I read a story today about a 3-year-old boy lost in a Wisconsin cornfield overnight. Thankfully he was found safe, but cold and hungry, after 20 hours by one of hundreds of volunteers and rescuers who came to search for him. Every year, I hear in the news of this happening somewhere in the country.
I remember being lost for a short time in a cornfield on my family farm at about that age. My friend Missy and I had been playing and wandered in. It was fun to run down the cool rows and let the leaves whisk over us. It was not so fun to have to be retrieved by my big sister. I still remember my mom setting Missy and me in the laundry tub to wash away the mud and the tears.
As a mother of four who lives surrounded by farmland, I deliberately teach my kids what to do if they ever get lost in the corn. It is so fun to hide in that they can quickly get lost and not realize how far in they have gone. Even when you teach kids not to play in the corn, there might be a situation when they go chasing a cat or something and not realize how far they've gone. Just a few years ago, both of my daughters went chasing their runaway pigs into tall corn. Fortunately, they found their pigs and followed the steps below to get back out.
It's easy even for adults to totally lose all sense of direction in a cornfield. The strategy I teach my children in case they ever get lost is:
- First stop and look around to see if you can see something tall you recognize, such as the roof of a barn or a tree. If you do, walk toward that. The whole time, shout where you are for adults who may be looking.
- If that fails, follow along the row you are already in, not crossing the rows. Just pick a row and follow it to one end. You might start to see cross rows toward the very end where farmers plant headlands in rows perpendicular to the rest. This will usually only be as wide as the corn planter. I would rather my child end up half-mile away at the edge of the road then stay lost in the corn for hours. When you get to the edge, follow around on the outside of the field until you find a house or road.
- If you know someone is nearby looking for you, or you can hear someone but not see them, see if you can break off a stalk of corn and hold it up in the air and shake it around. At least shake the stalks of corn next to you so searchers might see it moving. Keep shouting so they can follow your voice.
With harvest season here, fields will be busy. Of course tractors and combines can be dangerous, so make sure kids know never to enter a field someone's working or harvesting without an adult. Don't approach equipment. Even when I'm alone with no kids taking dinner out to my brother, I wave at him until he waves back before I start walking toward the tractor. I do that to make sure he sees me. I go so far as to tell the kids to wave at the farmers who farm our ground whenever they are working in the fields, not just to be friendly, but to be seen.
The popularity of corn mazes might make it seem like getting lost in a field is a great idea. Trust me, it's not. Teach your kids now how to get out if lost in corn.