Adventure Trips—Guaranteed Youth Engagement

Field trips are an ever-popular experience for children once they reach the age of about seven or eight. Out-of-school time programs that offer field trips as part of their programs help to meet the needs of children to go out and explore their community.

Children at this stage also relish the idea of going on field trips with their friends, producing a different kind of bonding as they experience new things together. Trips to hands-on museums, parks, libraries, and performances enable them to expand their horizons and practice new behaviors expected in different settings.

As children get a little older, they are ready to expand their horizons even more. Between the ages of nine to twelve, they have their own ideas about what they want to see and do, and they are able to take on more responsibility for planning and organizing field trips. Some popular experiences are to theme parks, bus trips to a nearby city, and overnight camping trips.

As they enter the early teen years, youth are stretching and testing boundaries. They are seeking identity and independence at the same time. They want to learn new skills and are up for a challenge. Adventure trips are an ideal way of meeting the diverse needs of young teens. Adventure trips are field trips that add a level of physical challenge and mastery.

Danny Williams, experienced outdoor guide and assistant director of campus recreation at Penn State University, feels that outdoor adventure experiences are an ideal way to meet the dual needs of young teens for risk-taking and independence. 

Danny explains that a great example of this is a high ropes course. “You put up a set of poles and cables forty or fifty feet off the ground and have the youth walk across them, meeting different challenges along the way. They feel a great deal of risk, even though we have our safety features in place. In this way we’re meeting their need for risk-taking and putting it to good use for a positive experience.”

Adventure trips offer many benefits, including the following:

  • Age-appropriate for nine- to fifteen-year-olds
  • Meet the needs for identity, discovery, and independence
  • Meet the needs for appropriate risk, physical challenge, and problem-solving
  • Strengthen belonging, friendship, and teamwork
  • Meet the needs for planning, organization, and reflection
  • Build confidence, leadership, and career orientation
  • Promote connection with nature

two youth paddling a kayak

Other adventure trip ideas include rock climbing, canoeing, snorkeling, hiking, and wilderness camping. For cold weather adventures, try snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. These all involve mastering a set of physical skills that may be new to many youth.

Out-of-school programs considering adventure trips should check with their insurance carrier to be sure that they cover adventure activities. Programs should also meet with parents to make sure that parents understand the risks and responsibilities of adventure trips. Program leaders should make every effort to accommodate children with disabilities so that they can share the benefits of an adventure experience.

Here are some tips to prepare adult professionals to engage youth in adventure trips:

  • Research the group providing the adventure experience. Make sure that guides are certified in their sport or activity and experienced working with the appropriate age group of children and youth.
  • Outline safety procedures and talk through possible scenarios with staff ahead of time. Draw up safety guidelines and review with youth and families multiple times before the trip.
  • Provide families with a list of items needed for each youth. Provide this list in multiple ways—text, email, printed list, phone calls, or in-person.
  • Plan games and icebreaker activities to help youth get comfortable with each other and to learn expected group behaviors.
  • Be flexible and prepare for the unexpected—weather, accidents, fatigue, and illness.
  • Join in with the youth in the adventure experience while ensuring appropriate supervision.

To learn more about adventure trips, safety, and youth engagement, use the Better Kid Care online professional development modules entitled “PYD Foundations: Youth Engagement” and “PYD Foundations: Safety and Wellness.”

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