Camp Blog

The origins of Outdoor Education

6th March 2017

German visionary Kurt Hahn was one of the early pioneers of outdoor education. He was an insightful educator, an influencer and leaves a legacy of expeditionary learning concepts that have been incredibly influential over the years.

Hahn’s values included “concern and compassion for others”, “the willingness to accept responsibility”, and “concern and tenacity in pursuit of the truth”.

From his work, and that of other educational leaders, ELOB (Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound) schools were born, along with ten key expeditionary learning principles which are invaluable today in describing what it means to foster a caring, adventurous school culture and approach to learning.

The primacy of self-discovery
“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”
― Lewis Carroll

Learning happens best with emotion, challenge and support. We discover our abilities, values, passions, and responsibilities in situations that offer adventure and the unexpected. The primary task of a youth development professional should be to help youngsters to overcome their fears and importantly to challenge their self belief (facilitate the discovery that they are capable of more than they thought). Eg with tasks that require perseverance, fitness, craftsmanship, imagination, self-discipline, and significant achievement.
The having of wonderful ideas
Building on children’s curiosity about the world by creating learning situations that provide matter to think about, adequate time to experiment, and time to make sense of what is observed.
The responsibility for learning
Learning has to be both an individual process of discovery and a social activity. We learn both individually and as part of a group. Learners should be encouraged to be responsible for directing their own (personal and collective) learning.
Empathy and caring
Learning is fostered best in communities where students’ and teachers’ ideas are respected and where there is mutual trust. Small groups may facilitate this, with a caring adult looking after the progress and acting as an advocate for each child. Older students should mentor younger ones.
Success and failure
Everyone needs to enjoy some success if they are to build the confidence and capacity to take risks and meet increasingly difficult challenges. But it is also important to learn from failure, to persevere when things are hard, and to learn to turn disabilities into opportunities.
Collaboration and competition
Individual development and group development should be integrated so that the value of friendship, trust, and group action is clear. Students should be encouraged to compete not against each other but with their own personal best and with rigorous standards of excellence.
Diversity and inclusion
Both diversity and inclusion increase the richness of ideas, creative power, problem-solving ability and respect for others. It is beneficial for students to investigate their different histories, cultures and talents as well as those of other communities or cultures. Learning groups should be heterogeneous.
The natural world
Direct respectful relationship with the natural world teaches the essential ideas of recurring cycles and cause and effect. Students will learn to become ambassadors of the earth and of future generations.
Solitude and reflection
We need to explore our own thoughts in time alone. Individuals should make their own connections and create their own ideas. We also need time to exchange reflections with others.
Service and compassion
“We are crew, not passengers”. It is important to prepare youngsters with the attitudes and skills to learn from and be of service to others.

Kurt Hahn founded Outward Bound, the Duke of Edinburgh Award, and the United World Colleges and played a key role in shaping the evolution of outdoor education for schools and youth groups for many decades to come. His ‘six declines of modern youth’ including “Decline of Fitness due to modern methods of locomotion [moving about], Decline of memory and imagination due to the confused restlessness of modern life, the decline of skill and care due to the weakened tradition of craftsmanship and the decline of self-discipline due to the ever-present availability of stimulants and tranquillisers” still resonate with youth leaders today.