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Why outdoor education is the way to learn

8th October 2018

Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a high school that took its entire Year 8 cohort on a camp to the Lake District every summer, an exercise in outdoor education.

The children and the staff slept in tents, and assisted by sixth form volunteers, they prepared their own meals, climbed some hills, jumped in some lakes, abseiled down some rocks. At night they learned that there were no sockets for their phones, no lights apart from torches, no bathroom, no mum to pick up the towels left on the bathroom floor.

They loved it. To this day there are grown-ups who talk fondly of their schooldays whose highlight was always the Year 8 camp.

Then a change of school leadership combined with an increased emphasis on risk assessment brought the experience to an end. Instead the children were promised a fun day out – at Alton Towers.

It’s a story repeated all over the country and one that comes to mind every time we welcome groups of schoolchildren and their teachers here. It’s a warmer and drier step up from camping, especially at this time of the year, but the experiences are the same. The children come out of a familiar classroom environment, they climb hills, jump in lakes, and they see their friends and teachers in a new light.

Is it worthwhile? There’s so much evidence, from around the world, so we went back to do a little studying ourselves. We found an American report (https://www.educationnext.org/the-educational-value-of-field-trips/) highlighting the shift from “enrichment” to “reward” field trips, that schools were taking students to amusement parks, sporting events, and cinemas instead of museums and historical sites.

We’ve seen the benefits for ourselves, especially the psychology of the whole experience, involving self-confidence, self-esteem and resilience. We know that pupils who don’t normally shine in the classroom have excelled on a residential trip….and then perhaps it helps improve performance and relationships back at school.

The English Outdoor Council (https://www.englishoutdoorcouncil.org/outdoor-learning/why-does-outdoor-learning-matter) actively campaigns to ensure schools are offering pupils interesting and meaningful adventures, educational school trips and outdoor learning opportunities in line with the curriculum.

We agree entirely, and we also echo this: “Outdoor learning can be powerful, exciting, inspirational, developmental and rewarding in many ways. The power of outdoor learning makes it a valued means for overcoming some of the toughest learning challenges…. it can bring about personal breakthroughs for people with learning difficulties; it can help to bring divided communities together; and it can inspire culture change in organisations.”

There’s one last thing we must mention…having fun! Our friends from Oxenhope primary school visit every year and while there’s  plenty of outdoor learning going on,  they had a great time too. http://theblog.is/oxenhope/2018/09/13/elterwater-day-two/

Do get in touch if we can help YOUR school plan a field trip.