In our latest interview, I spoke to Dan Brice of Channel Adventure, based in Minehead and Taunton.
Dan has been working in the outdoor industry since 2000. Dan worked alongside Dave Jackson to promote and develop outdoor education in schools, mainly Primary Schools across Somerset, with staff then delivering a six-week block. “The program consisted of work mainly around problem-solving, some basic Orienteering, shelter building so all the things that you could deliver on a school site without needing specialist equipment and specialist qualifications.”
Can teachers deliver Outdoor Education?
One of the questions I posed to Dan was around the fear some staff would have of delivering OAA, and if teachers should have any worries delivering it. “I wouldn’t say so, you know we’re not asking them to teach a river kayaking session or a climbing scenario, but I can also see where people get a bit nervous about it. I think for me, the biggest thing for me is that it’s good to get outside, get your coat on if the weather’s poor and just get outside.”
One of the biggest takeaways from the interview is to ask questions, rather than instruct children and help them solve the problem. Yes, of course, there needs to be some guidance, but ask a leading question, rather than giving suggestions. Those problem solving, creative thinking and teamwork skills are going to invaluable in later life, moreover, the feeling of working something out by themselves is huge.
A similarity that was evident with the YOGADOO conversation with Lucy, is that it doesn’t have to be a 6-week block, it can be woven into the school week/year. Delivering Maths outdoors for instance and using orienteering to help with numbers. I have to say, the schools we work with are really good at varying how their children learn. We are far more knowledgeable now about different learning styles and aware of how changing the environment and teaching in different ways can have a huge benefit to all children in the class.
Clearly the benefits to physical health are obvious, being outside and active will benefit this. But Dan talks about the connection to nature “sometimes we might lose that by spending too much time on classroom technology, but I’m afraid that we might lose our connection with nature and all that sort of stuff by being sucked in by the technological world as well. So, we need to make sure that we still instil that in young people.” This more than every is vital, as we have spent less time in the outdoors of late, those connections with nature and being in the outdoors with fresh air, those smells we’ve missed of being in a forest or by the seaside, we forget how important they are and how good they make us feel. Mental wellbeing is going to be tested in the coming weeks and months and it is important that we get outside when possible. Dan mentioned that he and his family have built a fire pit and have spent time toasting marshmallows and just talking, bringing them closer together. The outdoors is perfect for this. It doesn’t have to be rock climbing or orienteering, just being outside at a National Trust, or by the beach and spending time as a family can only be positive.
We went a little off-topic, but I think this is relevant for those with children of their own. We have to stimulate our children, both mentally and physically. We have been so lucky that the weather during the lockdown, has allowed us to get out for an hour of exercise each day, without this, can you imagine what bedtimes would be like?! I’m sure there are families that have struggled to do this and those with poor diets and habits, too much screen time will struggle at bedtimes. As I said, this is slightly off-topic, but it reinforces the importance of being active and outside in getting a good nights sleep, which will benefit mental wellbeing.
Bringing it back to Outdoor Education. We started talking about the benefits and again, there are a lot of similarities to the Yoga conversation, with some differences, but all reinforce the need to be active.
Here is a list of the benefits we discussed:
– social interaction
– connection with nature
This is a big benefit and I wanted to concentrate on this. Dan delivered some problem-solving work for us, as part of our Inspired Lives Project. A brilliant point he made is that “problem-solving doesn’t always have to be about the completion, it is what you learn in the process. Yes, completing the activity is brilliant and that’s really good for you know the motivation and everything else, but actually what you get a lot more from not completing something and having to have another go and getting into that Plan B.”
It was brilliant to see this approach in action. We spoke to the teachers and asked them to take a step back, to ask the question rather than instruct or give ideas, which was tough at times, as you could see some children struggling with the tasks. Yes, the focus was on problem-solving, but the resilience built throughout the sessions was clear. It is ok for them to fail, but they have to try their best. This was the mantra for the day, in fact, it was designed in such a way that some of the tasks, they would not have time to complete, which is fine. This mindset shift was really good to see, and I think in education, we teach for children to achieve, to pass exams, to do well in their coursework and classwork, but what does this teach them in preparation for adult life. We must learn how to take setbacks, but it is how to respond to them, that often sets people apart. Outdoor education is a perfect way to build resilience and creativity through problem-solving activities.
Different children respond differently
To finish, one of the best things to witness on the day, in fact in all the days during the Inspired Lives project is just how the children react and respond.
We have had some amazing feedback from staff, but the one that sticks in my mind is “those boys usually have to be kept apart during lessons, but they were a brilliant today in the gutter ball exercise.” Whilst this might not seem like much, this is huge. I love that an external coach, an expert in their field comes into the school with no pre-conceptions of who is who and what to expect. And in different environments, you quite often see children flourish, either as a leader or working outside on a task they have never tried or experienced anything like before. This is amazing to witness. One boy struggled to keep it together during the performing arts day, but as soon as the music kicked in, he was focussed and on task, loving the activity, but he had to stay active and I could see how this behaviour would be challenging in the classroom. I would guess that the boy might never become a scholar but could become an amazing DJ, WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT.
You see a different side to children in different environments, and outdoors is the perfect example. Dan made a brilliant point that OAA is often used in ‘Pupil Referral Units’ or PRU’s because this type of activity is suited to these units and is an excellent way to manage behaviour.
In summary, get OAA integrated into your curriculum, I know a lot of schools will go on residentials and this ticks the OAA box, but do more. Look into forest school or do some simple orienteering and problem-solving tasks to mix up the week or half term. Who knows, the skills learnt through these activities, may help in the classroom…
Some resources to help you do just this:
If you would like to know more about the work Dan and his team do, you can visit https://www.channeladventure.co.uk
Our Inspired Lives Day with Dan can be viewed here – https://inspiredschools.co.uk/videos/inspired-lives/