A daily dose of ‘vitamin G’

The great outdoors inspire active, healthy and empowered citizenship from an early age

Vanessa Schatz | Boulder Weekly

Have you taken your “vitamin G” lately?

Frances Kuo, researcher for the National Recreation and Park Association, found in a 2010 study that parks and other green environments are essential components of a healthy human habitat. Children and young adults especially benefit from being active in nature. Kuo argues that a daily dose of “vitamin G,” or “vitamin green,” is vital to promote a healthier and resilient populace.

In Boulder’s more than 43,000 acres of open space city and parklands, opportunities for outdoor recreation, adventures and “vitamin G” intake are endless. The upcoming summer camp season offers a variety of programs that are dedicated to getting children and young adults outside, hiking, YMCA Camp Shady Brook rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, camping or learning skills for survival or backcountry cooking.

Jessica Vogt, program director at Singletrack Mountain Bike Adventures (SMBA), the longest-running, independent, junior mountain bike program in Colorado, states that exposing children to the outdoors, away from communication channels like social media and smart phones, gives them a chance to individually explore themselves. “It allows them to be active, have fun and enjoy life,” Vogt says. “Children also learn basic trail advocacy and how important taking care of the world that surrounds us is.”

SMBA’s summer camps will offer adventure trips, including destinations like Crested Butte, Buffalo Creek and Winter Park in Colorado and Moab in Utah.

A 2005 study conducted by the American Institutes for Research indicates that outdoor activities promote conservation awareness and basic environmental behaviors like recycling. The study also revealed that at-risk students were able to discover leadership and social-emotional skills in nature that support learning across the curriculum. These skills can increase motivation to learn, improve classroom behavior and build stronger connections among students and teachers.

“It is all about realizing who you are, what you like and dislike,” says Sarah Pekala, Avid4 Adventure school program director, who also stresses the importance of outdoor education for sharpening children’s interpersonal and relationship skills while working with peers and adult mentors.

“When we teach children what it takes to be outside, everything is done in groups.

We work together to get things done and to keep each other safe,” explains Pekala.

This kind of group mentality also increases self-awareness. Their popular Discovery Camp, intended for pre-kindergarten children (ages 3-5), offers a small-scale version of climbing, paddling, biking and hiking activities that stimulate a wide range of movement skills to encourage early childhood brain and body development that is conscious of physical and spatial relationships. Exposure to nature and building new skills can boost self confidence, she adds.

“It’s amazing to watch a child overcome something they are initially scared of — while learning life lessons,” Pekala says.