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Learning in the great outdoors

Deep engagement with learning, improved physical & mental health & a connection with nature are just some benefits of taking lessons outdoors.

Outdoor education has an important position in any curriculum. Being outside represents an open learning environment that cannot be replicated in the classroom, museum, lab or any other indoor learning space. Outside the classroom, children are given opportunities to connect with the environment and each other, and thereby understand their place in the world.

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Being outdoors also has tangible wellbeing benefits. An outdoors education supports health and physical fitness, and helps meet curriculum requirements like creative thinking and ethical understanding. Outdoor education is also the beginning of a life-long relationship with the environment and self. It enables children to learn the skills to take care of their personal and social needs.

According to Outdoor Education Australia, outdoor education is “instrumental in the teaching of self-reliance, interdependence and leadership, the development of adventurous spirit, managing personal risks, safe journeys in nature, the value of life-long outdoor recreation for enjoyment, health and well-being, understanding nature through direct experience and for developing deeper human-nature relationships.” 

Importantly, outdoor education in Australia, with its diversity of environments and Country, is also instrumental to developing “Aboriginal perspectives of land and country and sustainability” as outlined in the Australian Curriculum. 

Outdoor education can also incorporate many other learning areas like Geography, History, Science, Mathematics, English and Art, making it well placed for interdisciplinary learning. First Nations’ history, culture and stories knowledge can also be incorporated into many of these subject areas.

Outdoor education
Image supplied by WAITOC

External learning opportunities can be incorporated into the curriculum for any age group, and there are many activities that can be modified to be age appropriate. Experiences can range from an excursion as simple as a short walk and discussion, to adventure sports like abseiling. There are several outdoor educators in Australia that are trained and qualified to guide your cohort through any number of activities to enrich and expand their skills and knowledge. 

Learning experiences can range from half- to full-day and even overnight stays. School camps, for example, provide multiple opportunities for students to experience new and exciting activities that will push their limits and build confidence and teamwork skills. Available activities are diverse, and can be tailored to provide the desired learning outcomes. Risk level can be altered to be age appropriate, and this can be discussed with external providers. For older students, a higher level of risk and a more advanced problem-solving scenario may be beneficial for building life skills like independence. 

There are endless combinations that can encourage learning outcomes like team-building, leadership, problem solving and resilience. These can be effectively combined with other areas of the curriculum to maximise learning. Kayaking through natural bodies of water can facilitate geography and history learning. Orienteering is both a strategic challenge and a lesson in natural landscapes of the area. Mountain biking can encourage quick decision making and problem solving. 

Outdoor education may not even necessarily involve physical education at all, rather, being outdoors while experiencing art or learning about science and geography can facilitate learning by providing a suitable backdrop. Aboriginal art often utilises natural materials and imagery and can be a suitable subject for outdoors education. Foraging in the bush, depending on the terrain and weather, can also be an accessible activity that has lots of learning opportunities, whether that’s cooking up bush tucker or identifying flora and fauna. 

Accommodation can also be tailored to the experience. Camping trips may be suitable for some cohorts looking to maximise their skill-building and teamwork. Other accommodations are fully serviced and may be suitable for those with accessibility or other support needs.

For a sample of external learning opportunities available, School News spoke to some school camp and excursion providers.

Aboriginal tour guides take school groups on unique immersive learning journeys which have been a core part of their culture for millennia. Vital ancestral knowledge and life skills have been passed from one generation to the next through the practice of observation and hands-on demonstrations in an outdoor classroom. It is the reason Aboriginal culture continues to thrive as the world’s oldest continuing living culture.

WAITOC – the Western Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators Council – has created a special brochure showcasing more than 60 on-country cultural tours and camps which all feature multi-sensory learning experiences for school groups of all backgrounds and ages. Students are given rare opportunities to experience hunting and foraging; learn bush medicine and bush survival skills; make tools; and take part in traditional song, dance, and story to help foster a meaningful appreciation of Aboriginal culture.

Outdoor-based activities and classroom incursions are designed to build confidence and resilience among students, encourage group collaboration and cooperation, and plant the seeds for a deeper connection to Country in the hearts of the younger generation.

Venture Corporate Recharge offers training hubs at Mount Lofty and Blewitt Springs, along with natural surface rock climbing, incursion-based activities, and mobile rock-climbing walls. Picture a day at Venture starting with inclusive activities at the Mount Lofty Adventure Hub, encouraging interactive and educational engagement. The morning and early afternoon are dedicated to teamwork on the belayed High Ropes Challenge Course or Rock-Climbing Tower. As the day progresses, students collaborate on problem-solving, leveraging newfound team skills and appreciating each other’s strengths.

Outdoor education
Image supplied by Venture Corporate Recharge

Empower your students to become future leaders with Venture’s Adventure-Based Wellbeing activities. These engaging programs teach students to approach education positively and mindfully, fostering collaboration, friendship bonds, and aligning seamlessly with your curriculum and outcome requirements. The Outcome Focused Activities cover group dynamics, leadership training, problem-solving, resilience, and personal responsibility, delivering lasting impacts, proven effective for various youth groups and behavioural issues.

For more than three decades, Wilderness Escape Outdoor Adventures has been at the forefront of providing unparalleled outdoor education experiences for students ranging from Primary to SACE levels. In collaboration with schools, the team offer distinctive opportunities for students to connect with their surroundings, uncover their potential, and cultivate vital life skills, all while fostering strong relationships with peers and educators. As South Australia’s largest provider of outdoor education programs, Wilderness Escape has gained national recognition for its leadership in school-based experiential education.

Wilderness Escape employs an outcome-based approach and a deep understanding of experiential learning theory to design programs that yield optimal results. Its focus revolves around key concepts, including developing diverse skills through safe and active participation, building communication and collaboration skills, promoting personal health and mindfulness in natural settings, enhancing decision-making abilities through independently led journeys, fostering a growth mindset, and deepening an appreciation for natural environments.

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