapped in between your layers of clothing, such as between a coat and a long-sleeve shirt. These air pockets stop heat from leaving your body and escaping into the colder air.

If you get cold easily like me, I also like to wear a thick hat, scarf, gloves and multiple layers of shirts over my coat when I am outside in winter. The more layers I wear, the warmer I feel because all those layers add extra insulation – which means less heat escaping from my body into the colder winter air!

When you are building your shelter, keep conduction and insulation in mind. Where are warmer objects (like people) touching colder objects (like the ground or air)? Add insulation in those places to prevent heat loss!

Animals Build Insulating Shelters Too

Wild animals might not understand the exact science of heat loss like we do. But they do understand that heat loss is dangerous.

Just like humans, animals also insulate their shelters to prevent heat from escaping their warm, cozy homes!

What Do wild animals use to insulate their nests or shelters?

Birds use a wide variety of materials to insulate their nests. Check out your local bird nests to see what materials different species use!

Some examples of nest insulation include:

  • moss
  • dried grass
  • animal fur
  • plant fibers.
What materials did this bird use as insulation for its nest?

Squirrels use leaves to insulate their nests. Their nests, or dreys, look like big messy leaf piles in tree branches. Our shelter experts, Joe and Nate, recommend humans use 6 inches of leaves on the ground of your shelter and 6 inches on the roof to stay warm!

Some mammals have thick fur that insulates them. Deer have hollow fur. Each hollow hair has air space inside. This prevents heat loss–similar to humans wearing multiple clothing layers!

Beavers keep their lodges insulated in winter. They use mud to seal any cracks where cold air might come through. Then, their family’s shared body heat keeps the inside lodge temperature warm.

They have to be careful to not all leave the lodge at once to go foraging for food. Otherwise, the inside temperature would drop while they were away.

Muskrats are known to take advantage of these insulating lodges, even presenting the beavers with cattail treats to let them share the lodge in winter!

Want to create an insulating shelter that imitates a beaver, squirrel or bird?

Jello Baby Experiment Time


  • jello
  • pot for boiling water
  • ziplock bag or cup
  • insulating shelter materials of your choice (you can use some ideas from above!)

Your challenge is to prevent a bag of jello from cooling and solidifying. Use what you learned about insulation above. If you insulate your jello well, your jello baby will stay liquid for a long time!

If you can’t get jello, you could try this with a cup of water on a freezing night.

Step 1. 

With a trusted adult, follow the directions on the jello box to boil your jello.

Step 2.

When your jello is no longer boiling hot, but still warm, pour your liquid jello into a ziplock bag and seal. This is your jello baby. Be a good jello parent and keep it safe and warm!

Step 3. 

Gather some insulating materials. Use them to build a suitable shelter for your bagged jello. Play around until you find something you like.

Shelter materials could include: leaves, bundled up clothing, hats, moss, or twigs. But you can test whatever materials you want because this is an experiment. It might be interesting to see which materials are the LEAST insulating!

Place your jello baby inside the shelter once you are finished.

Pro-Tip: Get your shelter ready before making the jello, so your jello baby spends less time exposed to outside elements.

Step 4. 

Check your jello baby every 10 minutes. Is it still in its liquid phase? Congratulations! You have insulted your shelter well enough to prevent the loss of heat and keep your jello baby warm.

Is your jello solidifying? Oh no! This means your shelter is not insulated enough. Add more materials to test which keep the heat from escaping your shelter.

See how long can you make your jello last. Eventually, all of the jello babies will solidify, since they can’t make their own heat. They are more like a cold-blooded animal than a warm-blooded human.

Step 5.

Let us know in the comments how your experiment turned out! What materials did you use? Was it successful at keeping your shelter insulated? Why or why not? We would love to hear how your jello baby survived.

Stay tuned for more basic survival later in the week!
Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Virtual Field Trip: Shelters, Animal and Human

What shelters do animals build? What can we learn from them for building our own survival shelters? If you’re a kid who loves building forts or dreams of surviving in the woods, this is for you!

I spent the night in this debris hut I built with kids at a summer camp. It was one of my favorite camp-out experiences ever!

Join us via Zoom this Friday! We’ll tour some animal homes, and go over how to build your own shelters.

Even if you can’t join for the Zoom event

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, we’ll be sharing more shelter-building activities this week on the blog.

This free event is for youth, adults, and families. It’s led by Rural Action’s Environmental Education staff.
Friday, May 15 at 1:30pm
Please register at this link:

Stay updated in our Facebook Group

We are sharing every new activity in the Southeast Ohio Young Naturalists Club facebook group. Join our group for conversation with other nature-exploring families, and to always know what environmental education activities are happening.

Brush up on your survival skills before the virtual field trip

Get started with Nate’s basic survival skills introduction. Tomorrow, Dani will share an fun activity to test some shelter-building materials.

Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Basic Survival

How would you take care of yourself if you were stranded in the wilderness? Have you ever wondered? For the next two weeks, we’ll talk about wilderness survival. Nate starts at the beginning: with preparation.

The best way to stay alive in a survival situation is to never get into one! Survival situations usually happen when something goes wrong. They could be from a mistake that you’ve made, or due to nature’s unpredictable…nature.

Today we’ll focus on being prepared for the worst, just in case something does go wrong. If you’re properly prepared, a situation that may otherwise be life-or-death could have a very simple solution.

Planning Ahead

You’ll save yourself quite a bit of trouble by planning ahead whenever you head out into the wilderness. Even if it’s just a quick hike somewhere that you know really well, make sure you have everything you need to be safe. Some ideas of what to think about:

  • Always tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back.
  • Bring enough food and water for how long you’ll be gone.
  • Check the weather. What do you need to stay dry, warm enough, or cold enough?
  • What route are you hiking? What might you encounter while you are out?

These questions can start you thinking. But every person and situation is different. What dangers or help exist where you are hiking? What are some of your needs? Can you think of any questions we should add? Share your ideas here:

The 10 Essentials

Compass with paper maps and pine flowers placed on dry wheat straw in morning sunlight. Concept of adventure tourism or survival in the forest.

Do you know exactly what you would take with you if you were going on a hike today? Maybe just a water bottle and a jacket, or a giant backpack full of all of the latest camping gear?

I challenge you to pick out “10 essentials ” today, the 10 things that would be most helpful to you in a wilderness emergency. What do you think you really need? Can you fit all 10 essentials into a backpack? Can you carry that backpack comfortably?

Share your lists with us in this form. Or, go to the comments to share a picture of you with your 10 essentials ready to go!

Once you’ve come up with YOUR 10 essentials, check out this list here to see if you agree with some professionals in the field.

The Rule of 3

Perhaps you’re lost and it’s getting dark…what should you do first? Do you look for food or water, build a fire, or find shelter?

The rule of 3 is a guideline to help decide what to do first.

You can survive (approximately):

  • 3 minutes without air
  • 3 hours without shelter (in unsafe conditions like extreme cold or heat)
  • 3 days without water
  • 3 weeks without food

First priority is your brain. Your brain is your most important survival tool. If you panic, stop thinking, or get very discouraged, fancy skills or tools won’t help you. Take care of your brain by taking deep breaths, calming down, and resting when you need to.

After you’ve taken care of your brain, then it’s time to think about shelter, water, and food. That order is important!

Does this rule affect your 10 essentials at all? What did you change, if anything, on your list?

Explore More Survival Skills

Later this week, the Young Naturalists Club will be uploading more videos and blog posts to help you build survival skills. But, if you want to get a head start or need some inspiration for your 10 essentials, check out a few of these videos on youtube!

Joe (another educator on this blog) led this virtual field trip on survival skills, especially fire building. Explore these videos or watch the whole event to learn more about fires and making rope!


  1. Plan ahead before adventuring in nature. What do you need to think about where you live?
  2. Make a list of 10 essential items that you think could help you the most in a survival situation.
  3. Remember the rule of threes. Does it change your plan?
  4. Research other survival skills that interest you–tell us if you want to learn more about something in particular!

Share your ideas in the forms or in the comments below! We’ll share the ideas that come in later in the week.

Distance Learning

Survival Skills Virtual Field Trip: This Friday!

This Friday, we’re taking another Zoom-based field trip. Join us for a crash course in survival skills!

Environmental educator Joe Brehm and Madison Donohue will teach us about some of the most basic survival skills like fire building, rope making, and even brewing wild tea. This event is for youth, adults, and families.

Friday, April 24th, 2020 at 1:30pm

Did you miss it? Watch the recording: (6 videos total)

You can also see the Facebook event.

Using a tinder bundle to coax a coal to life. This is part of starting fire with friction (i.e., rubbing sticks together).

We’ll explore these skills:
Starting and tending to a fire
Foraging for food
Using natural materials to create tools.

Stay tuned for some activities you can practice to prepare!

Have survival questions or something else you’d like to see in a field trip? Leave a comment!

Stay updated in our Facebook Group

We are sharing every new activity in the Southeast Ohio Young Naturalists Club facebook group. Join our group for conversation with other nature-exploring families
, and to always know what environmental education activities are happening.

Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

A Call to Protect our Forest—by eating it

Last week, Brett taught us how to forage for tasty wild plants. He told us to only harvest a few plants from any patch. Today, we’re going to discover an exception to that rule. You can pull up every single one of this kind of plant.

It goes by many names: Garlic Mustard, hedge garlic, sauce-alone, jack-by-the-hedge, poor man’s mustard, jack-in-the-bush, garlic root, garlic wort, mustard root.

A picture of young Garlic Mustard

We will call this plant Garlic Mustard during today’s activity, but you can call it any of those names. Scientists have come up with a fancy Latin name to make sure other scientists know exactly what they are talking about. Alliaria petiolata is how scientists say Garlic Mustard. 

This picture of Garlic Mustard was taken by Leigh Casal on iNaturalist

Invasive- Have you heard of an alien invasion before? Invasive plants are kind of like an alien invasion, except they don’t come from outer space. Invasive plants come from distant ecosystems. They are able to grow extremely fast and take over the new ecosystem they are growing in, causing damage to their new ecosystem. They can take up all the food, space, or water, making survival more difficult for the original plants.

Garlic Mustard is an invasive plant from Europe. It’s been slowly taking over our forest for over 150 years! It can even release a chemical in the soil that stops other plants from growing. We need you to help save our forest. All you have to do is pull this plant up wherever you find it!

Luckily removing this invader is simple, easy and rewarding. But first we need to know how to find it.