Just one. That’s how many outdoor badges a Girl Scout needs to earn to see a significant boost in her outdoor leadership skills. A new 2019 study released by the Girl Scout Research Institute found that girls who completed one outdoor badge reported feeling more confident in their outdoor abilities, more vested in caring for the environment, and increased interest in the natural world.
In a time where the average American child spends five to eight hours a day in front of a screen, it’s imperative that we encourage kids to head outside. Sure, sure, you think, I’ve read those articles and understand the importance of outside time. But what if you still have personal barriers to overcome to create that outdoor experience for girls? Let’s see if we can’t break down those barriers to ensure access for ourselves and our girls—you might find that those hurdles are easier to clear than you thought.
It Costs Too Much
Outdoor recreation can be really expensive (you can’t exactly go kayaking without the kayak), but it doesn’t have to be. There’s a wide spectrum of outdoor experiences, and that spectrum also encompasses cost. While you can pack up and head out to go camping at the Badlands for a week, you and your troop can also learn about wild animals at the local park around the corner from your regular meeting spot. Many of the outdoor badges can be adapted to fit what you have access to. For activities that might require costlier gear, look into stores that offer gear rentals (like REI) or borrow from your service unit, friends, or family. Some colleges and universities also have outdoor recreation programs that rent gear to the general public. Other great options are nature and interpretive centers, which often have free or low-cost resources (like activity backpacks) that you can check out to use on-site.
I Don’t Know Where to Go
We think of nature as remote, pristine landscapes, but if you look around, nature is actually everywhere. National Geographic has a great list of activities to help you connect with nature wherever you are. Use apps like AllTrails and TrailLink to find hiking and biking trails in your area.
I Don’t Have the Time
I get it—there are only twenty-four hours in a day, and those hours all feel filled to the brim already. If you’re worried about how much time it might take to organize an outdoor adventure, use our Girl Scouts River Valleys activity plans, which are available for a majority of the outdoor badges. If you’re worried about how much time an outdoor adventure might actually take, remember that earning an outdoor badge doesn’t need to be a weekend-long or even all-afternoon affair. Choose a badge that you can accomplish during one or two regular troop meetings. For younger girls, the Trail Adventure badges are a good option; the Outdoor Art ones are good for girls young and old alike.
But…There are Bugs and Dirt
“I love mosquitoes!” said no one ever. They might be tiny little creatures, but bugs sure do have the power to ruin your time outside. While I wish someone would create a bug force field, there are a number of tricks you can employ to keep those pesky critters at bay. (Plus, if you head outside during the cooler fall and winter months, you can avoid them almost entirely!) As for the dirt part—the general consensus is that dirt is good. Spending time outdoors can definitely be messy, but it’s this freedom to get messy that kids really relish. It might take time to increase our personal tolerance for getting dirty, but in the meantime, plan for mess (bring a change of clothes, towels for wiping off muddy boots, etc.).
If you didn’t grow up in a culture or community that emphasized and prioritized outdoor play and recreation, it can be a challenge to engage in it now as an adult. But the flip side is that we as adults can, in turn, become the barrier to girls’ access to the outdoors—without our permission, resources, and enthusiasm, many kids don’t get the opportunity to go outside even if they want to. So, start small, take it one step at a time, and work your way up—you and your troop will reap the benefits of the outdoors in a big way.
Lily Yu –Lily is a Program Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. Though she wasn’t a Girl Scout growing up, Lily is making up for lost time as a volunteer and troop cookie manager for her daughter’s Brownie troop. In her free time, she enjoys going for long walks, reading, and spending time with her family (and rescue dog, Neil!)