Today’s guest post hits home and addresses an issue I think is imperative to make known: kids need to connect with nature, kids to need to unplug and GIRLS especially need wilderness adventures. I spent a couple of years working at a wilderness camp for girls who were at-risk and NEEDED that disconnect for a variety of reasons. Alpengirl aims to reach those girls before they get too far removed. I support them completely. Please welcome former Alpengirl guide, Lauren. As always, please leave her some love in the comments. *psst – there’s a giveaway on this one too!**
We were three miles into our five-mile backpacking day. I held back for a moment, letting the line of miniature explorers spread out in front of me. Their backpacks dangled almost down to the backs of their knees. Ponytails stuck roguishly out of baseball caps and I could see sunscreen dotting the tips of their ears where they had forgotten to rub it in all the way.
So when I crested the hill and beheld twelve 11-year-old girls unrolling their tents, staking them out, and working together to secure the fly, needless to say, I was impressed.
Our girls today live in a world of access. They have information at their fingertips. When parents don’t know the answer, a girl can just look it up. She can read an article, watch a video, engage in a Facebook conversation about it.
However, girls also have more access to other people’s lives. She can read about how to apply makeup, what the latest diet craze is, and which pair of jeans will make her butt look good. All without you buying her the latest issue of Cosmo.
Which is why I’m a strong believer in alternative educational options for girls these days. At Alpengirl this past summer, we unplugged for two weeks (save the occasional jam-session in the van on the way to and from our camping destinations) and we plugged in — to each other.
We woke up early every morning and did yoga together. We ate breakfast, we talked about rock climbing, we compared hiking shorts. We’d spend all day romping around in the woods and come back and make dinner as a group. It was like a two-week long sleepover with less Truth or Dare and more Adventure and Fun.
But the best part? No one was texting, or asking to look at their iPhones, or googling “How to Set Up a Tent.” Each girl knew that all she needed for two whole weeks was in her backpack. She learned the skills to keep herself safe, warm, and dry. And all of the noise, the pressure, to comparisons? Significantly deflated.
The outdoor classroom teaches your girls life skills. At the end of camp, each girl can set up her own 4-person tent. She can pack her own backpack, decide what clothes to wear depending on the weather, layer and delayer successfully, start a her own fire, and make decisions about trail route and campsite selection.
Which is great.
But what’s better, is that girls learn to get in touch with themselves. They learn to take care of themselves if they are too warm or too cold. They learn to make decisions based on the information available. They learn to ask each other for help; lifting up their backpack, getting their water bottle from a side-pouch, holding a tent stake in the ground while someone else pounds it in.
They learn to work together. We live in a collaborative age. There are community work stations for freelancers and more and more people ‘share’ the most intimate details of their lives across social media platforms. Teaching our girls to learn to respect and work with other girls at a young age is critical, not only for their success in their academic and professional lives, but also in their personal lives.
Eavesdropping on a girl’s conversation with her mother when the latter arrived at the Seattle Airport for pickup, I smiled when I heard “It was so hard to be the Leader of the Day because you’ve got to convince everyone to get along, even though everyone has different personalities.” Yup.
Not showering is a vote of self-love. Wait, what? Ew. Okay, we do shower at Alpengirl, but spending days at a time in the backcountry means no access the regularly running water. Since our girls are between 11-17, we know that this is a vulnerable subject at camp.
But one night, as we were doing our evening campfire chat session, one of the girls mentioned casually “I like it here because nobody cares how I look. We’re all dirty and smelly and don’t wear makeup. It lets me have more fun when I’m not constantly thinking about how I look.” Boom. Wisdom from a twelve-year-old.
Their values become clearer. At the end of each session, girls write an essay about their experience at camp. Almost every essay I read had some version of “I will never take my shower for granted” or “I was so excited to see running water again.”
When we live day in and day out with the conveniences of modern life, we forget what happens when we don’t have them. Instead of missing iPhones and televisions, our girls realized how lucky they were to have working toilets.
They become citizens of the world. Aside from us guides constantly modeling positive Leave No Trace habits (“Girls, don’t throw your trash on the ground. Girls, don’t pick the flowers. Girls, don’t whip pine tree boughs at each other.”), the girls become more connected with their natural surroundings.
They learn that every action they have has a reaction elsewhere and they start thinking about it. By the end of camp, girls would ask questions like “Is the water that washes up on the beach in Washington also washing up on the beach across the ocean?”
What about you out there? What has being in the outdoors taught your kids?
But wait! There’s more!
Alissa Farley, Alpengirl Camp Director, has put together a giveaway of AlpenSwag — an Alpengirl tshirt and sweatpants (both sized medium, though the pants run long). Perfect for any outdoor lady!
How do you win? Head over to Alpengirl’s Facebook Page, hit the ‘Like Button’ and then comment on the page that you read our post on Tales of a Mountain Mama. Contest ends on December 29th, and the winner will be announced the next day!
Lauren Caselli was a guide at Alpengirl Camp during the summer of 2012. A Manhattan desk-jockey-turned-wilderness-junkie, she left her NYC apartment for the wide open valleys of Montana. After 22 years in the traditional education system, Lauren learned more about her passions, her values, and herself during 18 months of wilderness exploration than she ever did in the hallows of her public school. An advocate of writing-as-self-discovery, she manages the Alpengirl blog.