Extracts from “Why Learn in the Great Outdoors” by Saurabh Saklani, co-founder of Youreka & inme.
Back many moons ago as a student of a wonderful residential school in Dehradun, a beautiful valley surrounded by awe inspiring mountains, I had many memorable opportunities (though it sometimes did not seem so back then!) to explore the great outdoors as part of the school’s adventure oriented culture.
We would plan our expeditions using tight budgets, figure out which mountain to climb, how to travel, where to stay, where to eat, how much to spend on relative luxuries like watching movies, learn how to brave the weather, ignore the winding and often scary hill roads, and somehow garner enough courage and skills to reach our destination.
There were moments when our backs hurt beyond measure and our knees were on the verge of collapse. And just when we least expected it, the weather would turn and we would also need to tackle the rain. We would then be tired, irritated, and wet!
But we still managed to dig in deep to find the resources and the resilience to get to the top, pitch our tents, light a fire, cook dinner, and find the energy to crack jokes and mimic our teachers till we fell asleep. And all this with the knowledge that the next day could be even more challenging.
The natural environment brings with it a sense of awe and challenge that makes people, more receptive to both introspection and exploration. The outdoors has the potential to make a major contribution to one’s growth and development if it is used meaningfully and with thought.
The power of outdoor learning lies in centering the learning process on the experience. It is neither the teacher nor the learner that dominates the core of the learning process. This brings with it a sense of objectivity and freedom to experiment, take well thought-out risks, and manage the consequences of one’s actions.
Meaningfully designed outdoor learning experiences rely on both action and guided reflection. It is the reflection that truly harnesses the potential of the outdoor learning process.
After his participation in an outdoor learning program, a teen participant once shared with me that “I never knew that others find me aggressive. I always want to do things perfectly and like to take charge but now I realize that I may be impacting my friends negatively.”
I was once asked to describe the one main benefit of outdoor learning and I instinctively said that “going outdoors helps you look inwards.” That to me, is a great start for any learning process.
For me, there are five ways in which a child can benefit from a meaningful and well-thought out outdoor learning program.
1. Enhance a sense of self: Children can learn more about their strengths and challenges with objective fact based data from the shared experience. This helps them build a sense of self, which can then be layered with a sense of self-worth and self-confidence.
2. Encourage team orientation: Outdoor learning can provide fantastic opportunities for embracing reliance on others to excel and succeed. Children build a sense of appreciation and understanding of others.
3. Learn to manage consequences: Children get immediate feedback on their actions and have wonderful opportunities to review and revise their actions in a low stake environment as compared to the real world.
4. Appreciate the larger world: Learning first-hand about the local culture, environment, and people that may be living lives very different from our own is a powerful way to build a wider sense of the world and its inhabitants. This is way deeper than watching a show on the television, since the experience is your own.
5. Exercise leadership: The outdoor experience may be built around a task that students must complete, around a problem that the students must analyze and solve, or around a service element for the community that students must plan and execute. This provides an amazing training ground for exercising leadership at a young age with guided support.
Finally, the outdoor learning process has an inherent sense of commitment and determination that requires an attitude of embracing the challenge with true grit. Children may feel overwhelmed and unsure of their abilities and capabilities along the way. But in the end, they almost always end up with a sense of fulfillment and deep self-realizations, knowing and seeing that they have much more potential and reserves within than they previously thought, and this makes them more open to thinking about the kind of people they would want to be.
Click here to read the whole article Why Learn in the Great Outdoors.