Youth Adventure Outdoor Education, and its relevance to the National Curriculum
Its is not hard to envisage that many young people may more readily assimilate theory to practice when the theory is tested in novel situations the results of which can be extrapolated into their life experiences. Outdoor Education can address this by using a pattern of a practical task, which generates behaviour that is then reviewed and reflected on in a group situation.
While simulations can be set up in a class room, case studies, projects and so on, will seldom approach the reality of the situation due to the emphasis on intellectual problem solving and lack of unpredictable variables in the ‘simulation’ itself. To be effective, the learning situation has to provide feedback on a participants actions based on a reality that can not easily be explained away with statements such as “Its not real, if it was I would have done ………” Managing an outdoor experience is as close to reality as one can get as participants move further away from their comfort zone. Image
Applying skills and knowledge to a range of tasks which although quite different from the participants every day life is challenging and quite real – full of unpredictable events. A carefully designed out door activity involves the individual in a real time event that they themselves participate in. Consequently what they review is what they have ’sewn’ unlike, for instance, a case study, which picks over the behaviours of some remote actions.
All facets of the curriculum can be designed into an experiential event with the role of the ‘teacher’ / ‘instructor’ changing from dependency to one of facilitator encouraging the group to take responsibility for their own learning. Abraham Maslow once remarked that “If the only tool you have is a hammer then it is hard not to see every problem as a nail.” By helping the group to develop a range of tools for reviewing their performance individuals are empowered without being patronised. The combination of a purposely- designed outdoor education programme coupled with the integration of a physical activity can be a powerful learning tool. If in addition, a residential element is built into the programme then the range of interpersonal skills, social interaction and discipline that are outside of normal experiences can only be of value in creating a holistic and enjoyable learning event.
Climbing and Abseiling:
Climbing is an activity in which abseiling constitutes one of the many skills a climber needs to complete a route. The challenge for pupils, in either activity, is both physical and psychological but once fears are overcome the sense of achievement is obvious. As the act of climbing is, by and large, based on individual effort other participants are there to give encouragement and to help, if possible, with the safety of the climber by holding ropes and belaying, thus the climb becomes a team activity. Empathy with and direct communications with the climber helps to reinforce the idea of being part of a team. Participants often find their confidence and self- awareness highten as trust is placed on those around them, this, coupled with the disciple of the climb, engages a wide range of behaviours and emotions. A similar scenario exists for abseiling with pupils having to trust implicitly in the professionalism of their instructors while often struggling with a sense of fear and trepidation. Once roped up and ready to ‘go’ suddenly saying no and declining to abseil or climb can be a positive experience as here the individual is making a positive decision regarding their own capability and risk assessment. It often takes more courage to say no in front of ones peers then to say yes and not enjoy the experience. The history and development of climbing has a sound literary base producing opportunities to enrich the experience by reference to issues of conservation, rock strata, formation of the crags and mountains not to mention the unique rock based flora and fauna. By examining the equipment used it becomes obvious that a knowledge of braking strains, tensile strengths, rope lengths and fibre type are all part of the sport and adds to the fact, that any one can climb but one needs a specialised knowledge to do so safely.
There is nothing more boring and frustrating for a group than to ‘play follow my leader’ up a mountain track when they have no wish to be there. However, mountain walking can open up a set of rich experiences when the group becomes fully engaged in the process. Having them help plan the route teaches basic navigation, working out distances, discussion of tactics, weather conditions, timings and order of travel. Teaching a group basic navigation both conventional and natural puts them into a position where they can rotate leadership through out the walk and enjoy picking up external clues as to their location. The variation in flora and fauna, erosion, formation of valleys, mountains and lakes are all part of an integrated learning experience that makes up the natural world. Opportunities constantly arise for social interaction and balancing the objective with the needs of the group and the individual.
Kayaking and canoeing:
The canoe and kayak bring two similar activities into one location. Kayaking by its nature relies on individual skill and effort to achieve its ends while canoeing involves a number of people in the same vehicle having to work together in order to keep afloat and make progress. The mobility of the activity means groups are able to visit areas that could be difficult if not impossible to reach by land. This opens up possibilities for studying a range of natural habitats, to see the effects of erosion on river banks and sea cliffs, water based wild life while having to be acutely aware of ones surroundings. Integration of route planning, setting objectives, teamwork, decision making, keeping ones self safe, all form part of a wider learning experience.
Carefully structured initiative exercises present a unique opportunity to experience critical competencies of adaptation, innovation, leading from the front, team working, motivation and creativity. Participants can experiment with new behaviours, take risks and review their performance away from the traditional learning environment. By using a pattern of a practical task that in turn generates behaviour that can then be reviewed and reflected on, an experiential learning cycle is developed. Critical reasoning, decision making, problem solving, creativity, communications, group work can all be built into what for many is an enjoyable learning event.
Camping and Bivvying:
Of all out door activity the camp and bivvy present a good opportunity for participants to develop their social and personal skills. The nature of the activity means that compromises have to be made while at the same time having due regard for inter, intra group relations. Self reliance, discipline, a willing to help promote good camp craft, allocation and use of resources, sharing chores, give insights into community living that for many is a first in a life time experience. The camp provides a static base for exploring the country side and natural resources while giving a taste of what living with the land involves, for many agricultural and forestry workers.
Scrambling through a river gorge involves team work, concentration and an awareness of those around you. Gorges have their own atmosphere, enclosed by rock walls with water tumbling down through the rocks an unusual habitat is created that is often reflected in the location’s flora and fauna. Like coasteering, individuals are exposed to an environment that for many would be a one off experience not to be missed. Studying a gorge gives important clues as to rock strata composition, effects of erosion, tenacity of plant life and river flow. Flaws in team working soon show up, as co-operation is a key element in achieving a risk free ascent. All in all an activity which takes the form of a mini expedition can be an opportunity to log, observe and comment on what is often an awesome yet natural feature of our landscapes development.
An ideal venue for a group to develop empathy, leadership, caring for one another and working together. Individual challenges involving moving in and out of the water on to cliffs and rocks increases trust and confidence in the group. Communications and listening skills are an important aspect involving safety and general well being. The activity opens up possibilities of exploring sea caves with their intricate patterns of erosion caused by tidal movements. The beginnings of marine ecology could start here while having access to what many would consider inaccessible can have a positive affect on self- confidence and sense of achievement.
Board sailing is an activity the success of which is, by and large, under the control of the individual. Once basics are learnt, decisions relating to wind and sea conditions have to be made and constantly adjusted while being aware of those around you. Persistence and commitment helps in the development of self- reliance and promotes discipline if the activity is to be successfully enjoyed.
Raft Building: improvised raft building
Raft building provides an interesting event that all can take part in irrespective of ability. Key skills of design, team -work, allocation and use of resources can be woven into a problem- based activity. Inter and intra group co-operation and innovation come together into what is a fun activity where the consequences of bad design and not pulling together can soon manifest itself. Once on the water a stable raft can provide a platform from which tidal drift can be studied, the effect of the wind on floating structures, water depth and recording of wild life can take place. By having groups submit designs before building, discussion can focus on what and why certain decisions had been reached. Coupled with an end of session review, learning can be consolidated and enhanced.