Get Out : Outdoor Education Concept

Submitted by Andy Barclay on Thu, 05/17/2012 - 13:25

Outdoors Education Concept

There are moments in time when several unconnected strands suddenly unite through a common factor and give you a nudge about why you value the outdoors so much.

It all started with the sun coming out and me misplacing my baseball cap. Seriously lacking in hair and with a sensitive scalp I desperately needed a replacement. Not satisfied with any old hat I started trawling the internet and found just what I wanted; the right colour, a great graphic and some lovely words, “Mountains speak, wise men listen.” This turned out to be an adaptation of the quote from John Muir, “Society speaks and all men listen, mountains speak and wise men listen.”

Around the same time I was having a conversation with Karin Saunders, the Manager of the Duke of Edinburgh Award in Cornwall. Karin has now joined the Cornwall Learning team and is working closely with Cornwall Outdoors to expand DofE Award opportunities for young people in Cornwall. The John Muir Award came up during the discussion leading to another visit to the internet and the John Muir Trust, the leading wild land conservation charity in the UK. The Award is the educational initiative of the Trust, focusing on wild places and encouraging awareness and responsibility for the natural environment in a spirit of fun, adventure and exploration. These were words that resonate strongly with the Cornwall Outdoors ethos and the whole outdoor education concept – fun, adventure, exploration, wild places.

It took me back to “The Wild Places,” a wonderful book given to me by a great friend and longtime outdoor practitioner Brian Harrison. In the preface is the question, “Are there any genuinely wild places left in Britain and Ireland? Or have we tarmacked, farmed and built ourselves out of wildness?” Many, me included, would empathise with this challenging thought and bemoan the disappearance of unspoilt parts of the world. At the same time most outdoor educators would, I am sure, subscribe to the view that wildness is in the eye of the beholder thus wild places can be found all around you. This is certainly the premise of the John Muir Award so school grounds, a beach, a park, a journey, your garden can all be wild.

So what?

Why seek out a wild place and encourage young people to value it and enjoy it? Well if not for the pleasure of being there just consider this for our children and if it doesn’t worry you, it should:

  • In the UK almost 1 in 7 children aged 2-10 is now obese
  • In the UK there is an increase in signs of serious psychiatric illness amongst 2-5 year olds
  • In a survey in the UK in 2000, 66% of children didn’t know where acorns came from

Yet there is substantial evidence that links the outdoors with good physical health and psychological wellbeing. Scientific research from across the world shows that children engaged in outdoor activity and outdoor learning achieve higher scores in tests, have greater levels of physical fitness and coordination, and have increased confidence and self-esteem. In addition they develop leadership skills, interact better with each other, and show greater environmental awareness and responsibility. When children experience the world through explorative play and active learning their lives can be changed positively.

The World Health Organisation estimates that depression and depression-related illness will become the greatest source of ill-health by 2020. In 2007 the Sustainable Development Commission estimated the cost of mental health illness in England at more than £77 billion per annum. Their research further shows that exposure to natural places – everything from parks and open countryside to gardens and other greenspace – plays an important part in promoting and maintaining good health and wellbeing.

Major research amongst adults in Australia shows that contact with nature (green space, parks, natural spaces) benefits general wellbeing and impacts positively on blood pressure, cholesterol, outlook on life and stress reduction.

So there it is, as my friends constantly tell me, “You need to get out more!”