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Sunshine, Trees & Trails: Outdoor Time with 4-H Clubs

Learning Objectives

  • Participants will identify the benefits of outdoor time.
  • Participants will list ideas for outdoor club activities.

“The future will belong to the nature-smart – those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become the more nature we need.” Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods

Essential Elements:
Independence and Mastery

Connecting with Nature

Nature is important to children’s development in every major way—intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually, and physically.  Play in nature, particularly during the critical period of middle childhood appears to be an especially important time for developing the capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and emotional and intellectual growth (Louv, 2008).

Nature in and around the home appears to protect the psychological well-being of children, (Cornell, 2003). Children who have a pattern of inattention or hyperactivity that is more than normal, show improvement when they spend more time in nature (Louv, 2008). Direct exposure to nature stimulates our senses and fosters creativity, making time outdoors essential for everyone.

Time in nature when coupled with activity is a recipe for better physical and emotional health. Youth often need more opportunities to be both outdoors and physically activity. 4-H Club programs and activities can provide much needed outdoor time and make exercise fun.

Connecting Nature with 4-H

Time outdoors through project work, camps, shooting sports, and livestock programs is a part of many 4-H programs. Being outdoors happens naturally for the child as a part of these 4-H activities. The evidence of the therapeutic value of animals and gardens is persuasive (Louv, 2008), for example one parent said that ‘finding solace raising lambs in a 4-H program really turned (my daughter) around in school’ (Louv, 2008).

Traditional agriculture and camping programs provide quality outdoor time. In addition, 4-H clubs can plan for unstructured activities that allow for more time in nature, free time to explore, more time moving and more time just talking. Allow youth time during meetings to brainstorm ideas for outdoor activities, and then select the ones of most interest to the majority of club members. There is also the potential for volunteers to develop new clubs with an outdoor focus on hiking, biking, camping and exploration.

Making it Real

Many outdoor activities can be a good fit for 4-H clubs. They can be held in conjunction with a club meeting or as a separate activity.

  • Bike trail ride
  • Club hike
  • Picnic or campfire cookout
  • Camping
  • Fishing trip
  • Outdoor shooting sports experience
  • Livestock project workshop
  • Stream exploration
  • Plant a community garden
  • Adopt-A-Highway service project
  • Field day games
  • Visit a State Park
  • Schedule a program with a naturalist

Some 4-H projects work well as club projects and can provide an outdoor theme for the year.

  • Hiking Trails
  • Camping
  • Know Your State WV
  • Gardening
  • Fishing
  • Tree Identification
  • Spring and Fall Wild Flowers

Club Tool Box

  • Involve youth in brainstorming and choosing outdoor activities
  • Plan 2 outdoor club activities during the 4-H year
  • Pick a club project for the year with a nature focus
  • To prepare for outdoor activity, create a checklist (supplies, map, first aid kit, water, equipment, etc.).

Learn More

  • Visit the Project Learning Tree website at for many outdoor educational activities.
  • Exploring Nature: 50 Creative Projects to Spark Curiosity in the Outdoors by Kim Andrews Go Outside: Over 130 Activities for Outdoor Adventures by Nancy Blakely
  • Project Wet: Water Education Today provides a variety of hands-on learning activities about water for different ages.
  • Project Wild provides wild-life based conservation and environmental education curriculum for K-12 through the National Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.


  • Blakey, N. (2002). Go Outside: Over 130 Activities for Outdoor Adventures, Berkeley, Ca: Tricycle Press.
  • Hanscom, A. & Louv, R. (2016). Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident and Capable Children. New Harbinger Publications, Inc., Oakland, CA.
  • Louv, R. (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.
  • Louv, R. (2016). Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life, 500 Ways to Enrich the Health and Happiness of Your Family and Community. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC. National 4-H Peer Reviewed Checkmark of Approval.
Authors: Margaret Miltenberger, WVU Mineral County Extension Agent, and Kelly Hicks, WVU Hampshire County Extension Agent,
Published: September 2022

Strong 4-H Clubs Series passed National 4-H Peer Review in February 2022