Getting Youth Outside: The Why and The How
By Hahn Vincent
Yervana Local Hahn, is a lover of wild things, travel, sliding down snow and climbing up mountains. She grew up where the Foothills meet the Rocky Mountains in Southern Alberta, but has been a global vagabond for some time.
Here are a few key reasons why outdoor experiences affect youth positively:
1) Time spent in nature improves mood, reduces anxiety and increases the happy chemicals in our brain.
We all know how it feels to be refreshed after a weekend camping in the woods, or after a walk outside amidst an incredibly stressful day. I asked a student why they like being outside and they responded with, “I just feel calmer when I’m away from cities and buildings. It’s brighter outside too, and that just makes me happier.” Youth nowadays are bombarded with pressure and can lack coping strategies; spending time outdoors and participating in adventurous activities outside helps! In turn, being happier reduces stress, fatigue and increases immunity. It’s a win-win-win.
2) Huge physical, mental and emotional improvements.
Physical exercise increases health and sensory skills. Fresh air supports the body. Nature, combined with outdoor activities, provides mental and emotional health support; they help with calming the mind, stabilizing thoughts and increasing reflection. Schools and studies talk about the importance of practicing ‘mindfulness’ and the outdoors is a key place to practice developing these skills. For example, long hiking days provide repetition and organic meditative moments- this happens while we walk in landscapes and practice our group-bonding, breathing, journaling and verbal expressions of thoughts and feelings.
3) Digital detox.
Time to unplug! Kids need structure and guidance to schedule time away from their devices. Tech and social media can be an addiction for youth as they have grown up with it at their fingertips. They are constantly being force-fed information in a rapid pace, but don’t necessarily have time to slow down, to stop overthinking and just… be. Outdoor experiences are an effective method to reduce screen-time and support developing real-life skills!
4) Confidence building.
Speaking of real life skills- outdoor backpacking and paddling trips, like the expeditions I lead around the world with youth, have been the most effective way to build confidence in kids. The skills required in a self-sustaining backpacking trip are 100% transferable to real life and help youth become more responsible, self-managing, and capable in critical thinking. These life skills are built up through multi-day outdoor experiences where participants must dive in, engage, work through and immerse in Mother Nature’s dynamic landscape.
5) Increased body confidence and self-efficacy.
When people of any age push their limits physically and/or mentally and experience success, they will experience a positive change in their sense of self and a boost in confidence. Learning positive self-concept and self-esteem through overcoming hard challenges (like climbing a peak, paddling a section of river, etc.) is in our basic formula of:
- Learn new skills
- Utilize these skills in different settings
- Persevere through challenge
I have worked with many different kids and seen the magic that is outdoor-challenge working towards a stronger sense of self-confidence. Kids need this!
6) Learning how to be good partners, teammates and/or friends.
What an incredible life skill for our young ones! This can be learned through necessary communication techniques, conflict resolution and vital teamwork situations (ever tried pitching a tent in a mega white out snow storm on a glacier? Or paddle a fully loaded canoe through rapids by yourself? You just cannot do it alone). Outdoor experiences help kids with developing prejudice reduction, connections to others, face-to-face communication, group work and hands-on problem solving experiences. Outdoor experiences provide effective ways to build community and social skills for life.
7) Being in nature helps youth love nature and support nature protection.
We are overwhelmed with apathy when it comes to the state of our planet- and youth feel overwhelmed with being the generation responsible for finding a solution. Mary Oliver puts it beautifully, “attention is the beginning of devotion.” Spending meaningful time outdoors will encourage people to think and care about the environment because they are experiencing its awesomeness first hand.
Image: Hahn Vincent
Use the space.
In Canada, we have huge amounts of undeveloped wilderness and natural spaces. Let’s utilize this!
- Find local hikes in your area and go for a simple stroll with your kids.
- Encourage their friends to come along and develop the bond, skills and passion for hiking in social settings.
- Learn the names of local flora and fauna, have a nature scavenger hunt or observe and experience what you see, hear, smell and feel.
Find outdoor programs.
Outdoor programs exist in your community, schools and even in neighbouring provinces. Canada is filled with amazing summer outtripping based programs that will equip youth with everything they need to become outdoor pros. There are even companies that organize expedition programs within your school (custom tailored to what you’re seeking). Any questions? Send me a message!
Unstructured outdoor play.
Spending time in natural spaces (camping, walking, etc.) and engaging with the landscape. This may seem silly for older teens, but when immersed in natural spaces curiosity develops and even teens will engage with their surroundings. Try spending time on a riverbank or lakeshore, skipping rocks or searching for creatures in a tidal pool.
Help your kids unplug by scheduling time away from phones as you head outside. Or, head out to places that don’t have cell service. I constantly ask students if they think they have the skills to resist grabbing their phone. They reply often with, “nope. I just can’t resist!” So, let’s help them develop these skills and find a world outside of their device!
How do you get your kids outside? Send us an email or engage with us on social media (Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram)!
Hahn Vincent has worked with youth in outdoor settings for over a decade. As an outdoor expedition leader, certified teacher, ACMG guide, environmental educator and former camp counselor, she is a huge advocate for getting youth outdoors and equipping them with the skills and confidence to spend time in nature, safely.
INTRODUCTION TO BACKCOUNTRY HIKING SKILLS
Have you wanted to explore in Canada’s backcountry, plan hiking trips, and camp outside under the stars responsibly? Discover all you need to know to thrive in the outdoors with a fun day of hands-on learning. Families with kids ages 12+ are welcome!
FORAGING THE SUNSHINE COAST
This 3 hour experience features exploration of the pristine wild environment on the sunshine coast; expect to discover new wild foods and learn how they are harvested and prepared in the kitchen. This experience is suitable for all ages.