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The outdoors really IS character building

How a work trip to France allowed me to see first hand the benefits of outdoor adventurous activities and how a quality outdoor residential experience impacts on young people both in school and in life.

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In July a small team from the marketing and schools department headed out to France to film a new schools promotional video. In a short space of time we travelled to all three of our French centres and saw over ten schools enjoy outdoor adventures both on and off the water. It’s been a while since I’ve seen all centres full with school children and it was great to see them enjoying themselves, the teachers joining in and the Rockley staff in action doing what they do best. The weather was great (dare I say it, too hot) and the buzz around the centres was amazing. Fun was certainly being had by all!

 

I’ve always been a great advocate of school trips – I look back fondly on the trips that I went on as a pupil, and the few that my own children have been on (they are only 10 and 8 so I know there are plenty more to come), they have absolutely loved. Daisy’s first school trip in year 3 involved an overnight stay - stories by the campsite fire with marshmellows, archery, den building and outside craft which was great preparation for her 3 day residential at Rockley in year 5. She came back from both of these trips with a beaming smile, endless chatter, full of new skills learnt and new friends made. They remain the most memorable part of her school life thus far!

Seeing is believing

Sending your child off on a residential is one thing, however witnessing first-hand the benefits and absolute joy such opportunities offer, really brought to life how important these kinds of trips are in a child’s education. What I saw during those three days were children trying activities that were completely new to them, teachers and pupils engaging in a really positive way outside a classroom environment and young people being stimulated, engaged and enjoying the whole experience. It was so clear to me that by offering such high quality outdoor learning opportunities, schools are giving their students a well-rounded education and are setting them up to achieve both in school and life. It may have been a week-long trip but the positive impact will, for most, stay with them for the rest of their lives.

 

As my role in marketing, I use words like resilience, character building, leaders, team work, personal and emotional development and confidence all the time but this was a real lesson in understanding how the outdoors really is character building. In a recent DofE survey 72% of schools said that they used outward bound activities to develop positive outdoor learning traits and with Ofsted more recently recognising the importance of developing character in young people and developing the whole child, it’s no wonder that these kinds of experiences are widely encouraged as part of a student’s education.

My stand out moments

During our time at La Rive, the girls from Gumley House School were being introduced to sailing for the very first time. After a short land drill it was time to take to the water and put into action what they had learnt on shore. It was a very breezy (force 3) afternoon and from what I can gather, none of the girls had ever sailed before. I cannot lie, it was a crazy 10 minutes with dinghies going in all sorts of directions and a lot of excited and nervous screaming. We soon realised that they didn’t need an additional distraction of a film crew so we went to find that catamaran sailors who were coping much better in these windier conditions. After about twenty minutes we returned to that sailing group and what I witnessed was nothing short of a miracle! Bearing in mind that the wind had not subsided in the least, every single dinghy was now following the leader boat as intended and all the girls had massive smiles on their faces. They were even shouting from their dinghies ‘we can do it’ and when we asked who wanted to take charge of the Go Pro to aid our filming, they all wanted a go – clearly demonstrating their ability to learn a new skill and multi-task!. The confidence, excitement and sense of achievement was evident to see and when we came back off the water that afternoon I felt compelled to tell the teachers how proud they should be of their students!

 

Student teacher rapport

On that same day we joined the school on their evening out at the Dune du Pyla. It was lovely to observe relationship between the girls and the teachers - the girls clearly felt comfortable talking to their teachers as equals but were also very respectful and the teachers happily joined in with all the activities. This is clearly something that cannot be replicated in the classroom and I can imagine that a week like this goes a long way in breaking down social barriers and creating positive relationships.

What I also loved was the fact that most of the teachers chose to take part in many of the activities on offer. It struck me what a positive thing this is for the students to see their teachers have a go at activities, many of which they had never tried before either. The teachers were also capsizing, falling off SUP and windsurf boards and jumping off pontoons. I’m pretty sure that for a young person to see their teacher try a new activity and not necessarily succeed gave them the confidence to give it a go. It’s here where the words of Albert Einstein really resonate -  ‘Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure, it means you just have not succeeded yet.’

 

It's more than just a school trip

It’s true that you have to experience something to really understand its benefits. This was true for me and it will be true for all the children that participate in outdoor activities. Some of these young people will have achieved something well beyond their expectations and all of them will have learnt a new skill, demonstrated bouncebackability and experienced increased self-confidence and self-efficacy. 

In a shrinking world of opportunity where parks are disappearing, global warming is now an imminent threat and the war on plastic is common place in society, outdoor residential trips provide engaging, challenging and positive opportunities for young people to enjoy adventure and experience a better way of life in a safe environment. Long may this continue!

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