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?
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 mountains. 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?