When it's great outdoors
Out for Adventure, a summer series for education outdoors, produced in conjunction with the Sports Council and the Countryside Commission, takes a group of Birmingham schoolchildren out of their ordinary lives.
They move away from the classroom and eventually away from school, following a concentric development of activities. Beginning in the playground with simple orienteering they progress to cooking outdoors and visiting a local activity centre. After a series of feats on rope structures and artificial climbing walls, they eventually camp out in a local country park before embarking on a full-scale field trip to Wales.
One of the aims of the series is to encourage proper planning, particularly to encourage safety. So when there are scenes of pupils canoeing, there are captions on the screen providing information about making such activities safe.
There is no question that the appetite is whetted. The children have a great time. The events go well and, to coin a phrase, there is a definite "feel-good factor" about the whole enterprise. In addition to helping viewers learn the specific skills depicted in the programmes, there is added interest in the children's own comments. You feel that these are the comments that really matter. They are universally supportive.
In particular there is the realisation that working in teams is pretty good fun. It can be hoped that the level of co-operation and peer group support that is witnessed out in the field is reproduced later in the classroom. On a practical level these are stimulus programmes. They allow you to look and think. There are some very sound ideas that could be used anywhere, and some that might be applicable only to this location or this set of children. But as stimulus videos they work very well, letting a breath of fresh air into stuffy classrooms, encouraging new approaches to physical education and team building.
There is one aspect of the Out for Adventure approach that is disappointing. Throughout the programmes the teachers attempt to create an essentially rural experience within the urban environment. Does this mean that the city is not a place for adventure? It might have been fun to have used props from the local environment, regardless of whether they were natural or not.
All the children really want and need is the adventure . . . but that inevitably brings us back to safety and the times in which we live. Today there is a much greater awareness of safety; everybody is being very careful. The fun is still there but the streets are not used and the edge of danger has been lost. This is a good thing, especially for the target age range. But it's a little sad too.