The benefits of outdoor learning by Head of Activities, Steve Anderson
Some of our biggest learning experiences come to us when we break away from the confinement of classroom walls. Here, Steve Anderson, head of activities at Kingswood, explains the benefits that children experience when they get outside and learn through adventure.
Sitting at a desk and watching a teacher stand at the front of the classroom while writing on a whiteboard can often cause children to switch off. No matter how interesting the topic may be, some find it difficult to concentrate and digest important information in this way. That is why getting outside and learning through adventure or new activities, or even going away on a residential trip with classmates, can prove extremely beneficial.
Not only will they be experiencing new activities, but – as they will be having so much fun – they won’t even realise that they’re learning and putting into practise key skills such as maths and problem solving by ‘doing’.
There’s so much to see and explore when outside. The senses go into overdrive with new sights, smells, things to hear and touch.
Being in the outdoors definitely gets young people using their brains in a way that being sat on the sofa in front of the TV doesn’t let them, and encourages them to move their bodies and become more active – particularly important given the current childhood obesity crisis.
But it’s not just these as there are many other benefits and skills children can develop through outdoor learning.
We all know that being able to work with others is a key quality – it helps at school, in sport and is essential in later life when we’re at work too. Having the skills to empathise with others affects school cohesion, friendships and well-being.
That is why residential camps are paramount in honing this skill-set. Not only do children get to participate in team building activities – such as exploration in the outdoors or even building a raft together on a lake – but living together in residential centres means it’s really hard to avoid working with others.
In a new environment, situation or group, new communication skills are learned. Being able to communicate effectively, especially in different and often strange and exciting situations, accelerates these skills in the way that ideas and information is shared. Children’s listening skills are also enhanced through learning from activity leaders as well as coming up with solutions to the challenges they are set during tasks.
Being pushed out of comfort zones and thrust into new group situations means, quite often, that new friendships are formed. People are creatures of habit and when we are sat at the same desk next to the same people each day it can be difficult to branch away from what we know. However a new environment and trying out new activities as part of a team will open the door for children to expand their friendship circle.
At Kingswood, our camps follow a ‘plan, do, review’ format. This means that young people need to think strategically and consider all their options before executing their plan. All activities then end in a review session where pupils are asked to consider the strengths and weaknesses of their planning and action phases, and think about what could have been done differently. It is a good way to get them to consider activities as a learning opportunity and think about what they will take with them when they are next presented with a problem solving opportunity.
The age old adage “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again” couldn’t be more true. Building resilience from a young age helps to equip young people for setbacks in their studies as well as all aspects of life. Those who are equipped with a higher level of resilience find that they enter new situations with more confidence. Through residential experiences and outdoor activities on offer at camps away from home, young people learn new skills and are often faced with new challenges that require determination and perseverance.
Leading and Supporting
Being able to lead and support and be comfortable carrying out both roles are equally important life skills. At different times throughout our life we’ll need to adopt each quality so it is important pupils consider the role they play within a team and how they can communicate with others effectively. Taking part in lots of activities in various group dynamics, while trying out different roles within the team, will allow pupils to reflect on how they could better lead or support their peers to get the best possible outcome in a situation.
Challenge and risk
As we move through life we will be presented with challenges at one stage or another – whether that’s at school, at work or in the home. While learning in the outdoors at activity centres such as Kingswood, pupils will be supported through controlled risk taking to encourage the expansion of their personal boundaries in a safe environment. Quite often during residential experiences such as these, the students find the experience itself the biggest social risk and we sometimes hear that standing up and speaking in front of people was their biggest challenge. However, by the end of their stay many young people say they will go away with the new-found confidence to try something new.
A residential experience is invaluable in building a child’s self-belief and self-confidence. Being in a new environment, problem solving outdoors and quite often being away from parents for the first time will mean children can discover strengths they never knew they had.
Learning is most effective when it is fun, and what is more fun than being outdoors and away from the traditional classroom environment? Many outdoor activities aren’t easy – such as archery, climbing and raft building – but they’re designed to encourage pupils to dig deep, stay enthusiastic and put in the effort in order to reap the benefits.
Becoming environmentally aware
In an increasingly polluted world, it is important for children to understand how their behaviour affects the environment, which is best done when out in the outdoors. Asking children to consider what their ‘footprint’ is and encouraging them to take care of the world around them will help them make good decisions for the future.
Learning a new skill
For many children, immersing themselves in outdoor activity will mean they have the opportunity to try many new things and learn new skills. Whether it is tying safe knots to keep a raft afloat, using friction to light a fire or scoring a bullseye in archery, new ways of learning and being in a new environment can be inspiring and motivating for children who struggle to learn in the confines of a classroom.