Bouncing back from adversity? Here’s how to bounce beyond... - Dr. John Allan
Whilst we are all relieved to get back to some sense of post-COVID normality, the after-effects of the pandemic for young and vulnerable people, in particular, are ongoing: “around a third of adults and young people state their mental health has got much worse since March 2020.” (Mind, 2022). Action is needed to encourage their adaptability, turn around negative behaviours and improve mental health and wellbeing. Outdoor adventure learning and residential experiences can significantly help young people re-build their social skills, learn how to re-connect, face challenges head-on, and thrive again. It’s not about bouncing back. At Kingswood, we are interested in supporting young people in bouncing beyond.
What is bouncing beyond?
Outdoor adventure learning provider and advocate of ‘brilliant residentials’, Kingswood, have coined the term ‘bouncing beyond’ as a way of describing the life-changing benefits of exposing young people, particularly KS3 and KS4 pupils, to resilience-building adventures. Resilience encourages young people to go from surviving threats to well-being to thriving despite difficulties. The pandemic certainly evoked heightened negative emotion and survival responses in response to stress. Switching to a growth mind-set is achievable through the participation in activities that invigorate our emotions, deliver clearer thinking, and allow the means to create new, healthier memories of being faced with challenges.
Bouncing beyond is a way for individuals to positively adapt their behaviours to overcome the adverse effects of stress. This isn’t simply about learning how to deal with setbacks, it’s more about building a repertoire of personal assets, such as self-confidence along with external resources, for example, being able to gain help from others, to bounce-beyond and grow from the stress response. Underpinned by the positive, healthy influence of getting outdoors and into nature creates a gateway for young people to realise and use their strengths when faced with life’s challenges.
Igniting feelings of self-belief and possessing the resilience to bounce beyond can be developed from a young age in an outdoor adventure setting. Activities within natural outdoor learning environments which promote thriving, enable young people ‘to perform better across a range of physical and cognitive tasks than those in uni-sensory settings’ (Mayer, 2001). Authentic, multi-sensory activities which allow youngsters to experience realistic consequences for success and failure act as lessons for life and cannot easily be taught in a classroom setting. Learning outcomes focused around creating resilience are integrated into every Kingswood programme and underpin the four main Cs of 21st century skills: creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking.
How adventure experiences can build resilience in KS3 and KS4 pupils
For many 11 to 16 year olds, the majority of social interaction and communication happens through the use of mobile phones, gaming and/or other digital platforms. Face-to-face communication and opportunities to benefit from getting outdoors are limited. Add to that the impact of home schooling and academic setbacks, compared to peers two years ago, this age group has suffered significantly in their personal and social development. Outdoor adventure is remarkably beneficial for character building by supporting learners to make personalised judgements of risk-taking based upon their perception of their abilities in uncertain settings.
For example, being immersed in a natural outdoor setting gives young people a dose of reality and respect for the environment. Allowing learners’ to own their responses to unfolding circumstances, whether that’s through communication challenges when raft building or the perceived-risk of abseiling down a high-tower, helps young people take stock, improve social competencies, gain a wider attention focus and understanding of their resilience; which can be called upon when difficult situations demand it.
According to an advisor for the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, “For some children a week’s residential experience is worth more than a term of school.”
Experiential learning is the cornerstone of outdoor adventure education. Only so much re-conditioning from the stressors of life can be achieved in the context of a classroom, where routines and consistency are rigorously applied. Outdoor adventure learning provides personally meaningful experiences where learners are challenged to build transferable behaviours through facing uncertainty. Framing a child’s setback as a lesson to learn and not a failure to endure signifies that achievement comes as a result of stretching oneself by applying continued effort. This allows young people to self-correct and adjust their responses to produce gains from losses, and nurtures their sense of self-determination.
The benefits of getting outdoors
Did you know even five minutes of daily exercise undertaken in an urban green space may be sufficient to boost a child’s physical and mental wellbeing? Natural environments deliver unique qualities that enable young people to re-adjust their behaviours, relax and gain a broader perspective on their life. Therefore, a combination of active and restorative outdoor adventure learning becomes even more powerful when forming part of a progressive programme of activities designed for learning. Giving children choices and the autonomy to play and explore in a natural space is a primary mechanism through which they become freely acquainted with their environment, develop natural mapping skills and learn how to distinguish between themselves and others.
According to an independent research report published by York Consulting in June 2015, “A residential learning experience provides opportunities and benefits that cannot be achieved in any other educational context or setting.”
Maximising the value of outdoor adventure experiences
At Kingswood, a large part of adventure learning programmes include reflective practice that solidifies personal growth. Consolidating learning and teaching with transferability beyond a residential experience is vital to fully embed the skill development gained from often a short school trip - making the learning last. Encouraging teacher participation with knowledge transfer in-mind also maximises the value of adventure experiences. The most impactful outdoor adventure programmes are those which enlist the collaborative effort of teachers, talk the language of schools, align to curriculum learning and empower youngsters to become educated risk-takers.
Did you know that receiving positive reinforcement from a meaningful adult, such as a teacher, has 10 times more positive impact on a young person’s self-efficacy? Which is why Kingswood actively encourage teachers to be part of their programmes and a young person’s learning experience.
Making outdoor adventure affordable
It’s clear that the cost of living crisis is having an impact on many families who may have not previously faced financial pressures. Due to this, and tightening school budgets, children are being deprived of one of the most memorable learning experiences in their academic life: the school trip.
Kingswood’s Hardship Fund creates an opportunity for every child to access the transformational benefits of outdoor adventure. Through this funding stream, schools and groups can access from 2 to 10 fully funded places for children experiencing financial hardship or who are affected by serious illness, either personally or through a parent or carer.
Other ways to reduce costs include making trips cross-curricula. By broadening the criteria of a school trip, head teachers can appeal to a wider selection of students and gain from larger group discounts. Visiting off-peak, outside of the summer months, will also reduce the price of a trip. Finally, local fundraising and requesting charitable donations from organisations including parish churches and rotary organisations could help bring costs down. Mid-week residentials start from £86 per person.
“A Kingswood residential will be one of the most compelling, confidence-building, exciting and enjoyable experiences your child will have. Encourage your child to be independent, and to embrace and enjoy every moment.” Lauren Pethybridge, Director of Residential Centres, Kingswood
“From the moment groups arrive, our progressive itineraries start with orientation and ‘ice breakers’ to create a feeling of team unity – we’re in this together! Activities are all ‘challenge by choice’, and we always fully support children and their choice to take part or not.” Carol Bone, General Manager, West Runton, Kingswood
“Positive psychology empowers individuals to thrive rather than focus on their limitations. This includes, changing individual’s self-perceptions, creating pro-social attitudes, building resilience and enhancing health and wellbeing. When purposefully applied, outdoor adventure learning can develop a range of strength-based behaviours.” Dr John Allan, Head of Learning and Impact, Kingswood
* Mind (2022). Student Mental Health: www.mind.org.uk
* Mayer, R. (2001). Multimedia Learning. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press
* Tim Brighouse, advisor to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation
* Learning Away (2015). Brilliant Residentials and their Impact on Children and Young People and Schools: York Consulting