Outdoor education

Outdoor education usually refers to organized learning that takes place in the outdoors. Outdoor education programs sometimes involve residential or journey wilderness-based experiences in which students participate in a variety of adventurous challenges and outdoor activities such as hiking, climbing, canoeing, ropes courses and group games. John Muir Award is one organization which encourage and provide opportunities for outdoor learning. Outdoor education draws upon the philosophy, theory, and practices of experiential education and environmental education. Forest School is an approach to outdoor learning which supports the development of self-esteem and confidence using a natural environment.

A group of Outward Bound participants with physical disabilities after completing a ropes course, c. 1996.



Outdoor education can be simply defined as experiential learning in, for, or about the outdoors. The term ‘outdoor education’, however, is used broadly to refer to a range of organized activities that take place in a variety of ways in predominantly outdoor environments. Common definitions of outdoor education are difficult to achieve because interpretations vary according to culture, philosophy, and local conditions.[1]

Outdoor education is often referred to as synonymous with adventure education, adventure programming, and outdoor learning, outdoor school, adventure therapy, adventure recreation, adventure tourism, expeditionary learning, challenge education, experiential education, environmental education, forest schools and wilderness education. Consensus about the meaning of these terms is also difficult to achieve. However, outdoor education often uses or draws upon these related elements and/or informs these areas. The hallmark of outdoor education is its focus on the "outdoor" side of this education; whereas adventure education would focus on the adventure side and environmental education would focus on environmental. Wilderness education involves expeditions into wilderness "where man is but a visitor." For more information, see Outdoor education definitions (Wikibooks).

Education outside the classroom

"Education outside the classroom" describes school curriculum learning, other than with a class of students sitting in a room with a teacher and books. It encompasses biology field trips and searching for insects in the school garden, as well as indoor activities like observing stock control in a local shop, or visiting a museum. It is a concept currently enjoying a revival because of the recognition of benefits from the more active style. The Education and Skills Committee[2] of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom has reported that it brings history and art to life, develops social skills, and clearly enhances geography and science.,[3] while DfES has prepared practical guidelines for outdoor activities.[4]

Despite the evidence supporting an extension of outdoor learning for children, there are a number of obstacles in the way. One of these obstacles is risk aversion amongst teachers, parents and others, raising reluctance to such diverse and physical tasks. The journalist Tim Gill has written about parental and institutional risk aversion affecting many activities with children in his book "No Fear".[5] Another obstacle is the perceived high cost of facilitating outdoor learning. Creating an outdoor learning environment needn't cost a great deal, however. The UK Early Years Framework Stage, which outlines best practice in Early Years teaching, asserts that: "Outdoor learning is more effective when adults focus on what children need to be able to do rather than what children need to have. An approach that considers experiences rather than equipment places children at the centre of learning and ensures that individual children's learning and developmental needs are taken account of and met effectively"[6]

Linda Tallent, a UK-based educational consultant who has worked extensively with schools to develop their outdoor spaces into learning environments, agrees. She believes that by focussing on activities and skill development, it is possible to develop an outdoor learning curriculum on a 'shoe string'.[7] She cites a comment by Will Nixon, who reminds readers that 'Using the real world is the way learning has happened for 99.9% of human existence. Only in the last hundred years have we put it into a little box called a classroom.'.[8] Tallent also refers to evidence from a number of studies that the most effective way of learning is through participation, and calls on educators to make a special effort to create opportunities for children to participate in their learning.


Some typical aims of outdoor education are to:

Outdoor education spans the three domains of self, others, and the natural world. The relative emphasis of these three domains varies from one program to another. An outdoor education program can, for example, emphasize one (or more) of these aims to:

Outdoor education is often used as a means to create a deeper sense of place for people in a community. Sense of place is manifested through the understanding and connection that one has with the area in which they reside. Sense of place is an important aspect of environmentalism as well as environmental justice because it makes the importance of sustaining a particular ecosystem that much more personal to an individual.[9]


Field trip: school children outdoors listening to man, c. 1899, USA

Modern outdoor education owes its beginnings to separate initiatives. Organized camping was evident in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century in Europe, the UK, the USA, Australia, and New Zealand. The Scouting movement, established in 1907 by Robert Baden-Powell, employs non-formal education with an emphasis on practical outdoor activities. The first Outward Bound centre at Aberdovey in Wales was established during the Second World War. The Forest schools of Denmark are examples of European programs with similar aims and objectives.

Key outdoor education pioneers include Kurt Hahn, a German educator who founded schools such as the Schule Schloss Salem in Germany; the United World Colleges movement, the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme (which emphasizes community service, craftsmanship skills, physical skill, and outdoor expeditions), and the Outward Bound movement.

The second half of the twentieth century saw rapid growth of outdoor education in all sectors (state, voluntary, and commercial) with an ever-widening range of client groups and applications. In this period Outward Bound spread to over 40 countries, including the USA in the 1960s. Other US based outdoor education programs include Project Adventure and the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Project Adventure focuses on day use of ropes courses. NOLS uses the outdoor setting to train leaders for outdoor programs and for other settings including training every new US astronaut and 10% of the US Naval Academy. The Association for Experiential Education is a professional association for "experiential" educators. The Wilderness Education Association (WEA) is a consortium of college outdoor education programs with a standard curriculum based on an academic model. (See also North America in the Around the World section.)

A history of outdoor education in the UK has been documented by Lyn Cook (1999),[10] and a history of outdoor education in New Zealand has been published in Pip Lynch's Camping in the Curriculum (2007).[11] See also History of outdoor education.

Philosophy and theory

Philosophy and theory about outdoor education tends to emphasise the effect of natural environments on human beings, the educative role of stress and challenge, and experiential learning.[1]

One view is that participants are at their "rawest" level when outdoors because they are "stripped" of many of the conveniences of modern life. Participants can become more aware that they are part of a greater ecosystem and are not as bound by social customs and norms. In essence participants can be true to themselves and more able to see others as people regardless of race, class, religion etc. Outdoor education also helps instill the basic elements of teamwork because participants often need to work together and rely on others. For many people a high ropes course or an outdoor activity may stretch their comfort zone and cause them to challenge themselves physically which in turn can lead to challenging oneself mentally.

The roots of modern outdoor education can be found in the philosophical work of:

Foundational work on the philosophy of outdoor education includes work by:

A wide range of social science and specific outdoor education theories and models have been applied in an effort to better understand outdoor education. Amongst the key theoretical models or concepts are:

Around the world

Outdoor education occurs, in one form or another, in most if not all countries of the world. However, it can be implemented very differently, depending on the cultural context. Some countries, for example, view outdoor education as synonymous with environmental education, whilst other countries treat outdoor education and environmental education as distinct. Modern forms of outdoor education are most prevalent in UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and to some extent Asia and Africa. For more information, see Outdoor education around the world (Wikibooks).

The UK: The English Outdoor Council, an umbrella body, defines outdoor education as a way for students and teachers to be fully engaged in a lesson, all the while embracing the outdoors. The EOC deems outdoor education as "providing depth to the curriculum and makes an important contribution to students’ physical, personal and social education."[13] Outdoor education is also encapsulated in Forest School which is widespread in the UK and growing.[14]

Australia & New Zealand: Australia & New Zealand are home to several outdoor education certificate programs. Once teachers have completed their schooling, many have opportunities to work at various outdoor education centres in either country. The Australian outdoor council has developed curriculum documents to ensure schools are partaking in outdoor education throughout the country.

Canada: Environmental education, most notably outdoor education in Canada is seen through outdoor camp and residential programs, school-based programs and commercial travel operations. Outdoor education in Canada is based around "“hard” technical skills—often travel and camping skills - and the “soft” - group skills and personal growth qualities—are blended with, one might say, the ”green” and ”warm” skills of a complementary eco-adventure focus."[15] Adventures are found whether one is partaking in environmental awareness or team-building workshops throughout Canada. Many schools and after-school programs such as The YMCA camps lean towards outdoor education, especially during the summer months.

Denmark: Denmark is known as one of the more environmentally conscious countries in the developed world. One of the ways in which this presents itself, is through the forest school system that exists there. Children are taught in the woods using nature and animals to learn about basic environmental education as well as the fundamental elementary education that is required. [16]

Research and critical views

There is much anecdotal evidence about benefits of outdoor education experiences; teachers, for example, often speak of the improvement they have in relationships with students following a trip. However, hard evidence showing that outdoor education has a demonstrable long-term effect on behaviour or educational achievement is harder to identify; this may be in part because of the difficulty involved in conducting studies which separate out the effects of outdoor education on meaningful outcomes.

A major meta-analysis of 97 empirical studies indicated a positive overall effect of adventure education programs on outcomes such as self-concept, leadership, and communication skills.[17] This study also indicated that there appeared to be ongoing positive effects. The largest empirical study of the effects of outdoor education programs (mostly Outward Bound programs) found small-moderate short-term positive impacts on a diverse range of generic life skills, with the strongest outcomes for longer, expedition-based programs with motivated young adults, and partial long-term retention of these gains.[18]

In "Adventure in a Bun", Chris Loynes[19] has suggested that outdoor education is increasingly an entertainment park consumption experience. In a paper entitled "The Generative Paradigm",[20] Loynes has also called for an increase in “creativity, spontaneity and vitality". These dialogues indicate a need for those working in outdoor education to examine assumptions to ensure that their work is educational (Hovelynck & Peeters, 2003).

Outdoor education has been found more beneficial to those students who find classroom learning more challenging. Maynard, Waters & Clement (2013)[21] found that, resonating with their previous findings, the teachers in their study reported “that when engaged in child-initiated activity in the outdoor environment, over half of the children who in the classroom were perceived to be ‘underachieving’ appeared to behave differently” (p. 221). Their work aims to support the notion that the more natural outdoor spaces in which child-initiated activities take place both directly and indirectly diminish the perception of underachievement. This is important because a number of studies have shown that expectations based on perception of students is important for student learning.

This may also be due to a non-academic family background, a personal psychological trait such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or because they are boys.[22]

When German children from forest kindergartens went to primary school, teachers observed a significant improvement in reading, writing, mathematics, social interactions and many other areas.[23] A yearlong study was done where a group of 9th and 12th grade students learned through outdoor education. The focus was on raising the critical thinking skills of the students as a measure of improvement, where critical thinking was defined to be, “the process of purposeful self-regulatory judgment and decision making”. The problem solving capabilities included the ability of students to interpret, to analyze, to evaluate, to infer, to explain and to self-regulate. Researchers found that both 9th and 12th graders scored higher than the control groups in critical thinking by a significant amount.[24] Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for learning (EIC) is the foundation of a substantial report[25] which found benefits in learning outside the classroom on standardized measures of academic achievement in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies; reduced discipline problems; and increased enthusiasm for learning and pride in accomplishments.

There are several important trends and changing circumstances for outdoor education, including:

See also

Wiki sister projects





Name Notability Reference
Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell Founder of the Scout Movement and The Scout Association.[26][27]
Daniel Carter Beard Outdoorsman. Founder of the Boy Pioneers. Co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America and the Camp Fire Girls. [28]
Edward Urner Goodman Scoutmaster. Camp Director, Treasure Island Scout Reservation. National Program Director, Boy Scouts of America. Founder, Order of the Arrow. [29][30]
Bear Grylls / Edward Michael Grylls Outdoor adventurer; summitted Mt. Everest. Chief Scout of The Scout Association.
Luther Halsey Gulick Proponent of Playground Education. Co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America and the Camp Fire Girls.
Kurt Hahn / Kurt Matthias Robert Martin Hahn Experiential educator. Founder of Schule Schloss Salem, Gordonstoun, and United World Colleges system. Founded Outward Bound with Lawrence Durning Holt and Jim Hogan. Originator of the Moray Badge, the forerunner of the County Badge[31]
William Hillcourt Boy Scout; Scoutmaster; Scouting professional. Authored many books and articles on Scouting, outdoor activities, and Scout skills, including the first Scout Fieldbook and three editions of the Boy Scout Handbook of the BSA. Endeavored to maintain the outdoor orientation of US Boy Scouting. [32]
James Kielsmeier Outward Bound instructor. Proponent of experiential education and service learning. Founder of the National Youth Leadership Council and the Center for Experiential Education and Service-Learning (University of Minnesota).
Ernst Killander Soldier; Boy Scout leader; propagator of orienteering.
Richard Louv Journalist. Proponent of nature awareness and opponent of what he termed "nature-deficit disorder."
John P. Milton Conducted life transformation journeys in wilderness areas of Asia, Africa, North America, and South America. Founder of Sacred Passage and The Way of Nature Fellowship. [33][34]
Joshua Lewis Miner, III Worked at Gordonstoun; took Kurt Hahn's ideas to the USA. Co-founder of Colorado Outward Bound School with Charles Froelicher. Founder of Outward Bound USA. Inspired use of outdoor education in the Peace Corps. [35][36]
Ohiyesa / Charles Alexander Eastman North American Indian of the Isáŋyathi tribe of the Dakota nation; physician; author; worked closely with YMCA, Woodcraft Indians, and YMCA Indian Guides; co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America and Camp Fire Girls. [37][38]
Tony Pammer Canoeing instructor. Co-founder and CEO of the Outdoor Education Group. [39]
Jerry Pieh Outward Bound instructor and school principal who pioneered the introduction of Outward Bound methods into the mainstream school system; father of Project Adventure (founded with Mary Ladd Smith, Robert Lentz, Karl Rohnke, Jim Schoel and others), which gave impetus to Adventure-Based Counseling. [40]
Edgar Munroe Robinson YMCA summer camp director. Set up the fledgling Boy Scouts of America organization.
Ernest Thompson Seton Founded the Woodcraft Indians and the Woodcraft League. Inspiration and major source of Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys. Co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America and the Camp Fire Girls. Chief Scout of the Boy Scouts of America. [41][42]

See also List of 20th-century outdoor proponents and outdoor educators



  1. 1 2 Outdoor recreation. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.trunity.net/lifegermination/topics/view/23121/
  2. Education and Skills Committee, House of Commons
  3. Education Outside the Classroom (PDF). House of Commons. 2005.
  4. DfES's leaflet on Learning Outside the Classroom
  5. Gill, Tim (2007). No fear: Growing up in a Risk Averse society (PDF). Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. p. 81. ISBN 978-1-903080-08-5.
  6. Early Years Framework Stage 'Effective Practice: Outdoor Learning", 2007 "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 1, 2008. Retrieved September 24, 2010.
  7. Linda Tallent, 'Outdoor Learning', 2007
  8. Will Nixon, 'Letting Nature Shape Childhood', The Amicus Journal, Fall 1997, in Linda Tallent 'Outdoor Learning' 2007
  9. Kudryavtsev, Alex; Krasny, Marianne E.; Stedman, Richard C. (2012-04-01). "The impact of environmental education on sense of place among urban youth". Ecosphere. 3 (4): 1–15. doi:10.1890/ES11-00318.1. ISSN 2150-8925.
  10. Cook L. (1999). The 1944 Education Act and outdoor education: from policy to practice. History of Education, 28 (2), 157-172. ISBN 0-473-10583-7
  11. Lynch, P. (?). Camping in the Curriculum: A History of Outdoor Education in New Zealand Schools. PML publications, Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand.
  12. Walsh, V., & Golins, G. L. (1976). The exploration of the Outward Bound process. Denver, CO: Colorado Outward Bound School.
  13. English Outdoor Council. (n.d.). High Quality Outdoor Education. Retrieved July 19, 2013, from English Outdoor Council:http://www.englishoutdoorcouncil.org/HQOE.pdf
  14. What Is Forest School?:http://www.forestschoolassociation.org/what-is-forest-school/
  15. Henderson, B., & Potter, G. T. (n.d.). Outdoor AdventureEducation in Canada: Seeking The Country Way Back In. 227-242.
  16. "Early Nature Lessons in Denmark's Forest Preschools -The official website of Denmark". denmark.dk. Retrieved 2016-10-06. horizontal tab character in |title= at position 54 (help)
  17. Hattie, J. A., Marsh, H. W., Neill, J. T. & Richards, G. E. (1997). Adventure education and Outward Bound: Out-of-class experiences that have a lasting effect. Review of Educational Research, 67, 43-87.
  18. Neill, J. T. (2008). Enhancing personal effectiveness: Impacts of outdoor education programs. PhD thesis. Sydney: University of Western Sydney.
  19. Loynes, Chris (1998). "Adventure in a Bun" (PDF). Journal of Experiential Education. 21 (1): 35–39.
  20. Loynes, Chris (2002). "The Generative Paradigm" (PDF). JAEOL. 2 (2).
  21. Maynard, Trisha; Waters, Jane; Clement, Jennifer (2013). "Child-initiated learning, the outdoor environment and the 'underachieving' child". Early Years. 33 (3): 212. doi:10.1080/09575146.2013.771152.
  22. Sax L. (2001) Reclaiming Kindergarten: Making Kindergarten Less Harmful to Boys in Psychology of Men & Masculinity (2001) 2.1 pp3-12
  23. Gorges R. Waldkindergartenkinder Im Ersten Schuljahr Archived May 16, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. (in German)
  24. Ernest; Monroe (2004). "The effects of environment-based education on students' critical thinking skills and disposition toward critical thinking". Environmental Education Research. 10 (4): 522. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  25. Lieberman, Gerald A.; Hoody, Linda L. (1998). Closing the Achievement Gap (PDF). State Education and Environment Round Table.
  26. The Scout Movement is the most widespread associated network of outdoor adventure-based education implementers.
  27. Aside from Scouting affiliates, there also have been organizations which sprouted out and away from the root Scout idea.
  28. Books by Daniel Carter Beard
  29. Block, Nelson, 2000, A Thing of the Spirit: the life of E. Urner Goodman, Boy Scouts of America.
  30. Davis, Kenneth (PhD history, U Virginia; Colonel, US Army), The Brotherhood of Cheerful Service: a history of the Order of the Arrow, Boy Scouts of America, 1990, 1995, 2000. ISBN 0839549989. ISBN 978-0839549987.
  31. Birth of Outward Bound
  32. Block, Nelson, "William Hillcourt: Scoutmaster to the World", The Journal of Scouting History.
  33. The Way of Nature Fellowship
  34. John Milton Archived August 23, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  35. Miner, Joshua & Joseph Boldt, Outward Bound USA: learning through experience in adventure-based education, William Morrow & Co, 1981.
  36. Miner, Joshua & Joseph Boldt, Outward Bound USA: Crew, Not Passengers, Mountaineers Books, 2002. ISBN 978-0-89886-874-6
  37. Charles Alexander Eastman Archived May 28, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  38. Martinez, David, 2009 Dakota Philosopher, St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society Press, ISBN 0-87351-629-X.
  39. Outdoor Education Group Archived June 21, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  40. Project Adventure Evolution
  41. Witt, David, 2010, Ernest Thompson Seton: The Life and Legacy of an Artist and Conservationist, Gibbs Smith. ISBN 1423603915. ISBN 978-1423603917.
  42. Seton, Julia, By a Thousand Fires, 1967.

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