The Future of Outdoor Education

In the context of being a Scout Leader and a father of a really outdoorsy boy, I’ve spent a lot of time in the last several years studying (as a layman) the general area of “outdoor education.” It’s also often called “Adventure Education” or “Wilderness Education,” and it lies along the spectrum of experiential education. I’m especially interested in how that can lead to more people interacting positively more often with Nature.

imagesDan Garvey gave a great keynote address at the 2012 NOLS Faculty Conference about who outdoor educators are and what they can do to help shape a better future. (As an aside, what appears to be nearly the entire conference is available as a YouTube playlist of over 40 videos covering a broad range of fascinating talks.)

Garvey cites a study in which Outdoor Ed majors scored the highest of any major in terms of their moral reasoning ability (the ability to make ethical decisions). Does the outdoors draw people who are already inclined to be moral or ethical or is it something in outdoor education that creates or nurtures that in them?

And though creating generally more people who are ethical and moral in their everyday lives is important, the essential things that getting kids exposed to Nature will do is create adults who will take action to preserve our wild spaces. A generation of kids raised on video games who’ve never been camping or hiking or swimming in a creek, or fishing, or hunting, or any other outdoor activities will not be the adults who write the legislation and the checks that help fight to protect our environment, both the wild places and where we live.

reconnect-kids-nature-500x280Creating and nurturing ethical and moral behavior in Scouts is certainly a focus of Scouting, since the outdoors is just one of the methods of Scouting, whose main purpose is to help raise good citizens who are equipped to make moral and ethical choices as adults. (As an aside, I wonder how many of the subjects in that study were Scouts or former Scouts?). That time spent in the outdoors is a major part of the moral and ethical training of Scouts, I’d like to say that would be the case for non-Scouts, too, who spend a lot of time in the outdoors.

Fewer and fewer children spent enough time in Nature these days. Scouting is a good organized way to make that happen, though there are other programs available for getting outside, too, and I’d certainly like to see more of them, and having more people involved in Outdoor Education — both professionally and as volunteers — will help that. With a rise in Outdoor Education programs, hopefully more ethical people will get even more kids outside.