Great Outdoors University (GoU)

The Problem

Children Need to Spend More Time Outdoors

On average, American children, ages 8 to 18, spend nearly eight hours a day looking at electronic screens (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010). They spend very little time outdoors. The nature deficit is a growing problem and affects all facets of a child’s life. Getting kids outdoors improves physical well-being,  cognitive abilities, makes them feel less anxious, more attentive, and encourages problem solving and creativity. Research also shows that if our kids do not explore the natural world and experience learning and playing outdoors, they are less likely to become the future leaders for conservation so crucial to our environment and general future.

The Solution

Get More Kids Outside in Nature

Recognizing this growing “nature deficit,” North Carolina Wildlife Federation launched Great Outdoors University (GoU) in 2013 to get more kids outside in nature and address the whole child–mind, body, and spirit. GoU is a conservation-based experiential education program designed to bring outdoor adventures to kids of all ages who have limited opportunities to explore the natural world. We provide “Day Trip Adventures” in the Greater Charlotte Region serving kids ages 4-18 and “Kids in Nature Day” events statewide.

We partner with more than 30 youth organizations like the Boys and Girls Club to take youth to local parks for hiking, canoeing, fishing, and other outdoor adventures. The “Kids in Nature Day” events engage kids and their families in outdoor adventures and expose them to the wonders of nature such as how soil generates energy or why natural camouflage is essential to survival in the animal kingdom.

These hands-on/minds-on activities reach more than 25,000 youth and their families annually. Students are challenged to explore how the natural world works, and challenged to apply these new learnings and new problem solving skills to their everyday lives. Fishing trips, stream explorations, forest identification walks all help in a fun way to empower kids with an opportunity to discover and experience the many joys, wonders and benefits of nature.

GoU also offers online programming to empower kids to get outdoors in their own backyards. Our goals are to:

  • Empower kids with an opportunity to discover and experience the many joys, wonders and benefits of nature.
  • Inspire curiosity about the natural world that fosters a passion for continued learning.
  • Encourage kids to embrace personal responsibility, teamwork, and to master problem-solving abilities through learning hands-on outdoor skills and mentoring with strong role models.
  • Promote physical fitness and mental well-being.

GoU breaks down barriers to getting youth outside by focusing on underserved youth, providing them the chance to step into the outdoors and have fun learning in a living laboratory filled with inspiration and surprises. We have over 25 curriculum options aligned with STEM education standards that bring science, technology, engineering, and math to life igniting curiosity, excitement and awe in ways that encourage continued learning and environmental stewardship. All at no cost to youth and their families.

For many kids GoU is the first time they have had a chance to explore a lake by canoe…learn to fish… splash in a natural stream… see eye to eye with a frog, lizard or beetle… hike in the woods… identify trees, plants and animals… birdwatch with binoculars and so much more.

Immersing kids in nature and surrounding them with those who are trained to share its mystery and wonder ignites a new generation of healthier individuals who understand, care, and can make informed decisions that affect the environment.

Activities for Kids

What We're Doing

How You Can Help

GoU maximizes the existing community partner resources to minimize costs and provide the many benefits of nature for more kids. These kids need your help making powerful lasting connections with our natural world.

To learn more about volunteering your time, talents or treasure contact NCWF Great Outdoors University Director, Mary Bures, at [email protected] or 704-332-5696 or complete the volunteer application.

Great Outdoors University outcomes since 2013

  • 106,000 youth and their families have spent time outdoors learning about the natural world
  • 1,043 excursions and programs
  • 45 community partners
  • 42 destinations

How You Can Help

Make an investment in connecting kids and their families with nature with a tax-deductible donation to NCWF.

Sign up for Action Alerts to receive alerts about conservation policy or action you can take to advocate for wildlife, marine fisheries, and habitat in North Carolina.

Join the Cause and Make an Impact

Help NCWF preserve wildlife and wild places for our children and future generations. Learn More.