When we wanted to find out what exactly the benefits of overnight trips for young people were, we decided to chat to Kate Cowan. She is one half of the dynamic marketing team that are putting the youth back into youth hostelling in An Óige. She also has a wealth of experience introducing young people to the outdoors through Scouting Ireland and charities like Barnardos and St Michael’s House. We asked her what she has learned from working with young people on events and overnight environments.
Overnight experiences are great for young people. If I had to pinpoint a few things that young people learn from them I would say that they are the benefits of being in the outdoors, their own independence, opportunities for personal growth and a pride in their own abilities.
Being in the outdoors changes people. Maybe it is the fresh air or the change in temperature or space. Whatever it is, it is great for young people. After a few hours of being outside, young people just become more present in the moment. They forget about their computers and phones and just want to hang out. I sat with one group of 10 year olds in a forest for an hour because they were fascinated by the sound that the wind made in the trees and we just sat still so that the animals around us went along with their day. It was completely different than learning about nature from a book. When they come in, they want to get back outside again as soon as possible. We run night games and walks outside as well because they want any excuse to be back out there. The fresh air is addictive for them. Being active in the outdoors is something that our society is finally seeing as an issue. If young people get into it early, they begin to crave it and what a good thing to crave!
Spending the night in a youth hostel is great for teaching young people about independence. Just being away from parents is such a freedom for them. Sure, there are always adults there overseeing matters, but it is not the adults they know so it feels different to them. Their usual safety blanket is taken away and they are welcomed to the wonderful world of decision-making that us adults just love. From deciding what bed to sleep in, choosing which activity to do or even joining in on the game with people they don’t know, these are decisions that can seem scary. The more that young people do them, the easier it gets until they are done without a second thought. Even if they make a mistake and feel bad, they have the space and the chance to review their decisions without being told how they should think and feel. It’s empowering for them.
Being involved in formal education for young people is pretty inspiring because you can see the benefits it has on a young persons’ personal growth. The quiet child getting up first to try an activity challenge or a group cheering their friends on as someone conquers a fear. Listening to their conversations, they will surprise you. I remember a few 14 year olds getting frustrating at the littering in the forest and planning to ask their parents if they will help them to organise a clean up. Another time I heard a 6 year old asking his friends why people find it fun to be mean. When the environment is fun and relaxing, they naturally start discussing issues that affect them. In a way you are providing the environment or venue for them to have the confidence to be the best versions of themselves. They encourage each other. They pull each other when one of them starts acting up or being mean. I take my scouts away youth hostelling because hostels have a great space to create this environment.
Parents always give me a surprised look when I tell them after a trip how helpful their child was. The truth is I normally don’t have to find volunteers for things. Young people naturally ask me what they can help with. I think it is something to do with being in a different environment and the fact that it is fun to muck in together. Of course you have the children (and adults) who moan, but my experience is that most get excited by working together to clean all the dishes, putting up their own tent for camping or getting to make their own beds in a hostel. They have to share their space with others for a while so I think they naturally respect each other enough to keep it generally neat, well a young version of neat anyway!
I am one of the lucky people in that I get to promote hostels for young people in Ireland for a living. It allows me to combine my interests with my work, which is pretty amazing!
If you need any further information about overnight trips for young people, check out our groups page.
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