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A Real Eye-Opener: Introducing City Kids to the Wonders of the Outdoors

What's been your experience when sharing nature with kids? Particularly if the kids are total outdoor newbies?

Last weekend I volunteered to help lead a "girl power" camping trip to Mount Rainier National Park. The trip was exactly that: teaching empowerment to young girls, some of whom had never been camping or inside a national park before. 

The girls worked together to set up the tents on their ownThe trip was organized by the Sierra Club's volunteer-run Seattle Inner City Outings. ICO's purpose is to provide urban youth the opportunity to explore, enjoy and protect the natural world. ICO supplies the kids with everything they need for each outing: transportation, food, outdoor clothing, boots and gear.

Many of these kids spend most of their time on concrete. If they're lucky, they get some exercise in a gym class. A few have family members who take them hiking or camping; others are not as fortunate. Regardless of each camper's circumstances, ICO trips seem to leave a lasting impact on all of them.

Josie stands tall on a boulder in the trailThe "girl power" trip took 12 middle school girls, ages 11-14, camping and hiking. It was a foggy, rainy weekend at Mount Rainier, eliminating any chance of seeing the mountain. Still, one girl thought she heard it. "Brett! I think I can hear the mountain!" Brett, another ICO leader, didn't have the heart to tell her it was an airplane hidden in the clouds.

While I was a bit disappointed by the poor visibility, it seemed the girls did not notice, or care. To them, the important part was simply getting to experience nature.

Zaria, looking alarmed, points to the first two deer she ever saw in the wildEverything was new to them: wildflowers, hiking in clouds, seeing a waterfall, mountain walking, seeing wildlife. We were very lucky and saw an abundance of animals: chipmunks, grouse, hoary marmots, a red fox and deer. The deer were everybody's favorite. A number of the girls told me they had never seen deer in the wild before. "Only in zoos."

The group was about a half mile back to the trailhead when suddenly everyone froze. I was in the back, so the first thing I noticed was 12 middle school girls who went from chatty to completely silent. Mouths were open, eyes were wide and feet were firmly planted. Then, I saw it: a doe and fawn were walking out of the forest and into a meadow, about 10 feet in front of the group. It was a magical moment for everybody in the group. The girls got to experience nature in raw, stunning form. Afterward one girl told us, "I have so much to write about in class now!"Zaria and her teddy bear observe the deer

A highlight: hearing the girls' reactions to new experiences. One girl announced, "I thought that mountains were purple but now I'm going to draw them green!" Another, completely mystified while looking at the Nisqually Glacier, asked, "Holy moly! What IS that?!" A 7th grader was so excited when we reached a landing point on our Paradise Meadows hike she yelled, "I want to LIVE up here!"

My favorite quote from the weekend: "Oh my gosh, I am so proud to be able to tell people: 'I went to Mount Rainier with my school!' There is just something so awesome about that sentence!"

Patty, a teacher from the school points out a marmot to DeborahNo matter if you take kids to a national park or a community park, allowing city kids to experience nature and the environment is important. It can really empower young kids and open their eyes to an entirely new world. The experience can be so special for everyone—for the kids who get outside and the adults who take them there. Hopefully, these young girls will grow up, remember the excitement they felt when they crossed paths with a deer and become an advocate for protecting natural places.

Want to get your family or kids in your community outdoors? For starters, take a look at REI's Family Adventure outdoor resources or community programs and events. You could also volunteer with a local ICO program in your area or discover other volunteer organizations to help kids discover nature.

What's your most lasting memory of introducing young people to the outdoors for the first time?

Pictured below: 12 new outdoor adventurers pose in front of a waterfall.

Posted on at 12:25 PM

Tagged: Inner City Outings, Volunteering, kids, national parks, volunteer and youth

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Ann B

Really moving, thanks. I hope the girls will be able to get out again on future trips.

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wyominggirl

What a fantastic adventure! Getting kids outside is so important. Thanks for sharing!

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myinnermystic

I heard about your post last night at the ICO steering committee meeting and wanted to check it out as I just posted a blog on my site entitled "Look! It's a dragonfly." which was inspired by my experience on an ICO outing this past weekend. I love the pictures you posted, love the quotes of the kids. Your message about empowerment is especially good. "The experience can be so special for everyone—for the kids who get outside and the adults who take them there." Well said. I completely agree.

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myinnermystic

I heard about your post last night at the ICO steering committee meeting and wanted to check it out as I just posted a blog on my site entitled "Look! It's a dragonfly." which was inspired by my experience on an ICO outing this past weekend. I love the pictures you posted, love the quotes of the kids. Your message about empowerment is especially good. "The experience can be so special for everyone—for the kids who get outside and the adults who take them there." Well said. I completely agree.

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