Children learn how to do outdoor activities, work in teams
Forty or so children, ages 6 to 12, experienced something many city kids might never have the opportunity to do. They learned to canoe.
This summer, LOOP, the Louisiana Outdoors Outreach Program, in partnership with BREC, is presenting two-day programs at several BREC day camps around Baton Rouge.
“We want to teach kids how to hike and canoe and be outdoorsy,” said Erin Sullivan, parks program consultant for the Louisiana Office of State Parks. LOOP is offered through the Office of State Parks.
“Both LOOP and BREC hope to inspire our youth to get outdoors and challenge themselves in a positive way as well as to reap the physical and emotional benefits of being outdoors,” Sullivan said.
The first day is a three-tier exercise in team-building to introduce the kids to canoeing. The campers spend the second day in Baker at BREC’s Greenwood Community Park, where they paddle canoes on a lake and get experience hiking.
“Some kids are not exposed to this. Some kids will never be exposed to it,” said Roxie Wilson, a State Parks employee who works with the program. “They are doing things outside their normal comfort zone.”
On the first day, children are divided into three groups, mainly by age. The groups rotate through three activities — team-building, a predator-prey animal identification activity and a canoe demonstration.
The team-building exercise involves play activities in which the children must work together. They operate as a team to keep a bouncing ball from hitting the floor. They join hands in a circle and pass a hula hoop from child to child. They learn to do several different activities, not in competition but working together.
Sullivan leads the second activity, a discussion of predator and prey animals. As she shows an assortment of animal hides to the children, they discuss how the animals survive in nature. They examine the hides of a skunk, a red fox, a white-tail deer, a mink and a bobcat and learn to recognize animals they could possibly encounter while hiking.
Wilson leads the final exercise, a canoe demonstration. She begins with a lesson in water safety. “Before you get in the water in any kind of a float, you must put on a life vest,” she explains.
She showed the children how to hold a paddle, how to move forward and back, and how to safely get in a canoe.
“I’ve never canoed before,” said Jordan Dupre, 9, in a slightly worried voice.
“That’s what we’re here to learn how to do,” Wilson calmly answered.
The children practiced several times putting on life vests and getting into two real canoes. “Stay low,” Wilson continually warns. “The way you paddle is not so important. How you get into the canoe is very important.”
LOOP’s partnership with BREC is new this summer. During the school year, LOOP instructors take the program to local schools. The instructors may visit a school four or five times a month, Wilson said, but they work with different groups each time.
“We teach camping safety,” she said. “We take tents to school. The kids learn things to do on a trail, what to look out for.”
The school program also begins with team building. The children progress to such technical skills as water safety, canoeing, backpacking, wilderness travel and camping. At they end, they go on an overnight camping trip.
LOOP’s school program targets inner-city schools, Sullivan said. “We’re trying to get these kids in the city outside to gain confidence in themselves out of the classroom.”
“Activities have environmental education components that can encompass a variety of subjects from science and history to language and visual arts,” she said.
Ainsley Pearce, 8, had never canoed before, but she really enjoyed the experience, even though her arms got tired. “I think it’s the best thing I did at camp,” she said.
Canoeing was also a first-time experience for Nicholas Adams and Jillian Davis, both 6. Nicholas was not scared at all, but Jillian admitted that being on the water in a canoe was “a little scary.”
Sullivan said that the program is great for kids who need to feel confidence in something. “They learn problem solving in a different way, something other than the streets,” she said.
She said that the partnership with BREC encourages people to take advantage of BREC facilities and the state parks. She would like to see the school program expand to swimming lessons and other outdoor activities. Money, however, is one of the problems.
“LOOP is not free,” said Sullivan, who is hoping to find sponsors so more children can take advantage of the program. “There is nothing like the feeling you get in your heart after seeing a child’s face turn from fear to happiness on the water.”