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Step into outdoor meetings

By Nicole Kudrle

Young boy and girl sitting in wagon
Summer has arrived here in northern Minnesota and I find myself spending a lot of time outside. I have three children ages five and under, so spending as much time as we can outside is important. The entire family seems much happier, sleeps better, and challenging behaviors seem to disappear with all of this time outside. Recognizing the benefits of being outside got me thinking about my work with youth and wondering how we can encourage youth to be outside more.

My colleague Nicole Pokorney’s recent blog series focused on outdoor learning experiences that are safe and supportive, intentionally designed and build SEL skills. But getting outside can be helpful even if it’s not the primary focus of your program. I looked further into the benefits of spending time outside and learned that after just 20 minutes outside you begin to see health benefits. Three benefits of spending time outside include 1) improved mental health, 2) lower stress, and 3) improved mood.

So how can we incorporate time outside during our regular meetings with youth, even if it's just for 20 minutes? Here are three ideas:

1. Move the meeting to an outside space

One of the things that the COVID-19 pandemic taught us is how to meet outside. Many groups found themselves meeting at local parks, state parks, picnic shelters or pavilions. Some things to consider when have a meeting location outside:
  • Provide shade during the meeting. Direct sun is hot and people have a hard time focusing when they are hot.
  • What is the noise like? How can you reduce noise and other distractions to allow youth to focus during the meeting? How can you minimize noise for youth with sensory concerns?
  • Make sure to look at the weather. Though many outdoor meeting locations provide some protection from the elements, you'll still need to watch the weather. Pay attention to any possible rain storms, how windy it will be, and if a severe storm does happen, how you will keep your group safe.

2. Incorporate a learning activity outside

Instead of having your entire meeting outside, take just the learning activity outdoors. There are many great activities for youth to do outside that are free or cost very little to put together. Here are some great ideas from the Youth Development curriculum library:
  • Backyard Birds - For youth in grades 2-4 to identify common bird species in their backyard. Youth have the opportunity to conduct a wildlife survey and create a pinecone bird feeder.
  • Sensory Tour - For youth in grades 3-6 to discover nature by using their five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch and taste).
  • Steppin’ Outdoors: Nature Shapes - For youth in grades K-6 to explore the shapes that nature creates.

3. Hold part of your meeting outside your meeting space

Take part of your meeting outdoors by heading out the front door of your meeting location to complete just one part of your meeting such as:
  • Icebreaker or team building - There are lots of great icebreaker or even team building activities that can be completed outside. One of my favorites in the summer is to freeze objects into ice cubes, then have youth work in teams to see who can unfreeze their treasure the fastest.
  • Recreational activity - Allowing youth time to relax and have fun is important for them and breaks up the meeting. Recreational activities allow for this to happen while providing an  opportunity to work together while building group connection. My favorite recreational activity to play outside is Ships Across the Ocean. It's a camp of tag that involves multiple taggers.
  • Reflection - It's so important to spend time both during your meeting and at the end for youth to reflect not only on their learning, but on the meeting itself. My favorite reflection activity to do outside with youth is Spinning Webs. Youth stand in a circle, the facilitator asks a reflection question and tosses a ball of yarn to someone to answer. Then that youth answers and tosses a ball of yarn to someone else, and so on. 

By incorporating these simple adaptations, you can help get youth outside and enjoy the great health benefits nature has to offer. As a bonus, kids will feel and behave better. 

What tips do you have to get youth outside during gatherings? What strategies do you use to ensure you spend some time outside? What is something you are considering changing in your next meeting?

-- Nicole Kudrle, Extension educator

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  1. Great reminder and encouragement, Nicole! Our 4-H club often meets outside and did throughout covid times! Thanks for the reminder that even just doing 1 thing outside during a gathering or meeting is really beneficial and most fun! My favorite active meeting game outdoors is everyone making a crown out of paper (or go grab crowns from Burger King) then everyone has a pool noodle ( the dollar store kind) and you try to knock each others' crowns off (while staying within whatever boundaries you want to set). Before starting each youth introduced themselves and told 2 things they like to do outside. Active and outdoors, socially distanced when needed!


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