Nature, Wildlife, Adventure & Freedom! Outdoor Education in New Zealand

Nature, Wildlife, Adventure & Freedom! Outdoor Education in New Zealand is a glorious thing! We are so lucky to have a backyard filled with so many outdoor opportunities and I believe it is so tempting for young people to become hooked once they have had a taste of the outdoors. There are so many amazing Outdoor Education Programs on offer…the challenge is finding how many you can fit in! With the increasing dominance of technology, social media and a sedentary lifestyle, I believe Outdoor Education and connecting back with nature is becoming more and more important.

I grew up with tramping in my blood. Each year my family and I would plan a hiking adventure and trot off to tramping havens throughout New Zealand such as the sounds, or right up north to explore the cape. Although most hills made me want to sell my pack, I still came away a sense of accomplishment, freedom and positive awareness for my environment. Fast forward 20 years and that passion has led me into a career as a Physical Education and Outdoor Education teacher, with a passion for Duke of Edinburgh.

I believe that Outdoor education fosters the fundamentals of a young person’s life which encourages them to embrace adventure and appreciate the natural environment we live in. So many skills are learnt from outdoor experiences such as communication, teamwork and resilience. Each of these skills ultimately forge how we show respect for ourselves and how respectful we are towards others. As a teacher of Outdoor Education, young people thrive when they are passionate about something or they have made the choice to grasp an opportunity to experience something challenging for the first time. In this ever changing world our young people are surrounded by technology, constantly connected to others through the use of mobile phones, social media sites and the internet. What I feel is missing from this “connectivity” is the ability for our young people to actually form positive face to face relationships with like minded individuals.  Being in an outdoor environment enables you to form these relationships with others as you learn pretty quickly how important communication is. Trip planning, discussing funny stories around a campfire & cooking with others are just a few examples of where these relationships are essential. The skills required to experience the outdoors safely certainly teach you how important developing these interpersonal skills actually is and I do believe this is paramount to success in life. There is a real feeling of connection when out in the outdoors, a better connection you will ever get on your phone!

I have always enjoyed encouraging young people to involve themselves in any outdoors activities, from taking Outdoor Education at school, joining cadets and scouts, going on the Spirit of New Zealand, and also being involved in Duke of Edinburgh Programs run through many schools in NZ. At Orewa College we are lucky enough to have a strong Duke of Edinburgh Award Programme which has been running for over 30 years. This award requires individuals to complete 4 sections where they are immersed into challenging, self empowering experiences both in the community, at school and in the outdoors. Duke of Ed is all about young people building self- confidence and greater resilience, so they are more prepared for being successful in today’s ever changing world. The award is open to anyone between the ages of 14-24 yrs regardless of gender, background or ability. Young people are required to design their own award programme, setting goals and recording their progress under each award section , Skill, Service, Physical Activity and Adventurous Journey.

One of my favourite sections in the award is the adventurous journey section. This is where students are involved in planning an outdoor adventure, and then completing this as a group. We have been to many places throughout New Zealand namely, Spirits Bay in the far north, Karangahake Gorge near Thames, Lake Waikaremoana in the Ureweras, The Heaphy Track in the Kahurangi National Park and the Northern Circuit around Tongariro. Many students have commented on how much they have enjoyed these experiences in the outdoors and how they cannot wait to get back out there! Courtney from our Level 3 Outdoor Education class feels passionately about Outdoor Ed and the values it installs in her, “Taking outdoor ed in school gives me the opportunity to get out there and experience the activities in the outdoors that I may not get the opportunity to do otherwise. It is not a subjective class as each person has equal opportunity, whether male or female, so we all have the chance to work together and develop skills that we can use in everyday life and the outdoor community. It gives us a chance to appreciate the environment and get involved in activities whether it be for the experience and knowledge or for a future career”.

So there you have it. The role the outdoors has played in my life has shaped me into the person I am today. Giving back to others is one way we can move forward together making positive connections with others. Embrace, inspire and appreciate the outdoors!

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