Outdoor Learning: It’s not just an educational thing
With the increasing emphasis in education on evidence base and sharing of good practice it is possible to lose perspective when outdoor learning meets national and local government aspirations. 2017 saw a plethora of initiatives designed to improve social mobility, a very worthwhile and required focus. Regardless of your political leaning or the particular local or national initiative you find yourself seeking to influence or being influenced by, I suggest it is important to take a step back. What is it within our world of outdoor learning that really makes a difference for the future?
When addressing a conference or starting a period of time with a group of outdoor learning folk I don’t know, I quite often find myself asking them to share what it was and still is that makes outdoor learning so important to them. Of course it is possible to get a fairly superficial response. If you persevere with such a line of enquiry though, there is often a point where the responses move beyond simple logical explanations and into descriptions of emotional connections with particular locations.
For me that distinct change in my emotional response to nature came on a geography field trip. It was early in the year, March or April and it was residential. I was probably 14 and had already spent loads of time in the outdoors through scouts and with family and friends but this was different. During a little free time before breakfast I walked up on to the nearest high ground. The distant snow covered fells were stunning in the early morning light and the stream at my feet was crystal clear and had small icicles hanging over its edges. That place and my response to it remain huge motivators for me nearly 40 years later. Whilst I appreciate many other experiences can have profound emotional impact, I cannot help but reflect on what kind of experience it takes to heighten awareness and really strengthen a desire to understand and live with nature.
I am currently working with a group of well informed folk to develop a map of the wealth of outdoor learning interventions regularly used in the UK and as appropriate, where such interventions sit in a progression of different experiences with outdoor learning. With our increasingly urban population in the UK I find myself considering some of the practicalities of really achieving meaningful outdoor learning journeys for the majority of children and young people in the UK, never mind the wider population! I worry about the implications of the potential detachment from nature that an increasingly on-line and urban based lifestyles may bring.
It is time to be creative and realistic. I applaud efforts to connect urban environments with nature such as making London a ‘National Park City’. Such initiatives require significant long term focus and effort. What can be achieved on a smaller scale? As you develop your outdoor learning practice in 2018, I would like to encourage you to think more about that point of engagement with the natural environment. What are your approaches to building on the learners existing relationship with nature? What models enable urban based learners to start out on an outdoor learning based journey?