Climb every mountain, ford every stream

26th September 2003 at 01:00
Before you dash from your desk to the great outdoors, Eoin Keane suggests ways to make the most of your experience

Monday mornings are a drag, especially for teenagers. When I was one, I lived for weekends outdoors at scout camps and Duke of Edinburgh meetings, and postively relished being soaked to the bone and covered in mud. Not only that, but I realised that these outdoor activities complemented my academic subjects and enhanced my personal growth.

Like any subject, outdoor education needs to be well resourced and properly timetabled, preferably throughout the school year. A one-off outdoor education residential can only ever be a one-off experience.

The pressures of time may seem to make outdoor education impractical, but it pays rich dividends when it is tied into the formal academic curriculum.

It adds a new dimension to geography by enhancing mapping skills, to the sciences by examining chemical and geological processes, and to environmental studies by observing plants and animals in their natural habitat. It also encourages students of English to to develop listening and recounting skills, art students to use natural materials, and religious studies students to develop their reflective skills.

It provides educational and personal growth opportunities more readily than in formal classroom settings. Academic under-achievers often flourish when they are presented with challenges outside a classroom. A student's social development improves through group interaction and personal effort.

Residential experiences also offer new learning opportunities. For some pupils, it might be their first time away from home. Their sense of responsibility grows as they take care of themselves - washing, dressing and doing domestic duties. As a result, their skills also evolve. If a participant forgets the fuel for their stove they are directly affected by the consequences - no dinner!

At the same time, they will develop a greater understanding and respect for the enviroment, witnessing at first hand what happens when they wash in a stream.

So what issues should be considered before booking an Outdoor Education Residential? To gain the maximum effect, it is wise to bring in a specialist from a local outdoor centre, particularly if it is a new experience for the school and teachers. Such a meeting should tease out all the relevant issues.

What are your aims and objectives for the trip? A centre might tailor a programme to run during the year, climaxing in a residential trip. School managers must ensure that an adequate number of staff are involved, so that breaches of discipline and accidents can be dealth with effectively. What is your policy if students are caught smoking or using drugs or alcohol?

Staff should inform the centre about any students who need medication or have special dietary or other needs. They should consider whether students need to be able to swim or cycle. And they need to bear in mind other possible problems - what happens if a student is incontinent or sleep walks?

Before they leave, each student needs to know what they can expect and what is expected of them. Invite an instructor to address the class, and, if possible, have prior outdoor sessions. This will help all concerned get the most from an outdoor education experience.

Eoin Keane works as an outdoor education officer for Clackmannanshire council, Scotland

Find out more

There are a wide range of resources on outdoor pursuits available to teachers.

The Adventure Activities Licensing Authority inspects activity centres and providers. You can search its website for a licensed provider:

Health and safety on educational visits is explained on Two useful journals are Horizons, practical outdoor learning and the Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning. You can get these from the Institute for Outdoor Learning - Practical skills training in national governing body awards can take place at local outdoor centres and national training centres such as Plas y Brenin in Wales: and Glenmore Lodge in

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