By Susan Langlois
Are hiking, camping and wilderness activities worth the investment for a camp business owner? When you consider all the moves it takes to build a high-quality activity for your campers and the risk that needs to be managed because most of these activities require leaving the camp premises, it is tempting to limit camp programming to what can be accomplished at the camp facilities.
However, when you consider the benefits which campers can gain by leaving their comfort zones and stretching past their doubts, the bonding opportunities that they will have with their peers, and what can happen to campers' self-reliance as they respond to a challenge, these outdoor adventure activities far outweigh the investment and risk.
The Right Plan
When implementing or planning outdoor activities, such as climbing, hiking or challenge course programming it can be advantageous to literally take one step at a time.
The focus needs to be on meeting both the objectives of the camp mission and making the most of a challenging environment. For example, a walk in the woods can be much, much more exciting and developmentally appropriate when a multi-faceted approach to learning is applied before the first step is taken toward the summit.
From the obvious physical demands of hiking relatively long distances (to small children, a one mile walk may seem like 10 miles!), to the quiet moments of relaxation and meditation on the summit of the hill or mountain, each experience to come serves as an opportunity to teach elements of the mind-body connection.
Over the course of several days prior to the activity, an entire course syllabus can be created to establish learning outcomes for the camper, even while having fun!
For example, you can create lesson plans to discover the five components of physical fitness, which then can lead into the foundations of conditioning and specific adaptations to imposed demands (SAID principle).
In this manner, you are prepping the camper to understand the importance of preparing for physical activity, such as a long hike, as well as creating a very basic foundation for developing intrinsic motivation for lifelong fitness.
Even as the hike or challenge course program progresses, mini-learning opportunities can be found in the rest periods where lesson plans can focus on the energy systems the body uses based on oxygen consumption. While exercise physiology may seem too complex initially, after careful prepping, even the most challenging concepts can be broken down into understandable and appropriate deliveries.
The possibilities are endless, open to the imagination and care of your counselors!
Another lesson plan in the preparatory period might focus on the type of clothing worn, drinking water needed, and energy requirements on a hike, by teaching the basics of weather and humidity and its effects on the human body.
Tailored to your specific geographical area, meteorological forecasts, and level of difficulty of the hike, a counselor can review the transmission of thermal energy (conduction, convection, radiation and conversion), how to properly dress in layers, and what materials are best used depending on what layer.
For energy requirements, each camper could learn what food products are most desirable for sustained activity, focusing on the basics of complex simple carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, and the importance of each.
Clearly, lesson plans on these topics are endless, but keep in mind, as always, the age group of your campers will determine how basic each lesson plan must be!
What outdoor activity lesson plan is complete without a lesson on emergency preparedness and basic first aid? Surely, any age group can learn the relevance of R.I.C.E (rest, ice, compression and elevation), but how about translating that into the actual physiological effects R.I.C.E has on the cellular level? What is the reason ice is used? (It slows down cellular metabolism, reducing the damaging effects of heat, keeping cellular death to a minimum, in turn speeding up the healing process). Why elevate? (Raising the injured body part above the heart helps circulation and prevents escaped blood from pooling).
Again, each element of first aid can be a chance to teach and a chance to discover. Everything from splinting to the proper response to allergic reactions from bee stings and snakebites to poison ivy can be integrated effectively in your preparation before a days hike.
Why not launch the writing career of the next Henry David Thoreau? You could have the campers read selected passages from some of his most celebrated works: A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, Walden, and The Maine Woods and Cape Cod. As they begin their journey, they could capture their impressions via a letter to a friend, conveying what they enjoyed, the insights that they gained, and the physical challenges of the hike.
If you have students who really get into the reflective writing of Thoreau and they ask for more, you might try this exercise: the value of the hike. What value does hiking have? Ask your campers to brainstorm what they see as the value of the hike. Their answers may surprise you.
There are many ways to build from their initial ideas about the value of the hike. You could have each camper select one theme and write about it in great depth or have each camper take two themes to compare and contrast.
Whether they see the value of hiking as a way of increasing physical fitness, clearing their head, or bonding with friends, having campers take the time to explore their ideas, write about them, and share them with other campers can make an indelible impact on how they choose to spend their leisure time to develop contentment.
There are many websites that offer free Web page hosting for educational pursuits. The campers can use the Internet to share what they have learned about the hike that they helped to plan.
The Web page can be constructed with very little training on how to post digital photos, trail maps, information on distances and travel times, what to expect for weather, how to dress, the wildlife of the habitat, and suggestions for enjoying time at the summit.
There can also be a section that includes the essays that campers have written about their hiking experience. Once the page is built it can be shared with friends, relatives, and future campers.
Dr. Susan Langlois has over 25 years of experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director and sport facilities consultant. She is currently Dean of Sport Science at Endicott College.