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A new program at our Zoo is bringing middle and high school aged students to area parks and the Zoo to enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, seining and more. The goal of our “Be Outside” program is to expose young people to outdoor adventures they might not otherwise experience, said Dee Maynard, our supervisor of youth programs.  

“We hope they will come to appreciate nature and continue to engage in healthy outdoor activities throughout their lives,” Dee said. “We also hope they will share these experiences with their families and friends, introducing even more people to the benefits of time spent in nature.”  

Thank you to Disney Cruise Line for generously funding this program! Although it’s based in Florida Life Science standards, Be Outside does not focus on academics.   

“We strive to facilitate activities in a way that the students will not even realize they are being taught,” Dee said.  

After presenting them with the most basic of skills they will need for success, our Education staff let the students enjoy nature on their own, exploring the areas that interest them most and asking questions to which they truly want the answers.   

“Other than immersing them in nature, we have no agenda, so the students are free to come up with their own learning goals and judge their success for themselves,” Dee said.   

On a recent visit to Enchanted Forest Sanctuary, Astronaut High School students were tasked with choosing a trail to explore. A scavenger hunt-like list describing different plants, animal signs (like scat and tracks!) and more encouraged them to really take in their surroundings. Otherwise, the (supervised) students were able to explore and navigate the trails themselves.   

All these activities include a teamwork component in addition to being hands-on immersive nature experiences.   

“Students end up assisting and teaching one another in a very organic, unforced dynamic that develops their social skills and self-confidence,” Dee said. “I have watched otherwise quiet students step up to a leadership role as they teach others the skills they have mastered.”  

On top of all these benefits, students on a Be Outside program – or really any program in a natural outdoor space – helps alleviate the symptoms of Nature Deficit Disorder, the idea that children’s lack of outdoor time leads to shortened attention spans, decreased problem-solving skills and other issues with their emotional and physical health.  

“Studies continue to show that time spent in nature exploration helps students (and adults) be more focused throughout the day and improves overall health, promoting physical, mental and emotional wellbeing,” Dee said. “Besides, being outside makes learning fun, and that’s essential in creating lifelong learners.”  

For many of our “Be Outside” participants, this may be their first time visiting a park, kayaking or exploring the Indian River Lagoon.  

 “Seeing their faces, listening to their stories as they share their discoveries, and watching them fully engage with their surroundings is a feeling I cannot adequately put into words,” Dee said. “It is priceless.”  

Brevard Zoo is an independent, not-for-profit organization that receives no recurring government funding for our operating costs. Your generous support enables us to continue to serve our community and continue our vital animal wellness, education and conservation programs.