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.

Crossing Over

The Boy finally crossed over to his new Boy Scout troop this past weekend. I say “finally” because he’s been caught in that weird world between Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts that is known as Webelos. It’s a fine line to walk, being a Webelos Den Leader. You have to give them more responsibility and do more — especially more outdoors — with them, but you can’t take them as far as Boy Scouts. And the Webelos program is entirely too long at 18-ish months. I think starting them at Tigers Cubs (now “Tigers,” sans “Cubs”) may make Cubs too long, but we have to get to them before sports gets them too deep and their families think they’re too busy to add Scouting, too. Like I said, it’s a fine line. Maybe the Cub Scout program revamp coming in 2015 will fix some of that. I think it’ll help. But, for us, it’ll be mostly academic, as we’ll be deep in Boy Scouting by then.

The Boy did a good job of choosing his troop. Watching him hanging out with their older Scouts after the Crossover ceremony on Saturday night, I could already see how well he fits in with them. And I like the adult leaders, too. Some are from our old Pack, and some are new faces. All are great guys and leaders. I’ve been asked to be an Assistant Scoutmaster and accepted. Looking forward to figuring out my path to serving the boys of our new troop.

Map and Compass

The Boy earned his compass for hiking 75 miles with our Pack in the fall, so I wanted to get him a book on map and compass skills for Christmas so he could be learning the basics. I ended up getting him Basic Illustrated Map and Compass by Cliff Jacobson. The book is a solid introduction to map and compass reading and includes a short chapter on GPS, as well.

I read it in a couple of sittings, and I enjoyed the refresher course (not having had to use my map and compass skills much in the last few years). I wanted a book that was short and concise, and I trust Cliff’s advice. I enjoy his no-nonsense, “here’s what’s worked for me for the last 30 years” type of writing. His Expedition Canoeing is the bible of wilderness canoeing, and he’s working on a new edition of it for publication in 2015. His Basic Illustrated Cooking in the Outdoors is the book I recommend to new outdoors cooks, too.

The Boy will be learning map and compass skills on outings as he gets active with his new Boy Scout Troop starting on March 1st (our Webelos Crossover date). While he now has Cliff’s book and the Boy Scout Handbook, The Boy really thrives on learning by doing (“experiential education,” is the technical term), and he’s going to absorb most of this while doing it in the field instead of reading a book. But, books are still good for background and context.

Ray Mears

Ray-Mears-My-Outdoor-Life

Though he’s not very well-known in the U.S., Ray Mears is a household name in the U.K. (and likely well-known in Canada, too) due to his excellent television series (serieses?) about various outdoor or nature-related topics, including Ray Mears’ Bushcraft, Wild Britain, and Ray Mears’ Survival. He’s also the owner of the U.K.’s longest running (I think) bushcraft school, Woodlore.

Given that Ray has a very calm and very English presentation style, American channels have not imported his shows here like they have Bear Grylls’ over-the-top survival shows. Ray’s shows are far superior and educational. I love the Bushcraft series, especially the birchbark canoe and Canada wilderness river tripping (with guest star Ray Goodwin) episodes. Little known fact: the expert outfitter on the wilderness canoe trip episode was none other than the Happy Camper himself, Kevin Callan, another of my favorite outdoors writers slash tv (or YouTube) personalities.

Ray’s shows are aimed at educating viewers about the wonders of the natural world and how to life in harmony in the outdoors, but not in a hippy-dippy or macho way.

Ray released his autobiography, My Outdoor Life last fall, and it’s a good read.

The 10 Essentials Updated

The point of the Ten Essentials list (developed by The Mountaineers, with origins in the climbing course taught by the Club since the 1930s) has always been to help answer two basic questions: First, can you respond positively to an accident or emergency? Second, can you safely spend a night—or more—out?

There are plenty of other versions of the 10 Essentials, ranging from the Boy Scouts of America (the one I’m most familiar with) to the new, updated “system”-based version put out by The Mountaineers.

Ten Essentials: The Classic List

  1. Map
  2. Compass
  3. Sunglasses and sunscreen
  4. Extra clothing
  5. Headlamp/flashlight
  6. First-aid supplies
  7. Firestarter
  8. Matches
  9. Knife
  10. Extra food

Ten Essential Systems

  1. Navigation (map & compass)
  2. Sun protection (sunglasses & sunscreen)
  3. Insulation (extra clothing)
  4. Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
  5. First-aid supplies
  6. Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candle)
  7. Repair kit and tools
  8. Nutrition (extra food)
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. Emergency shelter (tent/plastic tube tent/garbage bag)

Several of the items in the classic list are combined in the new system list. Logically, map and compass have been united under “navigation,” as have firestarter and matches. I think it’s interesting that the new list doesn’t explicitly include a knife, something I consider essential when traveling in the outdoors, but if you read the annotation on the article about the 10 essential systems on The Mountaineers’ website, they include a knife under “repair kit and tools.” A knife is – of course – a tool.

I read somewhere I can’t remember about the shift from Boy Scouts carrying a traditional Boy Scout Pocket Knife (with can opener and awl) to carrying a multitool, since it fits contemporary Scouts’ gear better. It was an insightful observation. Still, I carry a dedicated knife (a – gasp! – sheath knife, even!) and usually have a multi-tool on me, a well.