Today the amount of time kids spend outside is alarmingly low—only minutes per day—while screen time is at an all-time high. Flat Rock River YMCA Camp, offers a dynamic Outdoor Environmental Education program for students (over 4,000 annually) that uses experiential learning to reinforce classroom objectives and Academic Standards in the sciences. Utilizing the YMCA’s mission of healthy spirit, mind and body for all, our Environmental Education Program provides students with an opportunity to develop outdoor skills, build confidence, and encourage strong relationships between diverse populations of youth.
Duke Energy awarded Flat Rock with a $15,000 Grant that allowed for Decatur County 4th and 5th graders to come to camp and experience our outdoor classroom first hand. These teachers and students were able to come to engage in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) while using Flat Rock’s 220 acres as their classroom. Children use canoeing, archery, climbing tower, and other activities to foster skill development and personal growth.
Why help kids connect with Nature?
We have already said the use of technology is up and the time spent outdoors is down. Outdoor Environmental Education gives students the opportunity to get kids out of their seat and interested in the outdoors.
Our Outdoor Education Program starts with community. From the student traveling on the bus, to the sharing cabins, to the trail groups that rotate through activities, students live and work in teams that they wouldn’t form on their own. We consistently hear from kids about making new friends during the Outdoor Education experience. Students are connected to the process of being a community, and they feel increased connection to being part of it.
South Decatur Elementary School
Not all schools are blessed with the ability to afford an extracurricular activity such as Outdoor Education. School districts often eliminate outdoor education when budgets are tight. Because of Dukes Grant, students from South Decatur Elementary School did not miss out on this powerful experience. As a staff member are blessed because we continually see the magic that happens while in the outdoors. Watching these students reinforces that. These students and teachers were beyond thankful for their adventure.
I watched a female 4th grader transform from reluctant to confident in 24 hours. She was sitting by herself and debating going home on the first day, and the next she was consoling a homesick cabin mate. What happened in between? She had been come out of her shell during a River Ecology Class where she learned the mud from our fen is a great face-mask.
This isn’t the only tail from the trip. We witness multiple times during a field trip where kids are scared of heights and overcome that fear by scaling our 55ft climbing tower. They uncertainty is overcome by the other kids and counselors cheering them on. Watching kids hoot and holler after they or their friend has made it to the top, it’s obvious we have succeeded. All of these experiences wouldn’t have been possible without the grant Duke provided.
Children spend less time outdoors today than at any point in human history. Funding for hands on experiential learning trips has become scarce and children in poverty in rural schools have less access to these high impact programs. Providing this opportunity and enhancing the STEM related curriculum associated with it aims to support classroom learning objectives while providing children with a “sticky” experience that will last them a lifetime. The present economy has a high demand for workers skilled in the hard sciences and many students are lagging behind in STEM related subjects. Our program brings a dynamic experience to this subject matter and will spark a greater interest in performing well in science related classes and furthers student understanding of STEM related career fields.
How to get involved in Outdoor Environmental Education
Connect with the school- Find out which staff member at your child’s school are the right people to talk to about the potential for outdoor education, or have the outdoor education contact you’ve established reach out to that person to describe our available programs.
Careers in Outdoor Environmental Education- Those who have a deep care for the earth and have a love for nature, the environment, education, and the outdoors—and sharing it with others—will find endless opportunities here at Flat Rock River YMCA Camp. Whether you are a retiree, a stay at home parent, or a college student looking to enrich your life through volunteerism, helping our youth gain access to nature, learn the outdoors, and experience things for the first time is what our Outdoor Education program at Flat Rock is all about. Apply today to be a Naturalist.