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Nurturing the personal development of children through outdoor education with Inspiring Learning

Skern Lodge

The theme for 2022’s #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek (7-13th February) is ‘Growing Together‘, which recognises that emotional growth can often be gradual and that sometimes children can feel ‘stuck’.

Uncertainty and inconsistency in surrounding environments can contribute to lower levels of emotional intelligence or slower emotional growth.

As the second anniversary of lockdown approaches in March this year, the extent to which children’s emotional growth has been affected by the pandemic continues to be a crucial topic of research and discussion. 

In March 2021, Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, launched The Big Ask, a survey of children aged 4-17 that received over 500,000 responses revealing children’s hopes, fears, stories of lockdown and dreams.

Thankfully, the responses showed that 8 out of 10 children are “okay” or “happy”. Of significant interest, the survey revealed that many children understand how closely mental health and physical health are connected.

Responses also showed that 1 in 5 children are concerned about their mental health, a reflection of the 21% of children who chose “anxiety” as the top word to use when discussing health and wellbeing in a 2021 Oxford University Press (OUP) survey 

It is fast becoming widely recognised that spending time outdoors, physical activity and collaborative experiences are essential parts of the mix to aid personal development. Providing children with the environment and tools to open their minds to new challenges and to adapt to different situations, as individuals and in teams, improves levels of confidence and strengthens emotional security, in turn nurturing a resilient generation of children. 

Leading outdoor education programme provider, Inspiring Learning, works with people of all ages from toddlers to C-Suite directors to develop life skills, with confidence building, resilience and teamwork focused outdoor activities as the core principle informing each activity. Since 1980, over 1 million children have attended Inspiring Learning’s day and residential camps and on average each year more than 165,000 young people attend its residential camps from over 35 countries across the world. 

In June 2021, Inspiring Learning carried out a Schools Residential Survey of 300 teachers to find out their views on the benefits of residential school trips and to what extent children’s wellbeing and mental health have been affected by the pandemic. Improving resilience, confidence and wellbeing was ranked as the highest benefit of residential school trips, and 84% agreed that children should spend part of their day outdoors. 65.3% agreed or strongly agreed that children had lost part of their childhood due to the pandemic (25% were neutral) and 74.9% agreed or strongly agreed that the resumption of school residential trips would have a positive impact on the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils.  

Being active in the great outdoors raises energy levels, and it can improve mood and have a positive effect on sleep, all important factors for character development and improving self-confidence, while shared physical activities help develop social skills, equipping children better for relationship building in future life. Now that children have been given back their freedom post-lockdown, they have opportunities again to be active and interactive, to flex their minds and to participate in experiential adventures which can help channel energy and regulate emotions, key to a child’s growth and development. 

Richard Thomas, Executive Director of Skern Group, part of Inspiring Learning, providing bespoke educational programmes for schools and corporates, as well as apprenticeship training, has several decades experience in delivering outdoor learning activities:

“Completing a team assault course requires not just physical energy but also a positive mindset, communication and consideration for others,” he says.  “A science day held outdoors in the pouring rain, observing river flow, depth and bank erosion, will have children buzzing about their day long after it has finished, and is bound to be an experience that will be logged in their brains and be recalled as a challenge overcome with topics learned, and a story to recount time and time again.” 

Identifying the mental health benefits of outdoor and physical activity adds huge value to the experience, not only for the children but for teachers and families, too. Engagement, concentration skills and enthusiasm are attributes that have been noted to improve and shine during outdoor experiences, with the additional bonus of creating memories for years to come. 

Another division of Inspiring Learning – Kingswood – provides residential adventure breaks for schools and groups.

Executive Director Guy Chadwell explains how Kingswood embeds three core learning outcomes in activity programmes and delivery – confidence, resilience and life skills:

“A residential experience builds self-confidence and encourages collective approaches, improving social skills and sharpening emotional intelligence. Through thoughtfully designed and tailored activities, set against learning outcomes, young people can be presented with new challenges which require perseverance and determination. Setbacks should be viewed as a positive learning experience and failure as an opportunity to grow.” 

Forming and sustaining positive relationships, managing and articulating emotions, and exploring and engaging with the surrounding environment are key to healthy emotional growth. By introducing children to new horizons and encouraging them to expand their boundaries in a safe and supportive environment, self-confidence, empathy and resilience all improve, preparing children for the myriad of opportunities, challenges and joys of life to come. 

Jof Gaughan, Executive Director at Inspiring Learning’s Camp Beaumont day camps, stresses the value that its school holiday activities provide.

“Day camps are an opportunity to add immense fun to functionality and to create an environment where children can achieve so much without realising. They can become engaged in new physical activity that is not part their routine lives, they can connect meaningfully with other children while developing social skills, they can be encouraged to step out of their comfort zone and build self-confidence, learning along the way that taking part in a challenge is equally as important an accomplishment as winning.” 

Ellie Websdell, Executive Director at In2action, part of Inspiring Learning, providing expertise to the education and leisure sectors through transformational training, concept and programme design, as well as bespoke training for the corporate sector, to shape reputation and raise standards, says:

“We strive to see all generations of people unleash their potential and to progress from ‘good’ to ‘great’. Through experiential learning opportunities in the great outdoors, we see people’s body language change as they become more relaxed, we see them becoming more engaged and motivated. By designing outdoor education programmes with real purpose, we can look towards great outcomes and happy people who can aim high with improved confidence, social skills and resilience, as we emerge from the limits of lockdown.”

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