Girls HIking

Don’t you just take girls hiking? The deeper work that goes on with our girl’s program curriculum

By Emily Isaacs, Executive Director, Women’s Wilderness

“Don’t you just take girls hiking?”

That’s one of the biggest misconceptions of Women’s Wilderness, and I cringe when I hear it.  First, because that statement seems to presume that “just hiking” with a group of all women and girls is not, fundamentally, a powerful experience.  Secondly, because it totally misses the point of all the deep, below the surface change that goes on in our programs, and, frankly, the above the surface, crazy-wild-sparkly-MAGIC that goes on out there, too.

Like instructors dressing up as a hot dog, ketchup and mustard and hosting a costume dance party with a group of ten girls on a mountain top.

But I’m going to take a moment to help explain the deeper work that goes on during our programs. We’re currently re-vamping our curriculum to make this work more explicit. The three pillars of the curriculum are “Growth Mindset,” “Emotional Literacy,” and “Identity Development.”

growth mindset

Let’s start with Growth Mindset

“The belief that one’s intelligence, talent’s and abilities can be developed through persistence, effort and hard work.” What does this mean? Well, how many times have you complemented your child, friend, or co-worker on being “smart,” “talented” or “so good at ________?” Throw that all out the window. From a growth mindset perspective, we focus on pointing out girls’ “hard work,” “perseverance,” and “tenacity.” Because things like “talent” feel like you either got’em or you don’t. Same with smarts. Either you were born a winner or not. And that is just not TRUE. At Women’s Wilderness, we’re supporting girls in growing into their best selves. In setting challenging goals and learning how to work through the struggle to meet them. Because who cares, really, if you are naturally good at climbing? The question is, how is this applicable to school and life back at home? How did you work through the challenge of NOT being a naturally great climber, and how did you persevere and find your own style of success?

Growth Mindset is, actually, a radical departure from how most of us praise others and think about ourselves. It can be difficult to wrap your mind around. Here’s a great video explaining it further.

Emotional Literacy

Enjoy the video? Then let’s talk about Emotional Literacy, “The ability to understand and express feelings, involving self-awareness and recognition of one’s own feelings and the ability to manage them.” Gosh, how many adults, including yourself, do you know that have mastered that skill? What would YOUR life look like if, at age 12, someone validated your feelings, told you that you NEVER had to apologize for crying, and in fact, reminded you that no emotion was “wrong” or “bad”? Suddenly there is space, instead, to explore how we express emotions and the impact of that expression on ourselves and others. This is a key element of what we do at Women’s Wilderness.

girls identity development

Identity Development

Finally, there’s Identity Development. This is, perhaps, the element that truly makes a Women’s Wilderness course. Everything in our approach points back to girls exploring their own values and beliefs. Their OWN definition of what it means to be a girl, or a young woman. The ability to speak up, have a voice, and say “yes” and “no” with clarity and conviction.

I sat around in my basement last night with 3 instructors, discussing these core pillars. Between the four of us, we have about 30 years of combined experience working with girls outdoors. We talked about a Pakistani girl who was, with urgency and curiosity, asking the other students, “What is your family like?” Sensing something that needed to be shared, the lead instructor went to her and asked, “What is YOUR family like?” and the girl brimmed with stories, many illustrating the ways her family life was quite different from that of the other girls in the group. We talked about the need to provide space for girls to have conversations just like this – to learn about their differences in a supportive atmosphere with capable women facilitators. We talked about how vulnerable the conversation of “What does it mean to be a woman, to YOU?” felt to the four of US, four grown adults, and how powerful and important that conversation would have been for us as teens. We talked about times we had said, or implied, “Yes” as young women, and how we had really meant, “NO,” and what would our lives been like if we had purposefully practiced, at age 15, these important words.

We talked about how it is so, so much more than “Just taking girls hiking,” and the urgency of communicating this to our community.

emotional literacy

So this Colorado Gives Day, December 5th – which, of course, you can participate in no matter what state you live in – pause to think about what lessons you would have liked to learn as a teen. If what I’m sharing resonates with you, take a moment and make a gift to a girl. Make a gift to her future. Make a gift to her voice. Make a gift to her power. Make a gift to her right to stand up, know who she is, and be seen.

All sizes of gifts welcome. Give now at www.cogives.org/womenswilderness

Our Girls’ Program is designed specifically to help girls ages 8-18 build courage, confidence, and leadership skills that will propel them to reach their highest potential. Courses are 1 to 10 days long. We offer financial aid for all Girls’ courses.