Why Outdoor Education?:
Ideally, we would like people to come and experience our programs and see the learning that takes place to convince them of the importance of outdoor education. The reality is that we are left with trying to explain the value on paper. Several prominent people in the fields of education, psychiatry, social work, medicine, and child development have commented on the importance of camping and outdoor education, however. We would like to share some of their statements with you, and how TLC provides the values they mention:
The American Camping Association (ACA) conducted a study on Youth Development Outcomes of an Outdoor/Camp Experience. After evaluating 5000 parents, staff members, and children, they found that there was a significant growth in a child’s Peer Relationships, Independence, Adventure and Exploration, Leadership, Friendship Skills, Environmental Awareness, Values and Decisions, Critical Thinking Skills, Self-Esteem, Social Comfort, and Spirituality.
“What makes camp or outdoor facilities a special community is the focus on celebrating effort. In this less pressured atmosphere, students learn more readily and find positive things to say and do when they make mistakes and face challenges. Students are urged to include, not exclude, others. They are praised for choosing new partners and not always the same ones. They are encouraged to respect the differences between people. In an increasingly sarcastic, put-down-oriented world, camps aim to be an oasis of personal safety where demeaning comments and disrespectful behavior are not tolerated, and students are taught responsible and positive ways to resolve conflict.”-Michael Brandwein, Noted speaker/consultant for the ACA
“The value of a camp experience for students…It gets them away from a neighborhood or situation that may exist that isn’t healthy…It teaches them how to get along with other people–both other young people as well as adults. To give our children a safe place to learn and grow– camp does that.”
-Colin Powell, Founding Chair of America’s Promise Alliance & Former U.S. Secretary of State
“We looked at whether school children’s learning about their local environment would influence the way they treat it. We found that not only was this the case, but high quality, out-of-classroom learning also influenced how children behave and the lifestyle choices they make. It shows the potential for schools’ trips not just to change individual lives, but the lives of whole communities.”
-Changing Minds: The Lasting Impact of School Trips (UK) by Alan Peacock, Honorary Research Fellow.
“The beneficial outcomes of outdoor adventure appear to be most lasting when outdoor adventure experiences are regular and long-term and are linked to community-based follow-up. Research has demonstrated the value of outdoor adventure as an adjunct to community-based developmental and educational provision.
-Why Adventure?The Role and Value of Outdoor Adventure…by Jon Barrett and Roger Greenaway, Foundation for Outdoor Adventure.
TLC’s after-school Kids Club programs have definitely demonstrated the beneficial outcomes of outdoor education. For 12 years, we have had kids in grades 3-6 join us for time outdoors after school. If you asked them, they would say, “We just play outside” or “Gretta lets us do whatever we want.” Actually, there IS always a plan and an overlying theme of being safe, caring for each other, learning new things, and helping the community in our programs. However, if a “teachable moment” arises, we’re not sticking to the plan. In just a few sessions the participants open up and become curious about their surroundings and each other. We do often get side-tracked. We will talk for hours about what they learned in school that day, or what discovery they just made on the path, or why they have to go sing at the care center, or why a classmate is unpleasant, or how ice crystalizes. They start to notice the world and people around them and start thinking about others’ point-of-view, empathizing rather than blaming. They also have started to speak up with community problems that they would like to address. This phenomenon has led us to believe that as beneficial as a one-day field trip can be, the benefits of multiple hours and days in an overnight experience will be exponential for the students.
“Learning outside the classroom was most successful when it was an integral element of long-term curriculum planning and closely linked to classroom activities.”
-Learning outside the classroom: How far should you go? OFSTED(Outdoor Field Study Education, UK)
For 20 years we have worked closely with Moulton Elementary in Des Moines. Together with their 6th grade teachers we have designed an outdoor experience that incorporates everything the students have been learning in the classroom all year - from Geology to Native American Studies, Botany to Poetry, the importance of Physical Activity to Cleaning up after oneself, Self- Control to Iowa History, Water Quality to Eating Healthy, Astronomy to Survival Skills, Canoeing to Confidence, and so much more. The teachers say it is a highlight for them and their students to have a fun recap of their schoolyear. We LOVE offering these urban children an opportunity to “escape” and learn in a new way at our facility, while getting to see the lightbulbs turn on in the kids’ brains as they connect what we are doing to what they learned earlier in the classroom. Most of the Moulton students have never been out of Des Moines’ city limits, yet their comfort-level with the great outdoors after 3 short days is really amazing.
An increase in knowledge is not the only benefit to the students, however. The teachers have also seen a decrease in behavioral problems throughout the school year because the hope of going to TLC is so strong. It is because it has become a part of their community…their siblings, cousins, neighbors, aunts and uncles, and parents remember coming to TLC, and recall how much fun they had. The social and personal growth that students gain about their classmates, their instructors, and themselves in an overnight situation is what makes residential experiences so unique. The students experience things they’ve never done before or even knew existed, whether because of opportunity or simply because of where they live. As one boy responded when asked if he was having a good time:
“Aw, yeah. I’ve never been on a horse. I’ve never ate so much good food. I’ve never been in a canoe or touched a tadpole. I’ve never been on a hike, or seen a deer, or slept in a bunkbed, or ate shmores, or even been at a campfire.
But mostly, I’ve never seen the stars…I hope I can see ‘em again sometime.”