Friday, June 5, 2015

More Than S’mores: Why Girls Should Get Outside More

We all know that Girl Scouts has a super-long history of getting girls outside. But did you know that girls in the United States today are getting outside less and less? Unfortunately, it’s true. As girls’ engagement with electronic devices grows and more and more structured activities compete for their time and attention, fewer girls are getting the exposure to the outdoors that is so vital to their healthy development.

But here’s the good news for Girl Scouts: When parents and policymakers began to express concern that girls were not getting outdoors enough, the Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI) set out to explore two very important questions for our Movement: are Girl Scouts still getting outside? And what difference does it make if they do?

After a national study of nearly 3,000 fourth- to eighth-grade Girl Scouts, More than S’mores, a comprehensive report on the impact of Girl Scouts’ outdoor experiences, was published. And there’s no better time to get familiar with the facts around this critical issue than Great Outdoors Month—so let’s do it!

Here are some key findings from the research:

Girl Scouts helps girls get outdoors. 

  • Ninety-seven percent of girls surveyed said they had done at least one outdoor activity in Girl Scouts during the last year, and 40 percent said they participated in an outdoor activity at least once a month in Girl Scouts.
  • Seventy-two percent of girls surveyed said they improved a skill through their outdoor experiences in Girl Scouts, and 29 percent said they had overcome a fear of the outdoors through their outdoor experiences in Girl Scouts—so cool.

  • Fifty percent of girls surveyed said they could not have done a certain outdoor activity (such as archery, horseback riding, or canoeing/kayaking) were it not for Girl Scouts—awesome!

Monthly exposure and high-adventure activities are key drivers of girls’ leadership development and satisfaction with their Girl Scout experience.
  • The study found that having access to outdoor activities on a monthly basis contributes significantly to girls’ leadership development and to how happy they are with their Girl Scout experience. 
  • High-adventure activities like canoeing or kayaking, challenge/ropes courses, and backpacking and climbing, in addition to playing and walking outdoors and taking outdoor field trips, help girls by giving them an avenue to improve their health, practice cooperation and teamwork, flex their leadership muscles, and try new, exciting things while having tons of fun—all in the company of great, supportive friends.

Girls really enjoy outdoor activities in Girl Scouts.

A majority of girls surveyed said they enjoyed almost all the outdoor activities they did in Girl Scouts. They especially enjoyed opportunities for challenge, mastery, and accomplishment as well as opportunities to hang out with friends.

Different groups of girls report different outdoor experiences and outcomes.
  • The research found some pretty big differences in the outdoor experiences of girls of varying socioeconomic status (SES) and levels of self-esteem, with less-advantaged girls getting the most out of their outdoor experiences with Girl Scouts.

Girl Scouts helps girls connect with and care for the environment.
  • Compared to a national sample of girls, Girl Scouts reported much higher levels of environmental stewardship.  Girls Scouts were twice as likely, for example, to say they take action to protect the environment!

Camp experiences create lasting memories and encourage leadership development.
  • Girls said camping was their number-one most memorable outdoor experience in Girl Scouts. The study also found repeat attendance at Girl Scout resident camp supports girls’ leadership development. 

So what does all of this tell us? Good question! The findings from More Than S’mores present strong support for the positive influence of Girl Scouts on girls’ leadership development and environmental stewardship, especially as related to outdoor activities—we knew there was some good stuff there! Findings from the study also help us continue our critical dialogue around the importance of getting girls outdoors more often and in more varied ways, and about Girl Scouts’ vital role in providing girls with safe, fun, and valuable outdoor experiences that will help them develop essential life skills and an appreciation for the natural world.

Now grab your girlfriends and get outside! And be sure to access the full report for more info.