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What is Outdoor Education??


Numerous people have approached me and asked about my job and what exactly outdoor education is.  I’m sure most people encounter similar questions regarding their particular job and industry.  Have you ever actually taken the time to research the specific definitions and key terms used in your industry??  I finally decided that using the same definition my boss told me 5 years ago during training just wasn’t cutting it and I wanted to soak up all the definitions and philosophies out there regarding my industry.  I encourage you to do that as well if you haven’t already done so.

I did not get my degree in Outdoor Education so I never received a formal education on what exactly it means.  I went through a few articles on outdoor education and discovered one that really enlightened me on the term.  Feel free to read the article, Outdoor Education: Definition and Philosophy, by Phyllis Ford.

Phyllis Ford informed me that there is so much that entails outdoor education that it is near impossible to really put one specific definition on the phrase.  She continues to let the reader know that there is one really broad definition that helps give the general audience a solid meaning of the phrase.  That definition is, “Outdoor education is education ‘in’, ‘about’, and ‘for’ the out-of-doors.”  The term “in” the outdoors refers to the idea that outdoor education should be taken place in some outdoor setting.  This can be ANY outdoor setting, there are no real restrictions on this.  The term “about” refers to the idea that every principle, every topic can somehow be traced back to the natural sciences and the outdoors.  As the educator you want to shoot to make this connection with the students.  The word “for” the outdoors refers to us acknowledging that there needs to be some kind of respect between yourself and your environment in the outdoors.  There needs to be an acknowledgement that we are stewards of the outdoors.  This basic definition should give people a sense of how broad the field is.  This could consist of many different types of lessons and ways to go about it.

Outdoor Education does not have to take place at an outdoor education facility.  Not-for-profit, for-profit, municipalities, recreation departments….you name it, any organization can facilitate outdoor education.  The author of the article, Outdoor Education: Definition and Philosophy, also discusses the philosophy of outdoor education.  The biggest philosophy that I gained from reading this article was that outdoor education is and should be a life-long experience.  It isn’t just meant for a 5th grade class at an outdoor education facility.  Those 5th grade students should spend more moments throughout their life eager and thirsty for more knowledge and awareness “‘in’, ‘about’, and ‘for'” the outdoors.  It is a continual process.

The other three philosophies of outdoor education listed in the article mainly pertain to our involvement and knowledge of the outdoors.  The first one is to build an awareness of what it means to be a steward of the outdoors and to accept that fact.  The second one mentioned is to learn the principles and concepts in the environment and in a cultural sense.  Once the concepts are introduced it is vital to learn how everything is connected.  The third philosophy that Ms. Ford brings up is that it is vital for humans to understand their involvement in the outdoors and how that impacts the outdoors.  Even if we are just leisurely enjoying our time outside we are in some way or another impacting the outdoors.

Outdoor education is not necessarily synonymous with such words as “environmental education”, “experiential education” or “conservation education”.  All these terms take on a whole new meaning.  Environmental education covers the total environment and topics in that particular area.  Conservation education focuses more on our carbon footprint and natural resources.  Experiential education is all about engaging the participants fully into a topic they are being educated on, otherwise known as “hands on learning”.  There are many more terms that people like to associate outdoor education with.  This can be okay to an extent.  For instance, my company does outdoor education, but we also do experiential learning.  This means that we not only meet the definition of outdoor education but we do the same for experiential learning.

I know this article Phyllis Ford wrote helped me out with having a better idea of how to explain to people what exactly outdoor education is.  I’m hoping to fall upon more information that helps give me more insight into my own industry but for now I am going to accept what little enlightenment I received today.

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