In Our Words

Separating Outdoor Education from Holistic Education
Separating Outdoor Education from Holistic Education

Separating Outdoor Education from Holistic Education

by Alex Thomas, Physical & Health Education Teacher/Outdoor Education Coordinator

In a previous article ("It's not about the bike", Sept. 4, 2017 YIS Express) I wrote about, as the title suggests, outdoor education not being about the bike, or any other equipment used on an expedition. However, try telling that to the grade 10 and 11 students who are, as you read, probably relying quite heavily on their air regulator, snowshoes, gaiters, forestay, BCD, PFD or quinzhee. Their minds and focus are on the activity of the moment, not on the pedagogical implications of the activities.

The YIS Outdoor Education and Expeditions program has been developed to enable students to learn how to live and lead in adventurous situations. We should nevertheless keep in mind the inherent joy they experience when they forget about all of the holistic learning just for a moment. In doing so, they can simply concentrate, for example, on making sure the design of their snow cave doesn't drip on them throughout the night, or on checking that their wearable Buoyancy Control Device (BCD) is fitted correctly, and working, or on shouting accurate instructions to their boat crew in noisy gusts to enable the ketch boat to sail close to the wind and reach camp by night fall. It may be hard to imagine a different situation in education where a student would need to be so attentive and motivated due to the obvious consequences of not executing these tasks correctly. These are just some of the real circumstances that require absolute focus from the students.

Niigata Expedition Student

The great news is that outdoor education and the nature of experiential learning will naturally, powerfully and authentically grab the student's attention. Their skills and knowledge in such technical aspects of expeditions will increase; and with that, comes heightened self-esteem, confidence and learning about themselves and the world they live in.

"I did it!" is the exclamation people often hear on expeditions. These are magical words that cannot be separated from the importance of the task accomplished, especially in such adventurous activities as sea kayaking, diving, snowshoeing, hiking and sailing. Using their hands to solve problems, applying husbandry skills to care for a peer, completing an arduous journey and mastering technical equipment, simply makes them feel good. For young people this is vital. In fact, it is this mindfulness, this deep-seeded motivation stemming from the reality of their surroundings, that makes for a truly powerful learning and growing experience.

Oh wait, I'm not writing about the learning now am I? I'm supposed to be writing about the importance of the bike, the boat, the dive tanks, the compass and fancy new hiking boots, correct?

Or am I? Can we truly separate the passion for adventurous journeys in the outdoors from holistic education of the student? Many would argue not. But let's, just for now, allow the students to engross themselves in these wonderful opportunities. We can talk about how they grew as people at a later date. Or maybe, we will all just notice it when they come back.

Best of luck to all grade 10 and 11 students on their expeditions. Enjoy the journey and remember, just for now, it is about the bike, the boat, the kayak, or the snowshoe.

You are invited to watch this video for more voices from our Outdoor Education program.
Our Expeditions page provides details on the trips for each grade.