Does the Term “Outdoor Education” Belittle The Value, Scope and Impact of What We Do?

It’s striking to me that the term “outdoor education” still insinuates to many people that it’s solely about learning outdoor skills.  Just the other day a parent emailed to ask questions about our programs. “What’s the point in sending my daughter on an ALIVE trip this fall when she will have just returned from summer holidays?” She went on to say that she will have just spent a summer by the lake, and it is time to crack down on her academics, rather than outdoor skills.

Should we drop the term “outdoor education” and start calling our programs something like “Education for Life Success”, “Expanding Essential Life Skills in the Outdoor Classroom,” “Valuable Learning” or just simply what it is –“Education?” How do we convey to doubting parents that these experiences beyond the traditional classroom walls are invaluable when it comes to nurturing key life competencies, such as learning to work as a team, how to communicate effectively, how to listen thoughtfully, how to fail with grace, how to support others in reaching their goals, how to live in community, how to sit alone in silence, etc.

How do we highlight the immense value of working together to get everything across a portage, the beauty of sleeping out under the stars, and waking up early to nature’s silence and beautiful mist rising off a serene lake?  For a long while now I feel like the term “outdoor education” limits people’s perspectives of the valuable lessons that can be learned when they step away from their screens, their parents and the comforts of their homes. How do we effectively explain to people that we are simply using the outdoors as a classroom for enriching the lives of young people as they move towards adulthood? How can we convey that we collectively work diligently to create and deliver programs that aim to help young people expand their depth of emotional intelligence, their sense of personal awareness, their confidence level to stand on their own when called upon, and so much more.

Later this year, with the help of Lakehead University’s Assistant Professor, Ryan Howard, social media and hopefully the support of Alumni Associations through our partner schools, we intend to gather data from people that we can track down who have graduated from schools where they participated in multiple ALIVE Outdoors programs.  We have countless, humbling and beautiful testimonials from students who have taken the time to reflect upon their school years and have sent us notes of gratitude for the skills that they learned through their time on their ALIVE programs, and we appreciate these notes immensely. Now we want to formally gather data to help deepen and highlight the value of the lessons that can be learned while with ALIVE.

Maybe the name ALIVE Outdoors insinuates that we are teaching the skills necessary to stay alive in the woods. The truth is, we feel we are teaching the skills necessary to live a grounded life. A life where young people can live from a place of deeply rooted self-awareness, with the tools required to navigate whatever comes their way.  ALIVE stands for Adventure. Leadership. Individuality. Values. Empowerment, but in the end, what we really hope it means is that we are delivering impactful experiences that help young people develop the tools to thrive in this ever-changing world.

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