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No Trace Principles for Kids: Ways To Teach Them

It’s never too early to teach your children how to interact responsibly with nature. Van travel and camping are great opportunities for fostering positive environmental interactions. 

In addition to leading by example during these excursions, you can spark conversations with your youngsters about the environment and how to minimize the impact you make. When instilling this education in your children, use the seven leave no trace principles for kids as the framework. 

Leaving no trace refers to picking up remains and leaving ecosystems intact and the way they were before you found them. It's never too early to start learning this.

What are the 7 leave no trace principles?

These principles of leave no trace outline minimum impact practices for those in the outdoors. They were initially developed for the backcountry; however, you can apply them to any outdoor setting. The official 7 leave no trace principles are:

  1. Plan Ahead & Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Trails
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Others

This article will outline and exemplify each principle in a way that makes them easily understandable for kids.

Leave No Trace Principles for Kids

1. Plan Before You Go

Planning before you hike or camp is essential for enjoying the outdoors safely and responsibly. To teach the importance of planning, you can involve your kids in the prep process before a trip. 

Ways to teach your kids:

  • Choose the destination together.
  • Let them research the weather and things to do in the region (independently if they’re older; together for younger children).
  • Talk about items needed for the trip.
  • Let them pack their things or help you pack.
  • Ask questions about the uses of each item.


2. Travel On Trails

We want to avoid damaging land, vegetation, and waterways and disturbing animals when outdoors. Therefore, traveling on trails, moving and camping on durable ground, avoiding wet vegetation, and keeping volume levels down are essential.

Ways to teach your kids:

  • Always choose hiking routes with trails.
  • Remind them to respect nature and animal habitats.
  • Talk to them about the importance of staying on paths.
  • Map out the hiking trail with them. 
  • Have them read the trail signs. 
  • Lead by example: remain on the path, keep your voice down, etc.


3. Trash Goes In The Trash

Properly disposing of waste outdoors is one of the easiest ways to practice no-trace principles. Start teaching your kids when they’re young about the importance of recycling and the harms of littering. 

Ways to teach your kids:

  • Involve your children in the cleanup. 
  • Let them throw away and sort their waste and recyclables. 
  • Teach them about recycling.
  • Lead by example: always collect your trash and recycle.

4. Leave Nature In Nature

    Your little outdoor adventurer will want to take that giant leaf, a colorful flower, or another souvenir home. However, you could bring an invasive species or destroy an animal’s habitat. Therefore, it’s important to leave nature how you found it.

    Ways to teach your kids:

    • Explain to them why it’s destructive to take nature
    • Tell them that the animals are happier when you leave nature alone
    • Encourage them to draw what they see
    • Let them take photos on your phone or camera

    5. Be Careful With Fire

      Humans once needed campfires for cooking and warmth. However, thanks to modern technology, that’s no longer the case. So, if possible, use a camp stove or lantern instead of a campfire. 

      If you have to make a campfire, be sure you know how to build one and put it out properly. For example, you should make a fire on a ring or pan, let the wood burn to ashes, put the fire out completely with water, and don’t bring wood from home. 

      Ways to teach your kids:

      • Teach them about collecting firewood (the proper stick size, where to get it, and avoiding breaking branches from live trees)
      • Have them help you collect firewood
      • Let them help you build the firewood (up until you’re ready to light it - never let children handle fire)
      • Talk about the importance of putting the fire out

      6. Respect Wildlife

        It’s always safer to observe wildlife from a distance and, when traveling outdoors, you should do so quietly and gently to avoid scaring animals. Also, feeding wild animals is never a good idea.

        Ways to teach your kids:

        • Discourage them from dropping food on the ground or feeding animals
        • Remind them to keep their voices down, so they don’t scare/disturb any animals
        • Teach about the importance of maintaining a safe distance from wildlife

        7. Be Kind To Others

          Most of teaching your kids to be kind and considerate of others will come from leading by example. Show them how you interact with others at the campsite, on the trails, and in other outdoor spaces. 

          Ways to teach your kids:

          • Talk about trail etiquette
          • Let people know when you’re passing them on the trail. Encourage your child to practice speaking politely 
          • Step aside if you’re traveling downhill and someone is traveling uphill to let them pass
          • Remind younger children to keep their voices down at the campsite

          The outdoors is a great place to foster curiosity and nature skills. As your kids learn the leave no trace principles when they’re young, they will build positive relationships with nature that last a lifetime and help the environment. 

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