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The developments to school curriculums in relation to
Outdoor Education have been the source of much debate and introspection over
the past century. As the growing concern over both the environment and health
of young people, both physically and mentally, has become prevalent. Outdoor
Education has been sourced as a way of solving both issues. This assessment of
the role of Outdoor Education within the school curriculum will attempt to
dissect both major organisations influences and stances alongside the effects
and results of the implementation upon young people within and outside of the
school systems.

The origin of Outdoor Education within the school curriculum
is impossible to date. Through the development of humanity, education was based
around the natural world and the environment that people lived in. It’s a
relatively modern idea that education should be contained within the four walls
of a classroom, guided by a teacher following a curriculum.

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The modern schooling system in Europe was massively
influenced by church and religion. Literacy was the tool of the wealthy and the
pious, therefore the first schools were based around the agenda of
evangelisation and indoctrination. As a result, school systems grew across
Europe and provided education to all classes of people. This in turn lead to
the development of public school systems and the widespread ‘enlightenment’
period that occurred across Europe between 1685-1815. School curriculums have
remained an essentially subject based structure since the late 1800s. (White, 2006) This rigid idea of
modular learning has been the borderline of education, where it has been
difficult for alternative methods of learning to break through.

NGO’s have been some of the biggest advocates and
instigators of bringing Outdoor Education to the school curriculum. There are
now numerous guides, methodologies and research studies centred around how to
include the outdoors in to the curriculum (House of Commons – Children,
Colin Mortlock in the Adventure Alternative, gives an overview of the reasons
why outdoor education is valuable. It’s the attempt to develop Awareness of,
respect for and love of: The self, others and the environment. It is therefore
an all-inclusive topic that promotes development in three spheres which cover
all aspects of life. He also defines several stages of this development, using
the analogy of a journey. Play, adventure, frontier adventure and misadventure
are the characteristics of different types of adventure. (Mortlock, 2000)

Resistance to Outdoor Education has come from instances of
misadventure, for example deaths from failures to set up equipment correctly on
difficult terrain, or undertaking challenges that are far beyond the level of
the group involved. This can lead to personal declines in all aspects of psychological
welfare due to the perceived failure or struggle that is unachievable. An
insurmountable challenge inspires fear and reclusion in individuals. (T. M. Parker,

Further to this, resistance has come against the idea of play as well, it is
often seen as having no importance to education and is often left to
unsupervised time for youths to have on their own. Some outdoor specialists
disagree with this notion, suggesting that play is a natural method of learning
without restriction. It can be the gentle beginnings and inspiration towards
adventure, as well as being a way to make connections between child and teacher
in a comfortable and risk-free situation.

A further hindrance to Outdoor Education within the school
curriculum arises when considering what each board of directors considers to be
important. As Foucault stated, there is no universal concept, each derives
importance from their own subjective experience. This posed limitations on what
effect Outdoor Education could have in the school curriculum because of the
traditional ideas of education, which are based around the value of religious
and statistical based knowledge. Many educational institutions were set in
their ways and were, and still are, unwilling to include alternative methods of
learning. (Elizabeth C.J. Pike, 2013)

Foucault, studying the example of a rope course, analysed
the effect of what outdoor activity does, as derived from its relationship to
school based education. He first assumes that there is no ‘natural’ way to be a
human being, because nothing is universally true. Foucault derived that the
changes experienced in the ropes course were not innate personality traits, but
rather, new behaviours formed from the social environment that surrounds them.
Through this reasoning, he would argue that what is gained is often claimed to
be that which society puts on a pedestal as ‘good’, rather than growth. This is
not suggesting he believed that the practice is innately flawed in some way,
but that it is simply a response to contemporary issues. 
An example of this can be seen by examining the differences in each gender’s
experience in Outdoor Education. As little as 50 years ago, it was still seen
as inappropriate for girls to partake, at the time it was a self-evident truth,
whereas now it is considered a fallacy to assume that gender has any relation
to a person’s abilities. (Humberstone, 2000) This is prominently
evident in the language that was associated with Outdoor Education at the time,
for example ‘Manly’, ‘You throw like a girl’, concepts which, due to tradition,
are still around today. The power of a social push to direct someone’s belief
that they are ‘manly’ by participating in outdoor pursuits makes them feel this
way. (Smith, 2016)This
shows how social norms and expectations direct what is gained from activities.
As such the role of Outdoor Education within the school curriculum, and the
effectiveness for inspiring positive change, is dictated by society and what it
contrives are good aspects to be harnessed. Therefore, it is necessary to
consider the social environment and attitudes of any group before attempting
any change using the outdoors.

Many outdoor groups have found a powerful way of combining outdoor
pursuits with periods of reflection and discussion. This is aimed towards
guiding the changes provided by the challenges beyond that of the social norms.
Through this the ‘campfire’ has become a symbol of time for growth and
understanding whilst in the outdoors.

The health benefits of participating in outdoor pursuits has
been shown to effect, physical, mental and social fortitude. This has aided in
the push towards the inclusion of Outdoor education in the school
curriculum.  The physical nature of
outdoor pursuits has been presented as a solution for childhood obesity rates.
This combined with the push for healthy diets in schools, has been pivotal in
the inclusion of many Forest schools in the UK. According to Statistics on
Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, in 2015/16, over 1 in 5 children in
Reception, and over 1 in 3 children in Year 6 were measured as obese or
overweight. (NHS, 2017) This has been
portrayed as an issue in society, with a lot of media focus on the introduction
to more physical activity in schools. (Clare Austin, 2013) Found that “the current study
demonstrates Forest School sessions as a successful intervention in increasing
children’s physical activity levels. Increased physical activity levels and
utilisation of the natural environment is also extended to wider family
members, meaning less engagement in sedentary behaviour.”

The positive mental effects that can be achieved through
outdoor activity spread across a truly vast spectrum. One recent European study
suggested that 11 % of the population experience mental disorders every year (Alonso J, 2007). Considering the
mental health benefits of Outdoor Education as shown by (Per E. Gustafsson, 2011) in their
intervention found that, “trait-treatment interactions represented by moderate
positive overall mental health effects for boys with small to moderate positive
effects on specific mental health dimensions, but an inconclusive effect for
girls.” The difference in gender results is supposed to be due to problems
within the education system of being aimed towards ‘boy’s needs’.

Outdoor Education is essentially leap in to a new world
outside of the constructs, taking people away from the usual environment, and
shocking the senses with an escape in to fantasy. This allows for developments
to break conventional limitations and to increase progress in many traits. As
such, it has been used as therapeutic method for positive change in cases of
mental illness or social disorders. (Mortlock, 2001)  It can instigate positive change in any
person who engages in the fantasy. Therapy as a concept holds the idea that one
will seek some form of improvement for the self. Combining the two methods of self-improvement
gives a higher chance of instigating directed change because the process
contains additional guidance and exploration on a personal level. One model
that demonstrates well how two processes work together is the Double Diamond. Fig
1 is a combination of the double diamond model of experiential education and
the diamond model of Eriksonian psychotherapy to create a model for adventure


Using models such as this, adventure therapists can build a
framework which presents a clear system and methodology for their work. This is
a basis for recognising consistent success and demonstrating results to
governing bodies. Having this clear format, takes the concept out of the
abstract when considering its addition to a school curriculum.

The social aspect of Outdoor Education cannot be
understated. Undergoing challenges as a group is one of the most natural
bonding processes that can occur. The essence of human life is the journey in
which each individual takes, the peaks, the troughs and points where the
journey intersects with other journeys. It is during the moments of the most
intense personal feelings, that humans can forge the strongest bonds. It is an
innate desire between most humans to work together. When groups must work
together to achieve a common goal, they are able to form a social network based
on reliance. (Mortlock, 2009) This is an essential
life skill which is difficult to achieve in the sterile and risk-free
environment of the classroom. Outdoor pursuits provide a visible and adaptable
challenge which can suit any group. This connection can go beyond the Outdoor
setting, often those involved in teamwork will then have common ground for
communicating. The initial barrier for conversation is a social fear, by
challenging fears in the outdoor environment, this barrier can be broken down
by both conquering individual and group fears. 
The school yard is seen as being the primary place where children make
their connections. (Blackwell, 2014) Documents the use of the Social and
Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum, which uses Outdoor Education as a way of
creating, “encouraging positive child-teacher relationships, promotion of good
peer relationship, encouraging parent-school involvement and promoting school
and external agency relationships.”

The following, Fig 2. is a selection of Sociological
Theories Related to Adventure Education as taken from (Dick Prouty,




Salient Points


Fritz Heider, H.H Kelly

People assign causes for outcomes as internal or external


Albert Bandura

Participation is a function of how successful people feel they will
be at the activity

Optimal Arousal

John Hunt, Michael Ellis

Factors such as novelty, variety and change are important variables
in psychological health

Cognitive Dissonance

Leon Festinger

Focusses on situations when an individual is faced with competing
thoughts or beliefs.

Understanding these sociological influences
provides insight in to the behaviours and patterns of individuals in a group
setting. Fritz Heider is summarised in  (Malle, 2011) stating that humans
have different ways of perceiving objects and other persons. Seeing them
instead as action centres he considered “motives, intentions, sentiments … the
core processes which manifest themselves in overt behaviour”. It is therefore
proposed that the experience and changes that occur within experience are
relative to the experience as a collective with their peers and this is how
meaning and future growth is formed.
Albert Bandura suggests that the most effective way to achieve self-efficacy is
through the perception of success. Of course, it is conversely undermined by
failure. The degree of success also influences the mindset of individuals. For
example, a person who has enjoyed many easy successes, can find failure
discouraging. Or a person who has conquered many difficult challenges
throughout their life, and faced failure without undermining their
self-efficacy will perceive a greater level of growth from their success. (Bandura, 1994)
The arousal theory presents the idea that, each individual has an optimal
stimulation point. If these levels drop, then the individual will begin seeking
for stimulation. A key assumption of the arousal theory is that people are
motivated to find an ideal balance. This is the golden mean between boredom and
overstimulation. By maintaining the balance of optimal arousal, Yerkes-Dodson
Law states that it will positively affect performance. (Broadhurst,
Cognitive Dissonance is classified as an action-opinion theory, it is therefore
fundamentally characterised as a proposition that actions influence all
subsequent beliefs and attitudes. It has three major assumptions:

1.       Humans are
sensitive to inconsistencies between actions and beliefs.

2.       Recognition
of this inconsistency will cause dissonance, and will motivate an individual to
resolve the dissonance.

3.       Dissonance
will be resolved in one of three basic ways:

a)      Change

b)      Change

c)       Change
perception of actions

(Festinger, 1957)


This is essentially the recognition of inconsistencies between
pre-established beliefs, such as knowing something is immoral whilst you do it.
From this understanding is born motivation to change.  Then the resolution through change.


Another intrinsic element of Outdoor Education is the study and
garnered respect for the environment. Hinduism divides the self in to two
parts. The inner self and the outer self, this clear divide is a clear way of
identifying what is classed as the environment. It infers, that everything
outside of the inner self is a part of one system or being. Therefore, it is in
this sense that this report will study the environment and its value to the
curriculum. Being that nothing can exist without the environment, it is clearly
the most important concern of all beings to respect and value it. As such it
can be argued that it should be an essential topic taught within the school
curriculum. Previously confined to the Geography classroom, study of the
environment has expanded in many school curriculums with the addition of Forest
school initiatives. A concept born in Scandinavia, where a minimum of 3 hours
of Outdoor Education is provided daily, it is now spreading across the world
and becoming an essential part of teaching.
The curriculum faced an urban dilemma of how to teach outdoor education in
sprawling cities with no natural environment on site. As the old saying goes,
nature will find a way. Schools have experimented with options such as:
Embracing their playground areas; Encouraging nature in to the school environment
(Building bird boxes, setting up mobile garden sets, growing and cultivating
plants); outdoor spaces within walking distance; visiting nature reserves and
parks (Beedie, 1999). The need for this
time in the environment has increased exponentially in relation to the
advancement of the technological age. Getting young people out of their
sedentary indoor environment becomes even more vital, when the attractive pull
of technology keeps children indoors during their free time. (Blackwell,
The ability to communicate through social media has limited the progression of
learning social cues because of the estranged and previously alien culture.
Learning as a group in a natural environment presents the opportunity to learn
these essential methods of communication, which will be essential for adult


conclusion, whilst it seems that due to various sociological, philosophical and
historical setbacks it has been difficult for Outdoor Education to hold a
constant role within the school curriculum. However, it is trending towards
becoming a far more prevalent subject that is being taken seriously and is
being systematically introduced thanks to the works of various NGO’s and Forest
School initiatives. The trend seems to indicate a growing warmth towards the
inclusion of the Outdoors and experiential learning

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