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Risk, challenge & adventure

The above document is our policy for Learning Outside the Classroom.

  • Many people believe we are producing a generation of ‘cotton wool kids’, who are missing out on experiences that help to raise their self-esteem, give them confidence and increase motivation.
  • Current research suggests that not allowing young people to engage in independent mobility and environmental learning denies them the opportunity to develop the skills and resilience that they need to be able to be safe and manage complex environments. There are also indications that such restrictions have long-term implications for young people’s future development, health and well-being.
  • It is sometimes argued that exposing young people to any risk is dangerous. In fact, the opposite is true
  • It is sometimes argued that exposing young people to any risk is dangerous. In fact, the opposite is true. Teaching young people to manage risks for themselves and take sensible decisions makes them safer. It also helps them to develop as mature adults, responsible and mindful of others.
  • Learning outside the classroom helps young people to develop the ability to cope with and experience a wide variety of challenges. It requires them to make informed choices and to understand and take responsibility for the consequences. It leads to a positive ‘can-do’ attitude. Risk and challenge can be provided in all learning outside the classroom contexts – from activities within school grounds, to adventurous expeditions overseas. LOtC is statistically very safe.
  • The challenges which young people face in many learning activities outside the classroom require the management of risk. Managing risk through appropriate planning, supervision, proper equipment and a regard for other factors such as the weather or the time of day is what contributes to making these activities safe for young people while still offering sufficient challenge. These activities not only give young people the opportunity to manage risk for themselves, but also provide wonderful opportunities for them to be actively involved in risk management planning.
  • The Health and Safety Executive is clear on the benefits:

    “Exposure to well managed risks helps children learn important life skills, including how to manage risks for themselves… children, in particular need to learn how to manage risks, and adventure activities such as rock climbing, sailing and canoeing are an ideal way of doing this.” RSA Risk Commission Conference, 31 October 2007

  • “You can’t teach young people about risk from a text book – they need some practical experience. That’s why cosseting children and seeking to remove all risk from their experiences ultimately leaves them ill equipped for adult and working life. When they join the world of work, young people need to be prepared to recognise and manage risk.”
·Judith Hackitt, Chair of the HSE, 2012, Young people, risk and an exciting education

A useful guide to risk in learning outside the classroom is Nothing Ventured, written by Tim Gill for the English Outdoor Council. Download Nothing Ventured.

Personal & social development

Communication and social skills

  • A drama workshop requires teamwork and helps to strengthen friendship groups.
  • A residential experience enables staff to get to know young people, and young people get to know each other, discovering different aspects of each others’ personalities.
  • An experience, such as visiting a power station, stimulates discussion and encourages young people to share ideas and opinions.
  • A musical performance gives young people a feeling of achievement and a sense of personal success.
  • Young people planning their own programme or activities gives them a voice and choice and ensures their active involvement.
  • Undertaking voluntary work in the community gives young people a sense of making a positive contribution.

Knowledge of the world beyond the classroom

  • Young people who live in the country may encounter a town or city for the first time or vice versa.
  • Environmentalists, town planners, artists, curators, scientists, politicians, musicians, dancers and actors can all act as new and powerful role models.
  • Going to an arts venue can encourage young people to try the experience again.
  • Recording the reminiscences of older people gives young people new insight into their community, and brings historical events alive.
  • Going to a local civic institution like a town hall builds knowledge of how communities function.
  • A school or youth council enables young people to learn about and participate in democratic processes
  • Visiting the library enables young people to find out what they have to offer – apart from lending books.
  • Children and young people with profound learning difficulties and disabilities may not often experience visits to galleries, concerts or the countryside because of the difficulties of transport and personal care which parents have to consider and cannot always manage alone. Educational visits may provide the only means for these young people to have such experiences.

Physical development and well-being

  • Visiting a park, field studies centre or making a school garden all provide physical activity and develop an interest in the environment.
  • Participating in recreational activities help to develop physical well-being and the growth of confidence.
  • Many learning outside the classroom activities can also provide attractive alternatives to competitive sports and can lead to a lifelong interest in healthy physical recreation.

Emotional, spiritual and moral development

  • An integrated dance workshop with able bodied and disabled participants can help young people empathise and develop awareness of disability.
  • Activities in the natural environment can encourage a feeling of awe and wonder, and an appreciation of silence and solitude.
  • Visiting a place of worship develops an understanding of religion, reflection and spirituality.
  • Engaging young people in conversations about values and beliefs, right and wrong, good and bad supports their moral development.

Exploring health and well-being through direct experiences adds depth and relevance to classroom learning.

Examples of where this can happen include:

  • Growing vegetables and herbs, harvesting, composting and cooking all offer opportunities for young people to develop environmental responsibility, contribute to healthier lifestyles, understand better where food comes from, develop important life skills and, when they experience new flavours, educate the palate.
  • Working in a team in a school garden or local allotment is like being in a ‘green gym’ — being involved in physical activity as well as developing social and communication skills.
  • Experiencing total darkness and/or silence in a wild remote place is an opportunity to explore feelings and reactions to unfamiliar surroundings — fear, excitement, and comfort from friends, for example.
  • Role playing or acting out situations with actors in a theatre workshop is a safe, managed environment in which to explore emotions, reactions to other people’s behaviour, and the effects of one’s own actions upon others.
  • Sacred places offer unique surroundings and atmosphere for reflection and exploration of spirituality and faith.

Research shows the beneficial effects of learning outside the classroom on health and well-being. Many direct experiences cannot happen in a classroom environment because young people need different spaces and activities to help them. Learning outside the classroom in non-formal settings can help young people to:

  • experience and understand their emotions which are often turbulent in adolescence
  • learn how to operate successfully with their peers and with adults
  • see the potential for experiencing calm and relaxation through reflection
  • take control of what they eat
  • release energy and increase fitness through physical activity.

Research by NFER shows that there is substantial evidence to suggest that outdoor adventure programmes can impact positively on young people’s attitudes, beliefs and self-perceptions. Examples of outcomes include improved independence, confidence, self-esteem, locus of control, self-efficacy, personal effectiveness and coping strategies. It can also help with interpersonal and social skills such as social effectiveness, communication skills, group cohesion and teamwork.



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