Outdoor education is generally defined as experiential learning that takes places in, or is about, the outdoors. The benefits of outdoor education are profound and can have a significant impact on a child’s overall education journey. Children can experience novel adventures, form lasting memories and learn practical life skills. More than this, the cultural and spiritual benefits can be particularly empowering.
The idea of mother nature as a teacher is not new. However, we have seen a rise in formal outdoor education programmes in schools over the past 20 years. Though the history of outdoor education in Australia dates back much further than this.
In fact, Trinity Grammar School Sydney played a pivotal pioneering role in the introduction of outdoor education opportunities to schools in Australia. Trinity was the first school in Australia to initiate an off-campus communal education experience after an influenza outbreak forced the evacuation of boarders to a rural residence in 1919. Since then, the School has grown and extended a residential programme that today focuses on outdoor education, community living and reflection at a dedicated Field Studies Centre, in Woollamia. This sustainable facility in Jervis Bay allows boys the opportunity to learn about aspects of the world they live in and their responsibilities as custodians of this unique environment.
Outdoor education programmes can incorporate adventure activities, academic study, community service and reflection on Christian values and spirituality. There are many reasons why outdoor education is important for boys. Sir Ken Robinson, British author and creator of the renowned TED Talk, Do schools kill creativity sums it up best, “We learn much more from the world around us and each other, than we do from necessarily sitting indoors at desks.” While classroom learning is undoubtedly essential to the overall school experience, education opportunities in the outdoors can certainly supplement what is being taught in the classroom and can have a significant impact on academic outcomes and personal growth.
We unpack some of the more practical benefits of outdoor education below:
1. Enhances brain development
Although the brain is not anatomically a muscle, studies have shown that it is not a static organ and responds well to exercise. Further studies have uncovered that the brain’s hippocampus, or memory bank, grows when stimulated by novel events, places and other stimuli. There is no doubt that outdoor education opportunities provide boys with novel experiences outside of the classroom. These experiences can have a significant impact on the formation of memories and can also help grow the brain’s hippocampus which is hugely beneficial for brain development and can have a positive effect on learning outcomes through improved memory and retention.
2. Informs cultural awareness and understanding
Outdoor education is not limited to adventure activities, it’s also about raising cultural awareness, particularly for Indigenous cultural practices. Experienced outback adventurer, Michael Atkinson recently retraced the 1932 survival story of two German pilots, Hans Bertram and Adolph Klausmann, in Australia’s Kimberley region for his documentary Surviving the Outback. While the journey was physically arduous, it was Atkinson’s extensive knowledge of Indigenous culture and outback survival techniques that led to the success of his 450-kilometre expedition.
Through outdoor education programmes, boys participate in cultural activities with local Aboriginal people and learn about our role as custodians of the land. Boys also benefit from unique and fun experiences such as identifying and tasting bush tucker and learning bush survival techniques. These experiences allow for greater understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal culture and the place of Indigenous society within our nation’s history.
At Trinity, our Field Studies Centre is located at the nexus of the Aboriginal Dharawal and Dhurga country, with the local Aboriginal community and Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community Council working closely with the School to share local knowledge and culture.
3. Aids development of essential life skills
Outdoor education experiences remove boys from their everyday securities, encourage them to question established values and come to terms with strengths and weaknesses that are not usually apparent in daily life. Even the shyest boys can grow in confidence by trying new things and establishing more relaxed relationships with both staff and peers. Outdoor education aids the development of essential life skills in so many ways. Typically, boys will experience improved levels of self-discipline and self-reliance; they will learn to cope with confrontational experiences; they will experience teamwork; and develop a greater appreciation of their own physical abilities. In some cases, there will also be substantial changes in their approach to life, others, themselves and God. The setting allows such matters to arise naturally and easily.
At Trinity, our programme seeks to teach boys how to plan their time, evaluate what they are doing, identify available resources, display leadership abilities, communicate with others at all levels, identify the needs of others, counsel peers, and pursue a task to the end. Many outdoor education programmes often require residential or journey-based experiences that see boys spend substantial amounts of time away from the home. These experiences further improve necessary life skills as boys learn to be more self-sufficient by cooking, washing and taking care of themselves and their belongings.
4. Improves physical development and wellbeing
Boys are biologically engineered to be active, they enjoy taking risks and pushing themselves. Outdoor education programmes set physical challenges which test boys both mentally and physically, in a safe and controlled environment. While some boys may not demonstrate interest in traditional sports and physical activity, outdoor education programmes provide the chance to experience more novel physical activities such as abseiling, hiking, surfing and mountain biking. Generally, physical challenges within outdoor education programmes are demanding. Accomplishing such challenges enables a sense of achievement and helps boys to grow in independence, particularly important for adolescent development.
5. Encourages spiritual reflection
Our place in the world naturally comes under the spotlight when we encounter the magnitude and wonder of the natural environment. It causes us to pause and reflect, particularly in terms of spirituality. As one Trinity student expressed, “When away from technology and the comforts of home, we can reflect on our lives, relationships and the greatness of nature with which God has blessed us.” Outdoor education experiences afford boys opportunity to live in community, undergo deep self-reflection and learn about living in relationship, with others and with Christ. At Trinity, the outdoor education programme naturally complements our mind, body and spirit educational philosophy, where boys can discover the emerging purpose in their life’s journey.
At Trinity Grammar School Sydney, outdoor education opportunities enhance the holistic approach to the education journey of boys from Year 3. Our state-of-the-art Field Studies Centre allows for the integration of skills such as problem solving, organisation, teamwork, leadership and judgement, as well as academic and physical pursuits. We actively encourage boys to lean in to challenges to better prepare them for life beyond school.
Fuelled by a pastorally aware culture with exceptionally high levels of individual student attention, we aim to know, understand and nurture each student to help him realise his potential, passion and purpose in life, ensuring that every Trinity boy is challenged, inspired and guided to become a successful, compassionate, internationally-minded man.
To learn more about the Trinity difference and to discover why we’re one of Australia’s leading schools for boys, download our prospectus.