The Benefits of an Outdoor Education

Simon Edgar | Head of Junior and Middle Schools

As I look back to last Sunday, which was an overcast and drizzly day, I recall my thoughts at the time; I was pondering – what do students (and staff for that matter) actually gain from outdoor education experiences? All this whilst I was packing my ‘gear list’ into a robust garbage bag in preparation to set off on the Year 5/6 Camp the very next morning.  We were headed for ‘Camp Kokoda’, a new location for the College after many years of camping out on the grounds at Storm King Dam. Camp Kokoda is an outdoor education facility on the southern shores of Maroon Dam.   Aside from providing 360 degrees of spectacular scenery, the camp promises the opportunity for its guests to participate in adventure based activities that will help explore the limits of comfort, conquer fears and strengthen group dynamics.  With this in mind, I completed my packing and looked forward to the next couple of days where I, along with some of my Middle School teaching colleagues would have the chance to experience our Year 5 and 6 classes in a more relaxed, outdoor environment.

An eager group of Years 5 and 6 students climbed aboard the bus on Monday, excited about the ensuing days and the adventure they would bring.  For some students school camp may be their first time away from home, where they find themselves in a situation where they have to remember to brush their teeth or finish the food on their plate.  Here I was reminded of the many benefits our outdoor education programme offered – an opportunity for our students to take care of themselves by appreciating the importance of interdependence and interaction with the physical world. Students rise to this type of challenge, they enjoy new found independence and recognise the need to look after themselves, each other and their environment.

As each new school year commences we welcome new faces and personalities to our community.  Our classroom dynamics change and our children have an opportunity to foster new friendship groups, whilst they learn to maintain and nurture existing ones.  The socialisation benefits of a school camp outside of the traditional classroom are many.  This year we welcomed new students to Years 5, 6 and 7.  Each of these classes has now had the opportunity to socialise and navigate the personalities of their classmates in an outdoor education experience.  Observing the social effects and outcomes of these classes has been beneficial for us as teachers too.  The camp provides the opportunity to see our students in a different environment where they are exercising the attributes of leadership, resilience and teamwork.  This is important as we begin to recognise the behaviours and attitudes of students who demonstrate the core values of our College, all of which helps us to identify potential leadership candidates for the Middle School.   There it was, I managed to add yet another benefit as to what our staff and students gain from outdoor education.

As the next couple of days rolled on the camp coordinators and our teachers led a variety of activities delivering teachable moments to our young team members whilst also developing and building upon their own personal competencies.  The students enthusiastically indulged every opportunity to test their resilience in the face of adversity, work together as a team, overcome limitations and fears, demonstrate leadership skills and acquire growth in personal confidence.  After two full days of orienteering, canoeing, raft building, watching students busily assist with meal times and willingly contribute to group based activities and performances I was quietly satisfied that everyone who went to Camp Kokoda had gained exactly what outdoor education is designed to offer.

I wish to express my thanks to Mr Jonathan Fender – the College Camp Coordinator, Ms Mel Cole, Mrs Nicola Hight, Mr Peter Campbell, Mrs Melissa Stephenson and the Gap students, for their dedicated time and continual efforts to make the camps we have had so far this year a great success for all students.