This may not seem like your typical Scouting adventure story, because it is not about a specific outdoor experience or location. It’s easy to convince adventurous boys that rappelling, camping, swimming, and hiking are great reasons to do Scouting. But what are the benefits of investing the time and effort into taking teenagers outside? Camping can be a lot of work for leaders who spend the week worrying about keeping kids alive, fed, and happy in the woods. Retired chemistry professor and long-time Scouting volunteer Lee Hansen tells us why we take Scouts outside in the first place:

Outdoor education is education about the outdoors or education in the outdoors. Scouting does this remarkably well as part of the program, but it is not the only purpose or even a major purpose of the Scouting Movement. “The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.” Education in the outdoors is one of the most important methods BSA uses to fulfill that mission. As recent research shows, time spent in the outdoors has physical, mental and spiritual benefits.

When we are outdoors, not only are we more physically active, there are other health benefits. Our bodies respond positively just by being in contact with natural surroundings. Blood pressure and heart rate decrease and appetite increases. Do you remember how you felt after a day spent in the outdoors? Tired and hungry, but calm and relaxed?

David Strayer, Professor of Psychology, University of Utah
David Strayer, Professor of Psychology, University of Utah

Recent experiments by David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, show that people become more creative thinkers after two or three days spent in the outdoors. Nature has a calming effect that increases our ability to think more clearly and stimulates our ability to think outside of the box. My own experience shows that when kids are in the outdoors they feel free to ask questions they would not think to ask in a classroom. Being in nature stimulates their natural curiosity and frees them from classroom constraints. Remember your campfire questions and discussions?

It is ancient knowledge that communing with nature increases spirituality. Abraham and Moses looked for inspiration in the wilderness and on mostars-feature-150x150untains. In the outdoors, our thoughts naturally turn to wonder at all of God’s creations. Do you remember how you felt when you looked into the night sky and marveled at the number of stars in the Milky Way or took time to take in the beauty seen from a mountain meadow or snow-covered mountain? Do you remember how you felt when you first realized the beauty of wilderness and truly wild places?

The vision statement of BSA is “The Boy Scouts of America will prepare every eligible youth in America to become a responsible, participating citizen and leader who is guided by the Scout Oath and Law.” The Utah National Parks Council is doing its best to fulfill that vision by providing venues and programs so that every girl, boy, young woman, and young man has an opportunity to spend significant time in a learning environment in the outdoors.

We have seen lives and perspectives change with outdoor experiences. Baden-Powell was a big proponent of taking youth outdoors. He insisted “The open-air is the real objective of Scouting and the key to its success” and “Scouting is a school of citizenship through woodcraft.” Nature is a great teacher, an inspiration, and a source of lifelong experiences. How have you been taught by the outdoors? How does outdoor adventure shape the lives of Scouts in your area?

Lee Hansen
BYU Chemistry professor for 32 years. Boy Scout volunteer for over 35 years, including 20 years as a Scoutmaster. Current chair of STEM Learning for Life.


  1. John Webb says:

    For over 100 years the “outing” in Scouting has been the keystone to teach our aims. I see this as another misguided effort to weaken our best way to attract and teach boys the aims and goals of
    Scouting. AS a Scout and Scouter of well over 60 years, I well remember the ill fated effort in the 60s and 70’s to change the reach of Scouting to a “representative 25%” and change the advancement to where a boy could reach Eagle and never take his feet off the pavement or his body off of his cozy bed. That is when Bil Hiilcort resigned in disgust and we lost a great deal of our outreach to boys. When that ill-advised effort was finally surrendered and we went to real scouting again, we started to, but never recovered. At that time I, as a Caucasian Scouter took on organization of a troop in an all black public housing project and grew it from 6 boys 11 year old to 60 boys and the first black Eagle in our Virginia District. Unfortunately, when I was reassigned to Vietnam, thje troop did not survive, but I proved the old way works. Today health and age keeps me from continuing my 25 years as a Scoutmaster, who stuck to the tried and true way rather than thisd ill perceived changes now being attempted. I would welcomb ansers, if any at Yours in the real scouting spirit throughout most of our past centuary.

    1. Maria Milligan
      Maria Milligan ( User Karma: 2 ) says:


      I, like you, feel deeply the importance of getting youth outside. I am not sure I understand the other part of your comment, however. What change are you talking about? Would you mind clarifying? You mentioned an “ill-perceived change” moving boys away from outdoor education, but the article reinforces taking boys outdoors as an integral part of Scouting and youth development. I loved this article because it emphasized that taking boys outside does more than teach them about the outdoors; it teaches them about life. I am more motivated than ever to take boys outside. Thanks Lee for reminding us how important education out of doors is!


  2. Darryl Alder
    Darryl Alder ( User Karma: 9 ) says:

    I was at Aspen Grove this week for a conference. At 5 am my room was too hot and the moon and four visible planets beckoned to me. I was out too long in my pajamas, but I don’t remember getting cold. I just stood mesmerized gazing (star gazing) along the ecliptic. I was waiting for early dawn and Mercury, which never made it up, but our other friends where there, Jupiter, Mars, Saturn and Venus.
    I guess I was out too long, because when I came into that hot room and shook out the frost out of those PJs, it made a small snow storm that transformed to vapor before touching the floor. STEM in the morning

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