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As the private club industry shifts toward family-oriented amenities, building an active youth program is becoming an invaluable feature. Still, creating these programs can be daunting. The ideal youth program is expected to entertain, provide educational value, foster a sense of community, and create positive memories that last a lifetime. Quite a tall order, to say the least! In this three part series, we delve into the best practices for organizing a youth program that will delight kids and bring families together. In Part One, we consult industry experts to explore the benefits of free-form, nature-oriented activities that will have kids begging their parents to go to the club!
Let the kids bury their hands in the soil with a family garden! “Family gardens give parents and their kids the opportunity to come together and plant vegetables, watch them grow, then pick, eat, and cook them. This helps kids develop actual life skills that they’ll need in the future,” says Andrea Curthoys, Assistant General Manager at The Beach Club in Santa Monica and passionate advocate for private club youth programs. Cultivating a family garden can also be a fantastic way to take advantage of a small patch of underutilized land that your club may have. Some clubs even offer gardening programs that appeal to members without children, allowing adult members to pursue new hobbies. The yield from these gardens can be used as ingredients to create fresh, from-scratch club dining specials, playing into today’s flourishing farm-to-table trends. It’s a “win-win” for everyone!
“Free play” and open-ended activities have been shown time and time again to foster divergent thinking in children — a skill that is essential to lifelong success. Crafting, once an activity staple of elementary schools across the country, has become somewhat of a lost art. “We’ve lost the idea that crafts are taking something raw and turning them into something aesthetically pleasing. We still let kids to craft, but we use too many pre-made kits,“ says Curthoys. Instead, she encourages kids to use items that they can collect outside – an activity that is both entertaining and educational. “Working with raw outdoor materials, like painting with sand or dirt, allows kids to appreciate nature while they’re having fun,” she says.
Of course, Curthoys isn’t the only club industry leader to emphasize creativity in her youth programs. Three Carpenter, General Manager of Crow Valley Golf Club, utilizes similarly inventive outdoor activities at his club – with a little golf spin. “[The kids] use items from around the club to create their own obstacles for a Putt Putt Course on the putting green,” says Carpenter. To push the kids’ creative limits, club staff might even assign a room theme to each hole, such as the kitchen hole, grounds hole, pool hole, etc. Ultimately, the vibrant imagination that all children have will be one of your best allies in building a great youth program!
Remember the good ol’ days when romping in the woods was the choice after school activity? While the woods or the backyard may no longer be the go-to spot for children, it certainly hasn’t lost its luster. Kids are inherently curious about everything around them, and few places present more opportunities for mystery and wonder than the great outdoors. “Activities like bird watching and bug collecting aren’t just fun, but also teach kids about the life cycle for zero cost,” Curthoys points out. To put a twist to these activities, have the kids carry around nature guidebooks, binoculars, or mason jars for collecting and classifying what they discover on their walk.
For clubs located near any kind of water source, Carpenter suggests holding a fishing derby. He also points out that this can be a bonding experience for family members of all generations, since it’s a fairly stationary activity involving little physical exertion. The more generations you can get involved in your outdoor activities, the greater the experience you can provide for the entire family!
Clubs with a lot of land can easily jumpstart a family hiking program. At very little cost, hiking programs can be established at little cost and play into the active lifestyle trends currently dominating the club industry. Aside from providing a light full-body workout, this outdoorsy activity boasts numerous health benefits for members both young and old – like increased bone density, improved balance, and lowered blood pressure. And the perks of hiking don’t stop at physical vitality. Numerous studies have revealed that even short hikes boost cognitive function, combat ruminative thinking, diminish stress levels, and enhance mood overall. With club memberships becoming increasingly concerned with both physical and mental health – particularly when it comes to their children – amenities with “wellness value” are hotter than ever!
Creating outdoor-oriented kids programs might initially seem like a backwards investment – especially considering that children spend the lion’s share of their time glued to screens. But despite the growing preoccupation with technology, today’s youth are more concerned about the environment than ever. A Nature Conservancy poll revealed that 76% of kids want to preserve environmentally significant lands, regardless of any possible economic benefits.
Looking beyond the clubhouse walls and out into nature is also one of the easiest – and most cost-effective – ways to help them unwind. “Free-form activities are an escape from the heavily structured lives of today’s kids. It’s refreshing for them to be able to come to the club and just relax and have fun,” says Curthoys.
Some may question the usefulness of these programs when compared to more skill-based activities, like soccer camp or space camp. But Curthoys argues that speculators ignore the value of soft skills: “The Beach Club’s programs are fascinating and educational. Kids come out with knowledge. Many other kids camps – at private clubs and other places – put emphasis on developing tangible skills, but the intangibles are just as important. People forget that.”
Curthoys and others’ love of outdoor youth programs isn’t rooted in personal belief alone – it’s backed by scientific evidence. Kids stand to gain the most from outdoor play both physically and mentally. According to a study by the American Institutes of Research, outdoor programs improve conflict resolution skills, cooperative behaviors, and even test scores. With these kinds of benefits, it is little wonder that many families put outdoor programs at high value!
It is for this very reason that Curthoys rails against the idea that successful private club youth programs always need to be chock full of rigidly defined activities. While she acknowledges that these structured programs have their place in the club world, she believes that most children are masters at the art of self-entertainment. “People don’t need a lot of entertainment to have a good time. It’s good for kids to use their imagination and pretend,” she says.
Quality youth programs also foster relationships and life-long memories for many kids, providing an invaluable experience that is difficult to find elsewhere. Though there are many “soft skills” that free-form outdoor programs can cultivate, Curthoys specifically points to the relationships kids form during these programs. “Camps like this allow kids to develop social skills and make new friends outside of their schools, neighborhoods, and religious communities,” she says.
With all of this in mind, let’s return to that idea of the perfect youth program. It must delight while being educational, connective, and memorable. After all, this is the time for junior members to cultivate meaningful relationships with their club; the kind of moments that inspire them to remain members for the rest of their lives. So the ultimate question really is: Do free-form outdoor programs accomplish this goal?
You bet they do!