Modern life means spending time on couches with screens, but there are many downsides to growing up missing out on outdoor adventures and the lessons that come from taking risks. “Kids grow up in bubble wrap,” says Megan McDevitt, assistant brand manager at Avid4 Adventure, an outdoor adventure organization bringing day camps for 7th graders to Lake Forest this summer. “There’s no way to assign blame because the world can be a scary place, but we’re seeing parents turn away from risk and want to take the safer path.”
When kids aren’t exposed to risk, they miss opportunities to build confidence, says McDevitt, and there’s no better way to take risks than through outdoor adventures, supported by a highly qualified instructor. “We have a unique approach to risk that encourages children to explore their comfort zones and make logical decisions in a variety of scenarios and environments. Ultimately, we believe that calculated risk leads to personal responsibility, increased self-confidence, improved judgment and a sense of personal accomplishment. Failure is OK and we learn from it. It’s all based on a safe risk-taking,” she says.
Avid4 Adventure was founded out of a desire to counter some very alarming statistics from research at the Harvard School of Public Health. “This study shows that over the past decade, the average American has spent 95% of their life indoors, and children get four to seven minutes of unstructured outdoor play a day compared to seven hours of screen time,” says McDevitt. “We want to make a difference because we know that without programming, these numbers will continue to move in the wrong direction. We’re uncomfortable with the amount of screen time kids have. This way we can contribute to the next generation and raise strong, empathetic children.”
Kid-sized outdoor adventures
At Avid4 Adventure Day Camps in Lake Forest, kids start the day in one central location, then head to nearby forest preserves and waterways for outdoor adventures.
Five and six-year-olds take part in Avid4 Adventure Explorer Camp, where they hike, paddle and bike—following their own curiosities at every turn. Second through seventh graders attend Adventure Camp, where they have fun mountain biking, hiking, paddling a canoe, kayaking, or even SUP (Stand Up Paddle Board) in age-specific groups. Second through seventh graders who love SUP can choose the Stand Up Paddleboarding Camp, where they learn basic strokes, water safety, and even rescue techniques with lots of one-on-one support.
Campers visit some of the most beautiful and historic natural sites in suburban Chicago including Lake Carina, located along the Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway, or Captain Daniel Wright Woods, Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve, Middlefork Savanna Forest Preserve, Independence Grove Forest Preserve and Ryerson Woods Nature Reserve.
“With younger kids, we focus on getting out into nature and exploring its curiosities,” explains McDevitt. “You will discover all the flora and fauna and identify all the bugs. With the little ones we see them being turned on in a way that we don’t always see with the older children. They really beam with joy in a new environment and we accompany this day of adventure with them.”
Highly qualified staff
Quality outdoor experiences are even more beneficial when led by camp leaders who know their stuff.
Avid4 Adventure employees are at least 18, but most are 26 or older, with bachelor’s degrees and exciting resumes, says McDevitt. “All of them have at least certifications in CPR and first aid, and some have advanced Wilderness First Responder or EMT training. Before the camp starts, they also go through our extensive training to improve their leadership skills, risk management techniques and youth development strategies,” she says.
Avid4 Adventure instructors not only share an authentic passion for outdoor adventure, but are gifted at encouraging kids to learn and have fun. “You can always put risk-averse kids in a situation and they could walk away with a terrible experience if there’s no empathy. Our staff know how to establish open communication and say it’s okay if you don’t feel comfortable trying something, but they will support you at any level that makes you comfortable,” explains McDevitt. “Their certifications give parents peace of mind, but our teachers also live and breathe what they teach.”
Cultivate more than outdoor adventures
Along with some wonderful outdoor skills and a love and respect for the outdoors, Avid4 Adventure Campers often take some unexpected benefits from their experiences. By taking risks in a safe environment, children learn that they are resilient.
“It’s not so much about learning that it’s okay to scrape your knee, but over the course of the process you learn that you’ve pushed yourself to the point where you might have failed, but strengthened from it emerged. That’s the key piece,” says McDevitt. “You fall and get back up, and then you’re less likely to fall again. This process builds up grit in children. They learn that they can push through the tough stuff and are more willing to try again and try something new next time.”
Camp leaders also take on the role of mentoring children, paving the way for children to achieve things they didn’t even know were possible. “It’s great when young children see people doing things that they didn’t know were opportunities for them. They learn that you can play outside and have a career as an outdoor educator, that there are jobs that don’t just take place in the office from nine to five, but can still make an important contribution,” she says.
Equally important, children learn the value of giving and receiving support in a non-competitive way. “Traditionally, in sport, the focus has been on competition and victory. In the outdoor adventure space, you do your best, and we translate that into the group environment,” says McDevitt. “In the groups we see friends who want each other to be successful. Kids build these very empowering connections to each other that come from seeing their friends do the best they can.”
Learn more about Avid4 Adventure Summer Day Camps in Lake Forest at avid4.com/illinois-summer-camps.