By Josine Walter | Regional Extension Agent

Studies show that connecting youth with the outdoors and the natural world promotes healthier lifestyles, lessens stress, improves academic achievement and self-esteem, and encourages community and social development. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages children to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Because nature has the potential to improve one’s physical, mental, and social health, the CDC advises children to engage in healthy outdoor activities in nature and parks. To encourage physical activity and sustained weight loss in children, allow them free, unstructured outdoor play (lifestyle-related physical activity), as opposed to aerobics and calisthenics.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, wrote, “Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health.” However, outdoor activity in the natural environment has been reduced by demanding school and extracurricular schedules and by television, video games and computers. Poor housing conditions, high-volume traffic, and lack of parks limit low-income and minority children’s access to nature. Loss of contact with the natural environment creates missing opportunities for youth to participate in physical activities, reduce stress, and develop healthy life skills.

4-H, a youth development organization serving more than 6.5 million young people, provides hands-on learning, research-based youth development programs with a focus on science, health and citizenship. Through 4-H environmental programs like Junior Master Gardener, Forest in the Classroom, and Skins and Skulls, the natural environment comes alive. From planting school and community gardens, to evaluating renewable natural resources, to protecting our native wildlife, students give back to the community, become better stewards of the environment and gain healthier life skills. What better way to teach a respect and understanding for the environment, environmental stewardship, and healthy life skills than by getting into nature, getting physical and going green – the 4-H way?

During the summer, Chilton County youth will have several opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors the 4-H way. Jason Powell and Petals from the Past, will once again be partnering with 4-H and local Master Gardeners to provide a Junior Master Gardener program. Youth will participate in activities from Wildlife Gardening, Literature from the Garden, and Health and Nutrition from the Garden curriculums. They will learn basic gardening skills, the importance of wildlife in gardens, health lifestyles and eating choices and spend a quiet moment with a good book in the shade of the bean plant tepee.

The upcoming Outdoor Recreation program will have Chilton County youth centering on environmental education, outdoor survival, water sports, outdoor cooking, and overnight camping. After completing a series of hands-on programs, the youth will put their skills to the test during an overnight camping experience. Get your hiking boots on and your camping tents ready.

If you are interested in participating (or volunteering) in these outdoor activities, contact Jo Walter, 4-H Regional Extension Agent,, 334-750-2032, for more details.