5 min read
I can remember being as young as 5 years old and being moved by natural beauty – the smell of rain, the feel of mud, the sound of a creek. Growing up in a chaotic household with five siblings, I often headed outside to find peace, to calm my tough emotions and connect with my inner self. I grew up outside Chicago, so when I headed outdoors, nature and its beauty weren’t always right at my fingertips – I had to search for it. I’d often find it as I sat on the front step and poked at a pile of ants, or while sitting in the rain just to feel the cold of the elements, or from climbing onto the roof of my parent’s house to watch the sunset.
Spending time outdoors gave me a sense of belonging and a greater sense of self. I know my experience is not unique. Spending time outdoors is proven to decrease anxiety and depression, enhance mood, boost creativity and help sharpen our focus. Additionally, 74% of women who spend time outdoors report escaping the pressure of every life while also feeling more equal to men in other areas. We also know that girls that are involved in sports feel more confident. These important findings led Girls Leadership to partner with REI to encourage more girls to get outdoors to create our newest free resource – A Girl’s Guide to Epic Outdoor Adventure.
Recently, after creating this new program, I felt inspired to tackle a new epic adventure of my own. I set out to run 100 miles in the mountains above Steamboat Springs, CO. A lot of people, myself included, asked, why? Why would I ever want to do something like that? The most compelling reason and my greatest motivation was that I was really curious to meet the person I would be at mile 80. How would I handle this point in the race? With so many miles behind me and so many more ahead, I knew I’d likely be scared, exhausted, discouraged, lonely, maybe angry or maybe really joyful. I really didn’t know what it would take to tackle this adventure, but I wanted to meet the person I would be as I navigated the challenges.
Like most of our adventures, the external experience is a pathway to internal learning and growth. It turns out that at mile 80 the person I met was mostly really very sleepy and cold, but was also a person with a new sense of trust and faith in my ability to know myself and my boundaries. The me at mile 80 also was someone that learned how to accept help from others without feeling guilty. So to the volunteers and my pacers who rubbed my feet, gave me coffee, a pep talk, a jacket, and a million other things – thank you. Accepting your help, asking for what I needed, and telling you how I was really feeling helped me grow into a stronger human. It just so happens these are many of the same skills we teach girls in the Girl’s Guide.
Whether its an urban adventure of running in the rain or a mountain adventure of running through the night, how do we encourage girls to get out there and pursue their own adventure that’s just right for them? Download a free copy of the Girl’s Guide to Epic Outdoor Adventures and check out these 4 tips to encourage girls to get outdoors.
1. Put the girl in the driver’s seat
Girls today are slammed with daily pressures to be perfect. They confront messages about what they should and shouldn’t be, do, act, think and look like in nearly every area of their lives. Girls told us they don’t want another “to do” on their lists and they definitely don’t want to be asked to set another goal (insert eye roll here). So, avoid adding another “to do” on her list by putting her in the driver’s seat of her adventure. What you like may not be for her. Show your girl the Ultimate Menu of the Outdoors section in her Guide and let her take the wheel.
2. Connect her with role models and inspiration
Spending time outdoors has to compete with a million other priorities for grown-ups and girls alike and not all girls feel connected to the outdoors or to sports. So, introduce her to role-models and expose her to awe-inspiring experiences. Read books, look at pictures, watch movies that highlight the beauty of nature or female athletes. Take a free class at REI or watch a live bike race or another sporting event. Research shows that when exposed to awe-inspiring experiences, we can feel a greater sense of purpose. This will inspire and elevate spending time outdoors to a higher place on our priority list. Check out the health benefits of and ways to find “awe” in our lives.
3. Provide opportunities for unstructured play or exploration outdoors
The average young person today spends about 4-6 minutes a day outside in unstructured play, yet nearly 12 hours a day behind a screen. Taking a few moments each day to just be outside will help us reconnect to nature. Splashing in a puddle, collecting leaves, or rolling down a hill in a city park are just a few ideas. Check out this list of 100 quick and fun things to do outside from Generation Wild.
4. Lead the Way with your own adventure
When we take the time out in our own lives to plan and pursue our own adventure, our kids see us model what it is we are encouraging them to do. When your adventure challenges you, let your kids see you struggle and role model working through it. You will give them the permission to make their own mistakes and the inspiration to build their own resilience.
Kim O’Malley is Girls Leadership’s Colorado Program Manager.