From the archives

In 2007-08, Primitive Pursuits got outside every week with the Urban Forest Adventures (UFA) Program. This after school program, generously funded by the More Kids in the Woods grant from the USDA Forest Service, provided five sessions of free Primitive Pursuits programs to underserved youth in the greater Ithaca Area. (A session consisted of 16 hours of regular day programming and an overnight or extended-day trip). The program was an exciting collaboration with 4-H Urban Outreach, through which most of the 40 participants campe. Dr. Nancy Wells of Cornell’s College of Human Ecology also collaborated: she used consenting participants as subjects in a study of the impacts of programs like Primitive Pursuits on youth. Now that the program has concluded, we’ve been looking back on the successes and challenges of this unique program.

We met our original goals:

  • We provided a direct experience of enjoying and learning from the natural world through demonstrations, hands-on learning, and ongoing contact with natural environments.
  • We gave youth the foundation for building a life-long appreciation for the value of National Forests and other natural areas.
  • We introduced urban, underserved youth to public forest lands and natural areas to explore in their own neighborhoods.

In addition, Dr. Wells’ research showed some promising results:

  • Children reported spending 55% more time outdoors while in the UFA program.
  • Their knowledge of the nearby area increased.
  • Their fear and worry about nature decreased.
  • They showed significant changes in interpersonal skills and teamwork, self-direction and professionalism, and technology adoption and application.
  • Children showed a 12% increase in short term memory and improved concentration of 50%.

But best of all, the program got rave reviews from participants, many of whom came back for multiple sessions. Some of the kids who went on the summer camp out were heard to exclaim, “I’m definitely doing this again next year!” Well, we were worried we wouldn’t be able to provide that opportunity because the Forest Service grant ran out, but we are very pleased to announce that we have been awarded funds from the Tauck Foundation to continue the UFA program in 2009.

The first year of UFA was a great learning experience. We learned about the importance of building and maintaining relationships with the communities we serve. We learned that collaborating with other people is challenging, but rewarding. We look forward to the chance to use what we’ve learned, and to future collaborations with both 4-H Urban Outreach and Dr. Wells.

This article by Melissa Mueller originally appeared in the Primitive Pursuits discontinued newsletter ‘The Tinder Bundle’ in December 2008.