Outings for Eleven to Thirteen Year Olds
Why do many folks consider middle school students to be the most difficult age group with which to work? Eleven to thirteen year-olds, middle school students, are more interested in their peers’ opinions than in adult opinions. They question adult authority. They are experiencing the intense emotions that accompany sexual development. All these characteristics are strong reasons why they especially need positive interactions with adults as well as peers. The out of doors provide an ideal open-ended setting for positive experiences.
Usually a pre-trip visit to the school by an ICO leader is difficult because outing participants won’t all be in the same classroom at the same time. The ICO leader will need to provide guidance to the teacher or other agency person as to how best to prepare participants for the outing. Further guidance will need to take place at the site of the outing. Middle-schoolers need ownership in the decision-making process. Ask them what rules they think are necessary. Ask them for the reasons behind the rules. When they test the rules, and they often will, remain positive and calm. Be sensitive to their feelings.
Sensory experiences and stories similar to those provided for elementary school students will engage them. Like most youngsters, they are especially interested in animals – lizards, deer, squirrels, and bugs are exciting. Evidence of animals such as scat, tracks, hives and nests will often interest them.
Provide physical challenges. Take them on a long hike that includes going uphill. (But not so far that they never want to come back…) Stream crossings offer another challenge, and water is a major attraction.
Teens want to be of service to others. They will often be interested in volunteering in environmental projects such as replanting wetlands and removing invasive plants from parks.
They are ready for new experiences and to work together cooperatively. After two or three outdoor experiences such as hikes, snow outings, and tide pooling, they are ready for overnight camping trips. (Consider ahead of time how they will share tents. Often teens that are social isolates get left out.) The ICO leaders, agency folks, and youngsters will enjoy experiencing their growth as they, with guidance, plan meals and shop for food (optional), prepare meals, clean up after meals, and pitch their own tents.
[Service Group in Sequoia Grove. Photo credit: Rob Selzer]