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How do outdoor residential trips aid personal development?

Schools advisor Cath looks at how outdoor residential trips aid personal development.

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With an increasing awareness of mental health and personal wellbeing I took a look at some literature and academic reports as evidence to support my belief that Outdoor residential trips aid personal development. 

The value of outdoor learning

There doesn’t appear to be any doubt about the value of education outside the classroom, however I wanted to look a bit deeper as outdoor learning clearly has a large importance in education. ‘Over the past decade there has been an increasing emphasis on the value of enrichment activities outside the classroom, the UK Government developing the Manifesto for Learning outside the Classroom (2006) and the Scottish Government’s Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning (2010).’ Personal development on youth expeditions, Tim Stott

During the inquiry ‘Education Outside the Classroom’ House of Commons Education and Skills Committee, 31stJanuary 2005 they became ‘convinced of the value of education outside the classroom in its broadest sense.’ The study found that ‘Outdoor learning supports academic achievement, as well as the development of ‘soft’ skills and social skills, particularly in hard to reach children. It can take place on school trips, on visits in the local community or in the school grounds.’ 

The House of Commons report supports the introduction of Educational Visits Co-ordinators (EVCs) who provide advice on the organisation of school trips and champion outdoor education within schools. They also recommended that the department for Education ‘should issue a ‘Manifesto for Outdoor Learning’ giving all students a right to outdoor learning.’ In my experience at Rockley EVCs have been incredibly helpful in facilitating trips, taking the paperwork exercises off teachers and group leaders who are often pushed for time. 

Evidence that their committee collected strongly indicated that ‘education outside the classroom is of significant benefit to pupils. Group activities, which may include adventurous expeditions, can develop can develop social skills and self- confidence. Furthermore, outdoor education has a key role to play in the social inclusion agenda.’ ‘Education Outside the Classroom’ House of Commons Education and Skills Committee, 31st January 2005

How does outdoor adventure develop affective learning and relationships?

In his book ‘Personal Growth Through Adventure’ David Hopkins refers to an Extract from Outdoor Education- the report of the Dartington Conference. This highlights that the most important aims are to heighten awareness of and foster respect for:

Self- through the meeting of challenge (adventure)
Others – through group experiences and the sharing of decisions
The natural environment, through direct experience.

‘Precise objectives will depend on the young people, the adult (teacher), the resources available and the particular activity chosen.’ Personal Growth Through Adventure, D. Hopkins, 2005

He identified a possible range of objectives that a young person, as a result of taking part in an activity, will be able to develop. He split them down into three categories; Self, Others and Environment. Examples included:

Self:

  • Develop self-knowledge
  • Develop self confidence
  • Develop self- discipline
  • Develop self-respect
  • Develop physical capabilities 
  • Attain and experience success
  • Accept responsibility
  • Accept the leadership of others
  • Sharpen sensory perception

Others:

In relation to others, for example with other members of a group:

  • Plan activities
  • Evaluate progress
  • Share leadership
  • Coordinate their activities 
  • Identify and use the total resources
  • Respect the group
  • Communicate effectively 
  • Identify personal characteristics and needs
  • Help others to learn
  • Set an example

‘The outdoors is also a powerful medium for exploring the nature of community. When on a sail training boat, or mountain expedition we are also engaged in constructing intricate and intense social relationships. These temporary societies are a microcosm of the wider community. This gives us the opportunity at times to behave differently, to try out a variety of social roles and see very clearly the impact we can have on others.’ Personal Growth Through Adventure, D. Hopkins, 2005

Environment

  • Develop an affinity and awareness of the natural environment
  • Value natural beauty
  • Observe and describe the immediate environment
  • Explain the forms and processes, including the weather
  • Stimulate the imagination

This is supported by Greenaway (1998) who adapts a model which he terms the ‘Four Arrows model’. This represents the ways in which a person may develop during a given educational experience.

  • Upward- to achieve one’s full potential
  • Outward- to make contact and encounter others
  • Inward - to increase to increase our awareness of who we are, and what we need, want, sense, feel, think and do. 
  • Downward - to touch earth and to connect

Overall, this is just a small portion of a large amount of research supporting Outdoor Residential experiences. It is clear that many different skills can be developed, and this could vary from person to person. I would urge all teachers to consider setting up an adventure trip, as the benefits are proven to develop young people in so many ways. 

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