3 Tips for Exploring Outdoors During Summer Programming

BGCA’s Yetta Robinson is back on the ClubX Blog to say take youth OUTSIDE!

As a child, I LOVED the summer because it meant I could spend time outside. I have fresh memories of safely investigating worms and ant mounds and enjoying the smells from my grandmother’s rose garden. Being outdoors brought me peace, and as I’ve grown older and spoken to others, I was not alone. Some of our best memories can happen in the great outdoors. There’s just something special about immersing yourself in nature, realizing that you are a part of a much greater whole. And the great news is that as youth development professionals, we can encourage youth to venture outside and explore the natural beauty that surrounds them while engaging in impactful and safe outdoor recreation!

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Outdoor social recreation are activities that take place outside (e.g., hiking/nature walks, paddling with kayaks, canoes or paddleboards, birding, gardening, camping, rock climbing, horseback riding, fishing, nature photography, etc.) and can be used to nurture social-emotional skills. Youth can strengthen their own emotional wellness when they use time in nature for reflection, play, or stress management.

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To help Clubs and Youth Centers safely explore the outdoors and ensure youth have engaging experiences, BGCA (in partnership with L.L.Bean) created the Outdoor Social Recreation Playbook, which everyone can access on ClubPrograms.org! The playbook shares tips and strategies to help plan, implement, and assess outdoor learning experiences for youth.  There are LOTS of great ideas whether you are a youth development professional or you manage an out-of-school time site or program.

Here are three of the most important tips to keep in mind when you program with youth outdoors:

  • Water is the only drink allowed in the outdoor learning space.

Water is the best choice in outdoor spaces. When playing and exploring outdoors, it’s important to stay hydrated, especially in the hot temperatures. In case of spills, water has less of a chance of polluting habitats in comparison to juices and soft drinks. So, make sure to keep those water bottles filled! Learn more about Heat Safety in this ClubX Blog post.

  • Do not touch or directly interact with wildlife – only observe it from a safe distance.

Remember to respect wildlife, which includes both plants and animals. Disturbing wildlife can unintentionally lead to habitat destruction and approaching animals in the wild can cause them stress. It is also important to be mindful that some species of plants and animals can be toxic or carry transferrable diseases. So, watch from a distance, take photos, but steer clear of direct contact. Younger youth may need more reminders about this. Be sure to explain the first time you give a behavioral direction, for example say, “As we walk, please do not touch or pick up any plants or flowers, because sometimes they can be harmful to people, plus we want to leave the plants to do their jobs.”

  • Place trash in trash receptacles and practice “Leave No Trace.”

“Leave No Trace” is a set of seven guiding principles that inform how to have the lowest impact on the natural world when exploring the outdoors. One of the principles includes disposing of trash properly. Humans generate tons of trash each day, and when not properly disposed of, it can increase pollutants in the environment. Check ahead of time whether there are trash cans in your designated outdoor space, and if not, be sure to bring trash bags with you to collect any trash. Leave No Trace also features activities to run with youth and staff training on environmental stewardship.

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Boys & Girls Club staff can access the entire Outdoor Sports Recreation Playbook on ClubPrograms.org. The Outdoor Social Recreation Playbook was designed to be an entry point to creating high-quality youth development opportunities in outdoor learning spaces by presenting foundational practices for staff to implement on a regular basis.

What are your favorite ways to get youth exploring the outdoors? How do you incorporate learning about the natural world in your programming? We want to hear! Comment below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email ClubXBlog@bgca.org.

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