If you ask any adult to describe a favourite place from their childhood memories, chances are they’ll cite somewhere in an outdoor environment which was far removed from parental supervision. It’d be interesting to compare this response to that of today’s youngsters, who are doubtless much more likely to mention interfacing with technology.
Natural England, government advisors on the UK’s natural environment, published figures stating that “only 10 percent of children play in natural spaces”. This may be due to their location or as a result of parental caution. Either way it’s a sad situation that for some children their only experience of the sea or countryside will be courtesy of a school trip.
Aside from the obvious physical benefits to children when they’re engaged in activities outdoors, there are also psychological and sociological advantages. Research has shown that by re-connecting with affected children and engaging them with their natural environment, we have a greater chance of helping to prevent anti social behaviour. Pre-emptive action is far more effective than having to pick up the pieces once a troubled teen has tipped over the edge.
The notion of picking and eating blackberries is likely to be completely alien for some children, so encouraging interaction with the natural environment can boost their spirit of adventure. Activities which are organised outdoors can help children to increase in confidence and resilience. They can put their strengths to the test and work with others to realise that they are able to manage themselves in a risky and uncertain environment, and also to succeed.
For many young people, completing a testing task outdoors may be their first taste of success. This kind of positive experience will work wonders for their self-esteem and is sure to have a favourable effect on future engagement and motivation.
Residential stays akin to the old school Outward Bound courses can be highly effective for helping to achieve this kind of engagement. Packing youngsters off for a week in windy, wet Wales armed only with woolly socks, wide fit boots and waterproof clothing could well be the making of them. They might not board the bus with boundless enthusiasm, but they’re sure to be spirited and proud of their successes upon their return.
Of course, there will always be children from areas of the greatest deprivation whose parents may be unwilling or unable to pay for such privileges. Yet making sure that children are entitled to these educational experiences may be one way of enabling personal andsocial engagement.
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