How extra-curricular and outdoor adventure activities promotes positive youth development

by Dave M

Have you ever wondered why youth today struggle with interacting with individuals their own age? Have you witnessed youth who struggle with basic play without specific instructions? Did you ever notice that when youth are in groups of their peers that most communication takes place through a computer or phone? The topics I am going to discuss with you today will hopefully make some of the above situations be a thing of the past.

The fact that youth are spending more time indoors and the lack of interaction with their peers (face-to-face) is a viscous cycle that is on the rise. I feel that youth who can interact with their peers and other adults in the community will develop interpersonal skills necessary to survive in the real world, outside the bubble (i.e., homes) they seek shelter in for safety. The goal is to introduce youth to activities that will challenge them and that will open their eyes to the adventures that are awaiting them right outside their own dooryards.

There are many ways educators/coaches/leaders can facilitate positive youth development outside the regular school environment. The structure and design of the after school program should contain positive volunteers/leaders, which would be willing to bring out the best in every individual based on their individual needs. The leaders should show support, patience, understanding, empathy and be open to suggestions that arise in the program. The teenage years  are a time when adolescents start to take risk and engage in dangerous behaviours. Take this opportunity to provide outlets that will give them the rush of taking risk, but provide safe venues for them to do this.

This can be accomplished by allowing students to become a part of an outdoor adventure program. By providing the opportunity for youth to climb, using safety harnesses and proper supervision, it will allow them to experience the rush of completing a high elements climbing course with the reassurance of being safe. These activities also allow youth to bond with peers, as they know they are responsible for their fellow peers in the air, by being their safety line on the ground. These activities will also help develop empathy among peers and encourage them to root on their friends to help them overcome their possible fear of heights. This is one example of how the adventure education program and the “challenge by choice” motto can be used to help develop positive skills in youth.

The next program I was lucky enough to be a part of was the “Celebrating Fish NB” day, organized by a local school in my community. The Miramichi Valley High School fly fishing club organized the opportunity for youth of New Brunswick (NB) schools to fish on the Main Southwest Miramichi River as part of the Fish NB Day. Fish NB Day is a day when residents of NB can enjoy the recreation of fly fishing on any watershed in Miramichi without a license. Prior to the event, the youth were given the opportunity to take part in fly tying sessions put on by world class fly tiers. The opportunity for youth to get out into nature and enjoy a day of fishing with their peers was a huge success. The community played a large part in this event by supplying private salmon pools, fishing gear and a BBQ for lunch. The fact that the community was involved shows that they are invested in the youth. It is critical that we involve youth as they are the next generation of fishermen who will be responsible for promoting and sustaining this opportunity in the future.  The opportunity for youth to communicate with their peers telling about their adventures is crucial in developing social skills as well as meeting new friends in the process. This also provided the opportunity for youth to develop social capital by making friends outside their own circle of friends and by introducing them to new connections in relation to fly fishing. The students, upon completion of this outdoor adventure activity, were so excited and were asking how they could be a part of this activity in the future. It is so great to see youth take the initiative of wanting to be a part of the program (i.e., youth voice).

The last program I will discuss today is the National Archery in Schools Program (NASP). This is a program which I have implemented as part of my physical education classes, as well as an after school program, for students interested in a non-traditional sporting opportunity. This program has become very popular with youth and allows any athlete to meet with success with hard work and practice. The program runs after school and has a variety (in relation to age and gender) of youth who participate in the program. I have found that youth create a competitive atmosphere while having fun, without fear of being ridiculed by others in the program. The fact that youth feel comfortable and safe in this environment are contributing factors that make the program so successful. The program does not discriminate based on popularity, athletic skill, gender, size/age, or academic ability. The youth are given the opportunity to participate in the district-wide archery competition at the end of every school year to see how they match up with others in the program. This provides youth the opportunity to meet with other youth who share similar interest as themselves while being part of a team or can choose to compete in the individual event offered during the competition. Check out the You Tube video attached to give you an idea of how popular the NASP program has become over the past few years.

Hopefully this will show youth how easy it is to become involved with programs offered in their communities and the benefits associated with getting out of the house and enjoying nature. As a leader or community member, take the opportunity to get youth involved in these types of activities as it will benefit and be rewarding for all involved.

Links to websites:  (NASP)

Suggested readings….

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One Response to How extra-curricular and outdoor adventure activities promotes positive youth development

  1. arie1976 says:

    I really enjoyed reading Dave`s article. Being an outdoor enthusiast myself, I couldn`t agree more about the benefits of being outside and connecting with nature. I can remember my own childhood and how much I enjoyed playing with my friends outside. It made me think of the documentary “Lost Adventures of Childhood”, pointing out that childhood has moved indoors basically due to parents` safety concerns about their children. In contrast to that, Dave shows with several good examples how organized activities outdoors can also be safe for youth. I also found the comparison of indoor settings to a “bubble” very appropriate, illustrating the somewhat sterile, overprotective environment in which many children are growing up today.

    Referring to the examples in the article, I would like to add the Alpine Clubs that are quite popular in Europe. The Alpine Clubs of Germany, Austria and South Tyrol, for example, offer a great variety of child- and family-friendly activities. On their websites, you find recommendations about what to keep in mind when mountaineering and how to plan a tour with children, and which cottages are suitable for family-friendly mountain holidays.

    Andrea R.

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