Don't Discount The Benefits of Outdoor Education pt 1

By: Christopher Pyle

To say folks are frustrated with much of the US education system is an understatement, many people are fighting angry, spitting mad. For many of us part of the US's founding intentions were to provide the best education in the world and evolved into a bragging right for the US. While there are many quality teachers to be had and good classroom programs, the diversity in our childrens' education is virtually gone. Will stories of the good old days of school begin with, once upon a time there was driver's education? The argument rages as to how this happened or why but we're not going to develop that argument here. How we can help our children, what we can do for them is our focus.
Eliminating everything but core subjects (English, social science, math and science) from our schools and the experiences our children have is not what's best for the development of healthy, positive citizens. This new practice of teaching "to the test" and attempting to standardize national testing is not creating better classrooms or educational experiences. Administrators pressure teachers to get the students to pass the tests so no one is punished for not meeting National Standards. Again, we can argue the need for a concrete measuring device but the continually sliding results cannot be argued.
Not so long ago, when I was in elementary school, the school had school supplies! Now, many parents are greeted by their childs first day of school with an entire list of supplies each child is supposed to donate to the classroom as well as a wish list of other items the teacher would like in order to teach that year.
Schools, apparently hurting for money, are cutting programs from the education experience. In California, no longer will your child learn drivers education in a drivers education class or the classic home economics/cooking class, they dont exist. Now, one must hire outside of the school. Most schools do not offer a gymnastics team any longer. Of course, there is a whole host of classes no longer offered.
Art courses, school sports, school clubs and organizations are falling by the wayside. This is the collective-parents fault ultimately. We trusted our representatives to represent us and to defend whats important to our children while we tarried away at our jobs trying to make ends meet. We can change the course for the positive again but it will take massive collective efforts. Fear not, for there are organizations out there that can help us now, help us offset some of the lost opportunities for our children to gain life skills not just core academics: unfortunately, we have to take care of this on a personal level, each taking care of our own while we work to repair the whole.
Introducing the experiential education opportunities that are available. Around the US and the globe, there are schools and centers of education focusing on outdoor education. These institutions understand the importance of this type of learning. Studies report schools and programs implementing outdoor education see an increase across the board in student performance. Here, in the US, more often than not, these schools are private schools and most households simply cannot afford the costs of tuition.
Thus, as proactive parents, we need to find places to help supplement our child's learning. The outdoor/adventure style summer camp is a great place to start.
While there are many, here are 5-areas an environmental, outdoor education camp can help a child:
1. An environmental / ecological awareness
2. Physical challenge and accomplishment positive for both the physical and emotional well-being
3. Self-awareness / empowerment
4. Interpersonal relations, communication and leadership skills
5. Socialization and community development
There are many studies on environmental-, experiential-, outdoor-education and all those researched for this commentary, tout the benefits of this type of exposure. Reciprocally, they speak to what a child misses when this experience is pulled from their reach, from their opportunity to sample the experience. What is commonly difficult in the research is delivering the results. Overwhelmingly the results are anecdotal; as its each persons response to the experience, were interested. This is not easily explained by predictable measuring devices i.e., tests. We know if we teach a child basic addition and then test the child on 2+2 and the child responds with 4, the teaching was a success; the result is measurable and it can be repeated over and over. With experiential education, its difficult to give clear, concrete results.
Precisely because we cannot produce a neat diagram, a test result, for these types of courses, they're the first to go in any budget cutting process. It's much easier to kill the community garden project than it is cutting a biology class.
If we happened upon a child who demonstrated positive self awareness with a sensitivity to the environment around them. We could agree this is positive. If the child also demonstrated healthy physical prowess and a positive attitude, could make positive choices when confronted with peer pressure, can communicate with confidence and integrity as well as have a sense of the communities they traveled in at large, we'd think this was a great happening. Summer adventure camps that speak to experiential education can help stir these behaviors in the campers.
This concludes part 1 of this two part look at the benefits of outdoor education. Part 2 will explore each of the 5 points further and provide first hand anecdotes from summer campers.

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Christopher Pyle has been rafting the forks of the American River for 24-years. As owner/director of Action WhitewatersTeen Rafting Camp, Christopher mixes a love for the river and his passion for sharing Mother Nature with today's youth.. To sneak a glimpse of camp and secure your place this summer please go to the camp page.

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