Dont Discount The Benefits of Outdoor Education pt. 2

By: Christopher Pyle


In article one of this two part series we scrutinized the public school system, identified some courses that have been permanently removed from the course schedules, decided important skills were no longer taught and are looking toward the positive benefits of outdoor education programs, specifically 5-points:
Since the benefits of outdoor education are many, we focused on 5-main points: 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.
Through real life camp experiences we'll highlight in more detail the 5-beneficial points we began exploring.
The 5-Benefits :
Environment: Environment by itself heightens learning. To give you a physical example, think back to the last time you were in a new place, it was dark, and you shut the lights off: feel the hair stand up on the back of your head? What was that sound? First many children hardly leave their couches and so they first learn about the outside as a whole. Outside is exhilarating, enlivening and this energy creates adrenaline and focused anticipation. In the outdoor classroom children can touch and feel and engage the subject physically. Mother Nature is powerful & wild, children must remain aware so as to avoid accidents. Being outdoors, unfortunately, is an uncommon place for many kids.
Physical Challenges Like being in the dark house at night, physical challenges heighten learning. This is due to the unknown of the situation. Thus, a new environment coupled with a new physical experience the entire body is engage, physically and mentally: the individual must assess risk, gauge the scenario and calculate how much mental and physical effort is required of them to complete the task at hand. The purpose of an adventure camp is to put children in new and unusual situations, so they must challenge their way out of it. When the challenge is completed, as the camp is working to ensure all challenges are completed, the camper receives an increase in endorphins.
Self-Awareness / Empowerment The pleasure of course, is pride. The camper realizes achievement. A new awareness is borne, a new confidence blossoms. For a camp director and staff, this is the equivalent to the runners-high, this is why theyre there and why they encourage us to bring our children there. The camp is sowing the seeds of confidence, setting the tone that one can achieve their goals and attain new heights if they work positively and doggedly in pursuit. Now the camper realizes her or she can do something they previous thought impossible. Worse yet, never even dared to imagine.
In an experiential setting these moments are supported before and after engaging in the task that's created the moment. This is what experiential education is about, this is their goal and thus the camp is cognizant of these moments and works to reinforce the learning throughout camp life.
anecdote There are obviously big moments of camp, the photograph moments: rafting, rope course leaps, etc.; however, there are moments that may appear benign but are of great significance to the camper. May we introduce a homeschooled, 17 year old female named Fate, 600 miles away from home, at an adventure camp.
The first night of camp the camp dined in town. Fate, having specific dietary needs was taken shopping by the director. Fate stopped dead in her tracks when the director told her she could pick out her drink for dinner. Fate had never picked out her own drink, she was overwhelmed with the freedom. For her, this was an incredible moment. Fate chose a Sprite to drink, did pirouettes throughout the store and went on to have a very rewarding camp.
One never knows what will empower a child, but the moment it happens, neither the child nor the observer will forget.
Interpersonal Relations / Communication / Leadership If the person hanging from the rope is the star, the other campers, while awaiting their turn are the supporting cast. These folks are not out of the activity simply because they're not the "star" of the moment. They are encouraging the one engaged in the activity, they're cheering, whooping and shouting. Class isn't out of session when the focus is on someone else, everyone is required to participate to hold the class together.
Often, in a ropes course, for example, only one person at a time is going to make the leap of faith and the others are watching, supporting and getting ready. Inevitably, someone is near the back, rocking back and forth, nervous. In these moment campers learn to lead, to coach, to support and to communicate with the group members. Theyll first learn by the counselors lead and some will do it naturally and ultimately all will follow.
Summer camp is a super opportunity to work on communication skills, to learn how to behave in a new environment, to find ones place within that new environment. One reason this works so well, is campers recognize everyone is new, no one has a leg up.
anecdoteMacey was a polite 15-year old boy with an air of confidence in the out of doors but not arrogance. He was relatively quiet, a bit reserved socially, but got along well with everyone in the summer camp. There was something going on with Macey but it only showed in the disconnect between his comfort and confidence he demonstrated in the adventures encountered and the reserve he showed elsewhere.
As the days passed and he grew ever closer to the other campers, his thoughts were revealed, his mother had recently passed away. It was here at camp he was able, in the new environment, to open up and heal some of what was eating at him. The camps are set up for campers to succeed, the tone is set that is a tone of team work and while Macey was adept at the physical, his obstacle course was grieving and returning to a place of personal health.
The environment allowed him to explore emotionally, safely, to process. By the end of the week, the smiles, talkativeness and energy were all in-sync and Macey left camp renewed.
Socialization / Community Development Camps are like small countries waiting to be populated and developed. This begins and ends with each camp session. Its quite a fascinating phenomena and joy to watch.
The campers arrive to the strange new land, camp, debarking their various modes of transportation, gear in hand ready to begin anew. They check out the others arriving. Some are talkative right from the start, others fall back and take a wait and see approach and then there are those somewhere between.
The directors and counselors are the established authority. They've established the mood of the new environment. The campers then must create the rest and they do so by finding their way, by interacting.
In this totally raw environment, theyre learning, by experience (experiential), how to form a community at large: leaders, rules, team members, socially expected behaviors. Ultimately, the camp concludes with close bonds between all campers, enthusiasm is high and the environment is supportive, loving and energizing.
anecdoteRhianna was a girl from the city being dropped off at a whitewater adventure camp. She was slightly built, blond hair and dark, Goth-like eyeliner hid her eyes. She kept her head down and spoke very little.
At the first ice breaker group meeting, she was reserved or gave answers that were clearly defensive responses. Every response was used to keep people away.
By the end of her summer camp adventure, Rhi (as the campers called her) was the most vocal about loving everyone, she was the most adamant that this was the best summer ever, she was the first to call and enroll for camp the next season. She stayed in contact with everyone, including the camp director on the camp MySpace page.
Prior to coming to camp she was bitten by a poisonous spider, at one point, thought the wound was cleaned regularly, her parents thought it best to take her to the doctor, mid camp, to make sure she was fine. Of course, the camp agreed. She went to the doctor and even though it hurt to sit, she insisted on coming straight back to camp and finishing her time there.
Fate, Macey and Rhianna are fake names but real people. They had life changing experiences at summer camp and all plan to return to camp. They're better for the experience. If you're able to send the children in your life to a camp that focuses on experiential education their lives will be forever richer.

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For twenty years, Action Whitewater has provided professional whitewater rafting trips: always a leader in youth trips. Rafting Adventure Camps are the genuine byproduct of this focus work to create quality experiential education programs for teens. For information, video and photos of what you can expect at an adventure camp, visit our website.

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