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January 09, 2013

Inner City Outings: An Outdoor Education


Inner City Outings isn't just an outdoors experience. It’s a learning experience. Just ask Elizabeth Neat, a retired teacher and acting chair of the Los Angeles Inner City Outings program. Inner City Outings gives her the chance to combine her love of kids' enthusiasm with education. So what can bringing a kid to the outdoors do that the classroom can't?

"Two things," she says. "Science books only talk about floodplains and tide pools and things like that. But seeing them in person and seeing the human impact on the environment in person is a completely different experience.

"Secondly, getting outside provides character development. They challenge themselves to go on long hikes away from home and take care of themselves, and that's so important for their development and qualities like determination and accepting other people. ICO has so much to offer along those lines."

The L.A. ICO program is one of 50 ICO groups nationwide that connect thousands of city kids with the beautiful outdoors. In many cases, participating kids are not even aware of the special natural places that are near them. ICO changes all of that and provides accessibility to parks and outdoors experiences.


"We take kids to the beach who have never seen the ocean," Neat says. "It’s so exciting to see them jumping the waves. They just love it. One time on a hike, this one girl got ahead of the leaders and called back to us, ‘Come quick, come quick! You can see the whole world from here!’ That’s the type of thing you experience all the time in ICO."

Elizabeth became involved 17 years ago when a fellow middle school teacher involved in ICO asked her to help chaperone a trip. After a positive first impression, she signed up her school and eventually earned her leader certification.

Los Angeles' ICO group is one of the most active, going on more than 100 outings a year. Many trips visit such special places as the Santa Monica Mountains, Solstice Canyon, and the Sierra Club's Harwood Lodge in the San Gabriel Mountains.


"They leave their electronics behind and we just spend the night in the lodge, playing board games, building model slides, and Uno. They have a lot of social time that kids have lost because of cell phones. There's no reception at Harwood Lodge. Once they don't have cell phones, they start to notice things, like the smells of sage and pine."

Neat says ICO trips lay the foundation for kids to become environmental stewards.

"A lot of us older Sierra Club members are concerned about the future and young people caring about the environment and the issues," she says. "But you can't care about it if you don't know about it. ICO introduces kids to the outdoors and starts getting them to become young activists."

Want to get involved? Learn more about Inner City Outings.


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