After almost 10 years in the outdoor education industry, I felt it is high time to do a stock check on some fundamental issues surrounding this practice. These initial fundamental errors, if not addressed, may hinder the full impact of outdoor adventure programmes.
In this article, I will be discussing on the outdoors as a place, tool or topic of outdoor adventure programmes.
Something unique about outdoor adventure programmes is that they take place in the outdoor! I intentionally use the term ‘outdoor’ to encompass both the natural or man-made outdoor environment.
Allow me to set some definitions. Hiking and extended programmes typically bring the participants to the natural environment or some call the great outdoors. Short and fast paced outdoor programmes are normally conducted in parks which are mostly man-made.
However, if you observe both types of outdoor settings, both have a degree of the natural elements in them. For the man-made outdoor environment, participants still get to breathe the fresh air and enjoy the shade of trees around them.
Hence, I believe that it is safe to say outdoor adventure programmes brings participants in contact with the natural environment.
Now, knowing the setting of outdoor adventure programmes makes us want to reconsider how much we could leverage on nature for greater purposes.
Meaning, drawing from Sir Patrick Geddes idea, the natural environment could simply be a venue, or a tool or even the subject matter itself of an outdoor adventure programme. Perhaps, in the light of the alarming global warming, we may want to spend more efforts to employ the natural environment as the key objective of a programme.
Hang on there, building character as claimed by many is still a great objective behind an outdoor adventure programme. Personally, I have witnessed students gain self-confidence and be more sociable after attending such programmes. This shows that outdoor adventure programmes have the ability to impel participants to come forth and take actions that might positively change themselves or the world they live in.
However, I felt that the natural environment could be used more than just a location. In other words, programmes could require students to interact more with the environment along with their peers.
Some great examples of these broad adventures are orienteering, hiking, sailing and kayaking. A common trait they possess is that these activities are journey-based, require more planning, a higher degree of responsibility and could have open-ended outcomes unless well-facilitated.
If the moral compass of our young could be directed outwards where they think more of others and the impact of their actions on others, then we would have killed two birds with one stone. On one hand we have developed their character. On the other we produced more ambassadors of earth. The latter will naturally mould the former, hence justifying the greater usage of the natural environment.
Meaning, someone who cares about the environment will naturally be concerned of his actions toward both people and place. One cannot be caring towards the environment yet be rough on people.
Hence, as I have recently written in a local paper entitled ‘Óutdoor education can teach students to protect the environment’, I would like to encourage all involved in the moulding of our future generation to consider using the outdoors as the subject matter itself.
Coming from a highly technical background and minimal knowledge about flora and fauna, I did feel unequipped to preach about nature. But after some internal reflections and eye-opening demonstrations by my professors, anyone could do their bit. Just think in terms of ‘relationships’. I look forward to writing about this in my next few upcoming posts. Stay tuned!