We should always leave it better than we found it when we’re out in nature, but what about when we go with kids? It’s so important to show kids to respect and enjoy nature and lead by example in our outdoor stewardship.
During my time as a summer camp adventure guide, I developed these guidelines to use on every outdoors outing with youth.
These are my tips for 9 Things You Need to Know About Leave No Trace With Kids.
1. Talk About It Every Time
Every hike, paddle or climb should begin with a chat about Leave No Trace. This can be as simple as a short conversation in the car as you’re approaching your launch point about what you’ll do with your trash and what you’ll do if you come across litter (and in my experience, you always will).
It’s vital to talk about what you’re doing AND the right way to do it. Safety needs reviewed every single time, even if you’re out with teenagers and you think they’ll know this already. Reinforce and model proper outdoor behavior.
2. Nothing Sharp
This is self explanatory to an adult, but always reinforce this kids. If it looks like it is, or could be, sharp – leave it for an adult to handle. That means no fish hooks, no broken bottles, etc. If you think it may be sharp, you don’t touch it.
If you’re on the water and have traveled by boat, you also need to ask yourself: could this potentially puncture my watercraft?
3. Never Reach Where You Can’t See
If there’s something stuck in a crevice or down between some tree roots or rocks and you don’t have a clear view, you let it go. You don’t know what’s down there or if your hand could get stuck.
4. Nothing Medical
That means anything latex (latex gloves, etc.), no syringes, baby wipes or bandages.
5. Nothing Related to Illegal Activity
In most cases, this pertains alcohol containers. Cans or bottles can have sharp edges. I also believe that it’s not very wise for kids to be seen walking out the woods carrying empty beer cans. An adult can safely clean up this type of litter, but youth should not.
6. If It’s Already Been Accepted Into The Environment, Let It Go
Nine times out of ten, this means when you see a half-buried tire covered in moss, you let it go. You should do no harm to the environment, so if organisms have been living in something for a long time you shouldn’t destroy the ecosystem.
7. Food Is Trash, Too
Food can still be a big problem, but not for the reasons you think. Hear me out:
You’re at a popular spot visiting a waterfall. You (and the many other visitors that come here) leave some leftover bread and an apple core under the picnic table when you leave. Chipmunks, squirrels, mice become frequent eaters at this spot. Your food attracted the mice, and what do the mice attract? Snakes that eat them. So a few weeks after someone left half a sandwich behind, a rattlesnake bites a toddler in the same area.
This may sound like a stretch, but wilderness guides will tell you the same thing. This is applicable to high-traffic areas and less so in the back country, but Leave No Trace says that you pack out all of your trash no matter what it is and where you are.
8. Sanitize Afterwards
Always carry a bottle of hand sanitizer with you. This can come in handy for a lot of things, but you should clean your hands before eating, before and after the bathroom, and when you’re done with your outing and heading home.
The majority of rubbish you’ll come across in your adventures is plastic. I started sharing my photos of the beauty alongside the rubbish I found to help remind people that their plastic doesn’t go away once it’s out of their hands.
My favorite comment ever: This is really fascinating to see it & makes me think about my impact. Keep sharing your experience!
Do you practice Leave No Trace with kids? Do you have any guidelines to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
This article was written independently by the author, and the opinions belong to the author alone. Official information about the Leave No Trace organization can be found on lnt.org.