According to TIME Magazine, “In the past 20 years, an increased emphasis on standardized testing as a metric for student achievement has led leaders in some states and school districts to cut into recess in favor of more in-class instruction.”
This trend has sparked an ongoing debate surrounding the value of recess and the importance of kids having time to play outdoors. And as a result, parents are increasingly seeking outlets through which their kids can play and be active in an outdoor setting.
This presents a great opportunity for community recreation centers to meet a need not currently being met in some schools.
“I think outdoor education is important — it’s definitely a component and something children need,” said Nicolle Hahn, the business and marketing director of YMCA Trout Lodge & Camp Lakewood in Missouri. “They need to be able to play outside, be imaginative and creative, and socialize and make new friends in a different way.”
With this in mind, YMCA Trout Lodge & Camp Lakewood boast a wide range of programs, activities and amenities that engage both youth and adults in outdoor recreation.
Examples include a 320-acre lake that’s lifeguarded in the summertime from Memorial Day to Labor Day, where families can rent canoes, kayaks, Jon Boats, sailboats and paddle boats. There’s also a ranch with 35 horses, so people can go on trail rides or take grooming and saddling lessons. Plus, the grounds feature ziplines and a climbing tower for team building activities, in addition to activities like axe throwing, geocaching, bird watching and much more.
“You name it, we have it,” said Hahn. “We have a wide range of things you can do here on property. And we do it rain or shine, as long as it’s not thundering or lightning. We’re hardcore about playing if we can.”
In fact, Hahn explained they don’t even have TVs indoors, to encourage visitors to spend as much time outside as possible. “We feel our slogan is ‘disconnect to reconnect’ — to just be outside,” she said. “The YMCA’s three areas of focus are healthy living, social responsibility and youth development — and healthy living definitely falls into a lot of what we do, keeping people outside and active.”
YMCA Trout Lodge & Camp Lakewood has even forged a strong relationship with nearby schools, for field trips and overnight experiences. “We actually have an entire school district that sends every sixth grader here,” said Hahn. “I would like to believe it has a positive influence on kids when their schools still bring them here — the schools that make that a priority.”
For other community recreation centers looking to expand their outdoor recreation offerings, Hahn said being organized is key. “For instance, we might have a group at Trout Lodge that wants to use a certain activity, but so does outdoor education — and if we’re not communicating and being organized, the chances of overbooking something are pretty high,” she said.
When it comes to marketing outdoor recreation programs, Hahn said keeping it short and sweet is often the best rule of thumb. “As far as marketing, I think the best thing to do is not overwhelm somebody with the amount of things you can do,” she said. “So we try to shorten it to tell people we have 40-plus programs and activities you can do while you’re here. We customize it to them.”
And for those building an outdoor recreation program from scratch, Hahn gave this piece of advice: “It’s a marathon, not a race,” she said. “When you’re first beginning you need to take it step by step. Start with a couple really good programs and then build upon that as you move forward.”