Cultural issues in Outdoor Education
Philosophical and Cultural Perspectives on Outdoor Education Outdoor Education- A site of Cultural struggle Introduction This paper tries to identify some of the cultural issues affecting the lives of young people and children and their access to outside natural environments. It looks at the cultural changes in society that may have suppressed or is suppressing the potential development of children through this medium and what the potential negative aspects might be in the future.
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I would like to start by looking at the difference between outside spaces and natural environments, then to identify some issues elated to their access to these spaces. Identifying the difference between outside space and natural space Children in the I-J from the youngest age will have access to outside spaces, it would be inconceivable to imagine that they would not. Firstly I would like to define the difference between the terms outside space and natural space. Outside spaces.
From the home environment there would be a garden, local park or communal gardens, from child care establishments and schools there must be access to outside areas for recreation, outside classrooms and playgrounds. Natural spaces By definition a place of nature or wild place that has minimal human influence over its development and growth, it is not aesthetically pleasing by design, but a creation of life by design of nature and the demands of the environment. Wildlife in natural places are exactly that, and not hand reared and expectant of close human contact.
It should be an area where an individual can begin a voyage of discovery through the varying seasons and find his or hers connection with that environment. Access to outside spaces As for home gardens, a generation ago this space was perhaps not so important in he context of this theme, as access to other natural outside spaces were more common place, now with the restriction or decline of access to these other natural spaces we find children are spending much more time in their own gardens for outside play.
With the increase in arbitration, the increase of housing throughout the I-J, we find that the average garden for a new family house is relatively a small space, and with many adults working longer than ever before, low maintenance gardens are even more widespread. The result of this is a small outside space that is nearly well managed, after all low maintenance translates into more paving slabs, shingle etc and less natural elements that require effort and nurturing.
For families living in high density arbitration, such as high rise flats in city areas, where there is no immediate garden then the outside accessible areas will have a similar theme, well managed and manmade. As for school play areas, these environments are also managed and designed by man, they have evolved from an age where it was utilized being fed information, they were designed to allow children to run around usually in rage numbers and situated so as they could be supervised by adults with ease.
The fundamentals of this are still pretty much the same, only now you may find more set play apparatus, but with a high tendency towards health and safety aspects, soft landing areas, minimum heights, etc. From 1870, when the Education act was in place, schools existed to train children in the habits of the workplace, they aimed to teach children conformity, obedience and deference to authority, and most schools were designed and built with little regard for outdoor activity.
Margaret McMillan, ho was the founder of the Macmillan child centre where outside play was heavily promoted, identified that play has continued to be relegated to outdoor ‘playtime’, and to be regarded as trivial and unimportant compared with the serious business of filling heads with information. Play has historically had little to do with what went on in school. Natural spaces There is a vast difference, as a whole, to how children can access a natural environment than they did 40 years ago.
The change has been fairly gradual but has increased much more in the last 10 to 20 years producing a much bigger difference. My aim here is to identify some of the fundamental reasons as to why this has come to be and then further to try and map out some potential consequences of this current situation. So what are these changes? Well it is more than apparent that generally children are spending less time outside of their home setting involved in active play with others in a natural environment.
The Natural England poll found that a generation ago 40 per cent of children would play in woodland, heaths and other open spaces during their spare time. Whereas children today are increasingly cosseted with less than ten per cent playing in the countryside at the weekend or after school. Factors influencing this change can be described as direct and subliminal, direct in the sense that many parents and guardians have bought into a way of life that has seen a vast reduction in the time, individual quality time, that is spent with their children.
From the sass’s the political stance from a Margaret Thatcher conservative government was that you could be a successful career woman and have a family, it was statements like this that addressed equal opportunities, it as a movement to empower women, who after all had a role model in a female prime minister, leading the country. Maier Fay, editor of a very popular woman’s magazine was quoted: “In the sass, we thought we could have it all and aspired to high-flying careers and happy families, but the cracks are starting to show. Family life is suffering and something has got to give. Also official figures show that 12. Million women have a Job, compared to Just 8. Million in the sass. On top of all of this, a study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which presents industrialized nations, found that in the I-J, British workers now work up to errs longer than they did in the sass’s, we are the only nation in Europe that works longer, at the other end of the spectrum it found that in Finland they worked up to 7 hours less per week, the Dutch 6 hours less and the Germans 4 hours less.
So we are working more hours per week, more women are in employment, these are direct choices that we have made that help shape our cultural and communal existence, perhaps it was primarily driven by the need for consumerism, the ideal that success action to this direct choice, in 2006 the Office for National Statistics looked at nearly 4,950 people over the age of 16 in Britain, and findings make grim reading for working parents who already worry that they spend too much time at work and not enough time home.
It concluded that a typical working parent spends Just 19 minutes a day looking after or spending direct uninterrupted quality time with their children. On top of that there is the increasing demand on parents helping their child develop academically through homework and projects from school, this further impinges on a child’s time and how it is spent interacting with their parents.
Middle class working parents may be paying the price for the consumer boom of the ass’s and ass’s, left with large mortgages, running two cars and trying to maintain a level of lifestyle they regard as successful, and in a position to provide a standard of living that is comfortable for their family. These definitions are based on a BBC family statistic report where in 2006 there were 17. Million families in the ASK, 71% of these were headed by a married couple, 40% would own 2 cars, 79% would be living in a retrograde house, 90% of the fathers would go out to work and 68% of mothers would go out to work also. With reference to mortgages, usually the single biggest payment to come out of a working couples income, has risen dramatically since 1998, from an average mortgage of approximately ASK to an average of KICK in 2010. An average repayment in 1998 would have been around IEEE per month where as today it is IEEE per month, so pressures are very real for working families.
Ironically though how many working couples have a playroom at home for their children full of toys, hat the children don’t play with, how many times does the television go on so as parents can catch up with their chores, but it is k because there will be some underlying educational message in the program because it’s CB. Or how many children are left to play on their computer games because it makes life easier. SEA, the entertainment software association compiled a sales, demographic and usage data report and it showed that 63% of parents in the US believed that computer games were a positive part of their children’s lives.
Are we kidding ourselves that our hillier are getting all the stimulation, development and education through these multi media streams and through their schooling that incorporates similar multi media technology in a classroom? What our children are being denied the most is time and attention from parents. There is evidence to suggest that modern working parents over compensate for their absence or lack of quality time with their children with material goods. So by the mere fact that we as a nation of working parents are unable to spend enough time in the week with our own children, is a major factor in the ability to access places of nature.
Everyone it seems is Just too busy. Another is the risk averse culture that has evolved over the last generation, and I have labeled this influencing factor as subliminal, due to the nature of how I have seen it evolve. We have over a period of time been subject to a lot of coverage of “stranger danger” through the media, parenting skills have been dissected and Judged through television, we have almost been cloned into what is expected from adults as responsible parents. We have culminated in to a society where caring for our children has managed to translate itself into caring = protecting from all, becoming sis averse.
So in a nut shell, we have less time with our children, and when we do parameters, (the home setting), or so we think, denying them opportunities in greater natural surroundings. Is it not fair to say that a majority of children are now being brought up indoors, marketing for children’s toys are heavily weighted towards electronic games and devices, computer games are now as big an industry as the film making business, we even have electronic keep fit games that encourage us to keep fit without leaving the front door, is this the generation of battery reared children?
Part of my argument comes back to the time that can be spent between child and parent. I feel that this generation of parents understand that their children need outside space and a natural environment to help their child develop but are not providing it, or not providing enough opportunity for it, and are relying on the schools and cryГ©chess and after school clubs etc to provide it, as part of their service or curriculum.
The problem with that is that we are going back to the situation of a well managed outside space where supervisors are risk averse due to the liability and lain culture that has also evolved in the I-J. Children are coming home with a tree rubbing from a single tree in the playground or stuck a leaf onto a piece of paper etc, which is fine, but all these types of activities have preset outcomes, they are managed, and are structured.
They are not allowing children to experience things for themselves, they are not being allowed to discover their environment in an unstructured manner and dealing with risks that come along with it. Also in a school or similar setting the children are part of a managed group, no one child will get the mount of individual attention that a parent could or should bestow upon their child, no one will know that child better than the parent, and it should be the case that no one should delight in the development of a child as their own parents.
At present I believe we have a generation of responsible parents who understand they do not spend enough time with their children due to work commitments, they understand that their children need outside space to play and develop and that being able to do that in a natural environment is also essential. But I feel that they are putting more ND more into the hands of the schools and childcare providers to provide these experiences.
The establishments I have Just referred to do use outside spaces but in the manner I have previously described, and this is where one aspect of our cultural struggle presently lies in outdoor education with young children. Benefits of playing and learning in a natural setting If we can highlight some of the benefits of learning in a natural space then we can also identify what potential areas of a child’s development will possibly be lacking and how that may affect the next generation as this generation becomes the parents.
There has been much written and discussed about the benefits of learning in natural spaces, starting with the obvious is the physical activity that is involved, this addresses some of the long term issues of child obesity. If we can present children with physical activity as being the norm instead of a selected period of Just pure exercise they are much more likely to engage in it and continue to do so over a longer period of time. So it has positive health benefits.
Social interaction, playing in a natural environment can help develop relationships in young children on many bevels, it can be argued that this happens where ever you place children in a group, but in a natural environment you are much more likely to have the opportunity to strong bonds and long lasting memories. Again it could be argued that children gain adventure through school settings, such as trips to outdoor centre, but again these are managed experiences with the child not really having ownership over the experience.
It is another area for discussion and is debated well, with articles such as adventure in a bun by Chris Lowness highlighting some of these issues. If we look back t how the lives of many working parents are, if and when they manage to get out into a natural environment with their children they are void of all their work issues, they are not concentrating on other household chores etc, they are there with their children and this can be used as quality time to help develop relationships with each other.
In many cases the adults need the experience more than the children. Reflection and solitude, many children lack the time to reflect in their lives, and it is an important tool for later on in life, and a natural setting offers the environment that sakes away all the everyday distractions for this process to take place.
On a similar level, many children enjoy moments of solitude, this again can be readily accessed in a natural environment amongst the peace, quiet and tranquil settings, rather than on a bench alone during playtime at school amongst the noise and traffic of a large number of other children, these actions in a school setting can also be wrongly interpreted as a child being lonely, when sometimes it is Just a child trying to find a bit of space and solitude. Sense of place, it helps children develop their mental map f the landscape around us.
It gives them the opportunity to link places together and help with their concept of distance and time. Being a part of nature, it is my belief that children should be able to be in a natural environment and be able to create an understanding and belief that they are as much of a part of nature as everything that is around them. That they are not separate, that there is not an us and it situation, and the only way to experience and develop that emotional strategy is to be immersed into the environment, and be guided into respecting the diversity and roles of our echo system.
There are other factors that come into play that are helping with the disassociation of nature amongst children, even the children’s oxford dictionary has left out words in the latest edition that refer to nature such as beaver, heron, magpie, dandelion, acorn, and willow. Whilst these words have been removed, words that have been entered are blackberry(as in the phone), MPH and blob.
Promotes sustainability, at a local level, this I feel links in very closely with the previous statements, if a child develops the respect for their local natural surroundings then we have the very basis for sustainability. Once more this is a hole subject matter all of its own, but unless we are willing to let our children discover what is important locally in terms of environmental sustainability then how can we expect them to develop the positive conscious mindset that would be required for cultural change needed for the future.
The argument at the moment is that it is all set out with good intentions that the current generation of children are learning about the destruction of the rainforest’s and which animals are close to distinction, about oil spills and climate change etc, but they are learning this through a classroom setting through electronic media. It is positive as far as it may stir some conscious feelings about the state of the planet, but this is a world that these children have not yet experienced or seen for themselves.
They are huge problems olds may heighten awareness but if they can not relate it to their own lives and environment, then surely it will not have the long term outcome that is required. If a curriculum that is focused on saving the Earth does not work, then what will? Research has shown that environmentalists with strong ecological values had 2 main contributing factors whilst growing up that helped them develop these values, one as many hours spent outdoors in a keenly remembered wild or semi-wild place in childhood or adolescence, and the second was an adult who inspired them and taught them respect for nature.
Not one of the conservationists surveyed explained his or her dedication as a reaction against exposure to an ugly environment, or as a reaction to being taught about the negative state of the Earth. So could the answer be as simple as Just having opportunities in a natural environment with guidance and influence from a responsible adult? Maybe. Developing skills in assessing risk, his is another area of development for a child that is getting worryingly overlooked at the present time.
In a natural environment a child can discover through experience, he or she can make decisions and realist the consequence of actions through natural play. It is perceived at present that the outdoor natural environment is a dangerous place, trees are too high they might fall out, it’s too dirty and they will pick up some deadly germ, it’s too cold and windy they will catch a cold, there is a stranger in any one of those bushes Just waiting to kidnap a child, and that there are just too many accidents waiting to happen.
The alternative is to stay at home where it is safe. Although the ROSA carried out a survey on child accidents in 2002 and found that up to the age of 14 there were 8,519 accidents where children were victims in the home settings, but out of doors, this compared to 3,758 accidents in a natural setting. We should be exposing our children to risk in their lives in order for them to develop the skills in which to deal with it later on in life, but it needs to be experienced under the guidance of a responsible adult.
Who would be the best placed person in this case, a parent, or a professional person at a school working awards predetermined outcomes and has the weight of health and safety on his or her back in a world full of “no win no fee” liable cases. Perhaps we don’t need to provide an environment that is as safe as possible (the home or indoors) but is as safe as necessary (the outdoors).
So there we have it a very basic outline of some of the benefits of playing and learning in a natural environment, so if we are entering a period where children are being denied enough access to these sorts of environments then what are the possible potential consequences? If we are the generation of parents that have experienced the freedom of playing in natural environments whilst growing up, consciously or sub consciously understanding the benefits of those experiences and yet are not exposing our own children to enough of it, then what will happen when our children become the parents?
Will they have less of an understanding of the benefits of play and learning in natural environments? Will it get pushed further and further down the list of priorities? Will they become even more detached from nature? Will we see a lack of empathy with wildlife as connection becomes less? Will there be even more emphasis for schools to cover environmental subjects through their curriculums?
I certainly feel that there is no close solution to the work culture of working parents at the present time, with a translates and filters down to the average family as possible redundancies in public sector areas, loss of Jobs in private sectors, wages rising at a rate below the rate of inflation, and interest rates so low that the only way for them to go in the future is up. Not good news for all those 79% living in mortgaged houses.
All this creates a general feeling of “lucky to be in a Job” situation, and there is very little incentive to start reducing any working hours and decrease income in order to “play more with my hillier outside. ” So if this situation is unlikely to change, or possibly get worse, then the responsibility will inevitably fall more onto the schools and establishments dealing with the teaching and development of our children. There are downfalls to this scenario as it stands at the moment, some of which has already been highlighted, but there are other gaps in this provision that need attention.
Referring back to an article by Alison Lug and Deirdre Clattery entitled “Use of national parks for outdoor education” there were some very worthwhile factors that were drawn from their findings. Although it was studied in Australia, it was noted that the questions raised may be relevant to the international outdoor education community, of which I agree, especially in terms of this essay. Their findings concluded that there was a need for significant professional development in environmental education for outdoor education teachers, particularly where centralized curriculum or programs demand such knowledge and skills.
This study identified that training is particularly needed in relation to ecological processes, land management practices and critical analysis of environmental issues and practices. With a greater understanding of such principles, practices and pedagogy, teachers will be more able to make informed decisions about the most appropriate locations and activities for the outdoor education experiences. From my own experiences this resonates to practices I see going on today, some of the positive steps forward are the development of forest schools that provide positive outdoor learning experiences.
However, rather than these types of providers being seen as separate, I would like to see them become more entwined with schools, working closer with teachers and the curriculum at a base level, not as a bolt on alternative. Conclusion Although many issues have been raised in this paper, perhaps on too much of broad representation, it has shown that current modern lifestyles have changed dramatically in Just a generation. It has shown how this has had an impact on children’s access to natural environments and their development stages whilst playing and learning in these areas.
It has shown the increased demand for schools to teach outdoors and deliver environmental issues through the curriculum, but it has also shown the need to re address this area, to deliver it more responsibly at a ore gradual stage that is more relevant to a child’s local natural surroundings to help promote sustainability. In order to promote this I believe there needs to be greater understanding from government on the issue to allow greater flexibility in the curriculum for schools in order for them to develop it so as it is relevant and focused common goals, not Just tick curriculum boxes.
There also needs to be increased awareness for parents on the benefits of playing and learning in a natural environment and not Just look for ineffective alternatives, such as the health benefits of playing outside. A parent could put the WI fit on for their child, the children work out whilst they can get on with something else. Learning and developing an empathy with the natural world and wildlife – a parent’s response could be to watch more wildlife programs and buy a cat. Problem solved. Sustainability – encouraging children to recycle as much as possible, we’re doing our bit!
Social interaction- my children have lots of friends, they’re always at birthday parties or sleepovers, no problems there. Reflection and solitude- my child is only 6, what have they got to reflect on? As for solitude, I don’t want my child to be the one with no friends. These are of course random and perhaps rather abstract responses, but still very plausible. Parents need to break free of this risk averse culture and implement the positive aspects that learning and playing in a natural environment can bring.