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Tuesday, September 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 59.0° F  A Few Clouds
The Paper
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Teaching your kids the old-school fundamentals
Natural capabilities

Parents used to make sure their kids knew how to swim, bike, use a compass, catch and clean fish, and safely build, light, maintain and douse a campfire. Then the pace of life accelerated, people grew more inclined to cocoon at home than hike into the woods, fresh fish became more readily available at the local market, and GPS units supplanted the compass. And many of us started forgetting to teach our kids the fundamentals.

Where can you turn for resources? While books, DVDs and websites preserve a wealth of institutional knowledge regarding these skills, there are also actual people out there who can help you teach your kids in the field - or, in the case of swimming, in the water.


How to swim

There are more than 15,000 lakes and some 13,500 navigable river miles in Wisconsin. Being comfortable and competent in water reduces the risks of wading, boating, fishing and late-night skinny-dipping. Not that your kids would ever do that.

Madison School & Community Recreation offers the American Red Cross swimming curriculum. MSCR aquatics specialist Dianne Lahey explains that options include parent-child classes for ages six months to four years, and preschool classes (without parents) for kids three years and older. These early classes emphasize the importance of adult supervision and asking permission before entering the water, while exploring buoyancy and submersion, rudimentary front and back strokes, and movement in the water.

Ages five and up proceed through a progression of six class levels in which students learn to tread water, retrieve submerged objects, jump into deep water, develop and refine strokes with synchronized breathing, execute flip turns and swim for longer distances.

MSCR swimming courses cost $28 each, and are offered year-round at the four Madison high school pools and the Lapham Elementary pool, with additional summer classes at Verona's Goodman Aquatics Center. See or call 608-204-3025.

How to ride a bicycle

There's more to safe biking than getting on the bike and stomping the pedals.

Steve Meiers, a city of Madison bicycle safety educator, teaches basic biking to families and groups by appointment. Tailored to each group's interests, these free one- to two-hour introductions include proper bike-helmet fitting, how to make turns, what to know before taking to the streets, and the importance of observing road rules like stopping at red lights. (To arrange a session with Meiers, contact him at 608-267-1102 or

The League of American Bicyclists offers Bike Ed classes for a range of ages and skill levels. These include Kids I, a course designed to help parents teach their kids to ride a bike. Kids II is a seven-hour course for grades 5-6, covering the same topics as well as bike-handling skills and tips on finding the best routes to ride.

More advanced courses include the nine-hour Traffic Skills 101, for ages 14 and up, with instruction in how to fix a flat, crash-avoidance techniques and other road and trail skills. See or contact John Rider (608-663-8874, or Robbie Webber (608-233-1390,

How to leave no trace

Many of us are careless in the outdoors, and the consequences of that despoil habitat - as well as the experience for future visitors to the trail or campsite.

REI's Madison store offers a free program called PEAK (Promoting Environmental Awareness in Kids). Developed in collaboration with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, PEAK strives to impart respect for flora and fauna, staying on trails and packing out whatever you take with you, including trash.

"I'll tailor it to whatever the group wants," says REI-Madison outreach specialist Brandt Christopherson. Among the options: how to set up a low-impact campsite, how to cook, and best practices for building a campfire.

To schedule a PEAK program at REI or reserve the program's PEAK Pack, contact Christopherson at 608-833-6680 or

How to use a map and compass

GPS receivers are great, but batteries die, small electronics fry out, and even the niftiest gizmos can lose a fight with the Oops Gene that leads expensive toys to jump to their deaths from high cliffs or into deep waters.

"Land Navigation Using Map & Compass" is scheduled for Aug. 28-30 at Treehaven, the UW-Stevens Point College of Natural Resources education and conference center near Tomahawk. Designed for adults and older youths, the workshop includes classroom instruction and outdoor activities. Meals and lodging are included in the $175 package, with a commuter option of $100 including two meals but no lodging. See or call 715-453-4106.

The Sandhill Outdoor Skills Center, operated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources at the Sandhill Wildlife Area near Babcock, teaches traditional orienteering skills each spring. Dates for its "Fun with Compass & Map" weekend have yet to be determined for 2010, but training culminates with a cross-country exercise of several miles. The cost is $35, not including accommodations and meals. For more information, call 715-884-6333 or email

How to fish

Wisconsin, including the Yahara River and its chain of lakes, is home to bluegill, walleye and other species that are as delicious as they are nutritious. Learning how to fish in your youth pays off with a lifetime of piscine abundance.

Theresa Stabo, director of the DNR's Aquatic Resources Education Program, directs parents to for links to schedules for volunteer angler educator training workshops designed to help adults (including parents) teach kids how to fish. For more information, contact her at 608-266-2272 or

How to get outdoors

Sherry Klosiewski, chief naturalist for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, notes that in addition to interpretive hikes and astronomy programs, the calendar of state parks events ( includes family-friendly primers on edible and medicinal flora, campfire cooking, compass fundamentals and fishing basics.

The intent of the state park system's new "Get Outdoors! Wisconsin" initiative ( is to reconnect kids and families with nature. Klosiewski recommends EEK!, the DNR's online environmental education magazine for kids, as another resource rich in links for outdoor-bound kids and their educators (

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