Guiding youth in the outdoors throughout covid-19 has only increased my passion for getting people into new outdoor environments.This increase is due to the negative impacts that I have seen the pandemic have on young people.
Here in Alberta, we lifted restrictions on school field trips on March 1, 2022. It was a full 2 years before students here were able to go on an outdoor education adventure. Think of it this way - for students who are in Grade 9 now, the last time they were on a field trip was in grade 7. Potentially Grade 6 for some. Could you imagine?! Not only are you isolated from friends at home, but then when you are allowed back, some of the most impactful, memorable and fun experiences that happen at school are not allowed.
I was relieved when restrictions on field trips were lifted. To be back in the outdoors and to have these wonderful young people recreating and learning in the outdoors with us again is fantastic. However, after seeing about 250 students this winter, I have seen some massive differences in their behavior compared to pre-covid times. I have listed the main changes below.
1) Less Social Skills
It is strange to say, but there have been many times where I am snowshoeing with a group and it is dead silent behind me. Not a word is spoken to each other, unless asked. Non-verbal communication via cell phones, no problem. However, the breakdown seems to be when participants are forced to interact with one another, face to face, without technology. The lack of conversation, ice breakers, and questions are what I believe to be causing the discussions to be brief, superficial, or completely non-existent.
2) Scared to Ask Questions or Ask for Help
Part of interpretive guiding is leaving room for further exploration through participation and questions from participants. This becomes extremely difficult when students simply do not even attempt to ask them. I believe this ties into the first point. Due to a lack of social skills, their social confidence is also very low. Therefore, they are much less likely to take a risk and ask a question in front of their peers.
3) Lack of Try/Fail/Try Again Attitude
Beyond the other changes we have seen, the lack of try/fail/try again attitude has been the most negative impact I have seen from the covid era. I have participants, who are able, smart, and caring individuals, who will simply decline to play a new game in the outdoors because they are scared to fail or lose. WHAT!? On a consistent basis, we have participants sit out on the funnest part of the day due to this. It is hard to watch. All we can do is encourage everyone to participate.
Although the above three impacts are most certainly not positive, that does not mean they cannot be relearned through positive social outdoor experiences to help young people feel more confident, safe and open. We believe that the outdoors is not only the best place to learn new outdoor skills, but also a place for intrinsic growth and discovery. Through encouragement, leadership, and outdoor recreation, we have the ability to make positive lasting impacts on all of our participants!
Let me know what you think and if you have seen any major changes in your students!
Until next time, get outside and have fun!