Co Authored with Nicola Ainger. First Published in School House Magazine Spring/Summer 2017 pg 44. Photo by G House.
My teenage years are some way behind me but not so far that I can’t remember vividly the pressure I felt from sitting public examinations. It’s fair to say that today this pressure has only increased as universities demand ever higher grades and parents expect a good return on their significant investment in school fees.
The one thing that kept me sane then – and still provides an escape – was the ability to get outdoors, explore and experience adventure outside the classroom. Adventure not only helps children let off steam, I would go so far as to say it plays a vital role in equipping them with the necessary skills and behaviours to set them up for life after School. Understanding risk and not shying away from it is an important life skill. Pupils can develop their risk management through being exposed to it while they still have the support of the School environment. Adventure education enables pupils to demonstrate and adopt behaviours that will help them lead a fruitful and interesting life, in which they are organised and flexible, willing to have a go and learn from their experiences.
Regrettably, we live in an increasingly risk-averse world and the perception of danger, along with a range of Health & Safety guidelines, can make delivering truly adventurous experiences at School something of a challenge. Parents are, understandably, concerned about their children’s wellbeing. However, with detailed parent briefings, clear communication, careful planning and a bit of imagination, it can be done. Our adventure programme at Dauntsey’s is made up of two aspects:
Accessible adventure consists of programmes where large numbers of pupils have short experiences that serve as an introduction to adventure and to various activities. These serve both as educational experiences in their own right and as a gateway to “high adventure” for those that enjoy them and find them rewarding. The potential for misadventure is much lower, hence the term “accessible”. An example might be learning to kayak on the Kennet and Avon canal, camping in the School grounds, or a night hike on Salisbury Plain.
High adventure includes longer-haul trips, activities and experiences that involve relatively small numbers of pupils participating at a high level, normally with a high staff to pupil ratio. Typically, this type of adventure will require time and dedication from the pupils and they will have to work to achieve specific skills and competence at a given activity which will allow them to access remote or challenging environments. The potential for misadventure is greater in high adventure and care must be taken to ensure that participants are ready and willing to engage with it. Parental reassurance and involvement is crucial, not just from a safety perspective but to help encourage and motivate participants when the going gets tough. Examples of high adventure might be participating in the Devizes to Westminster canoe race, trekking in the Himalaya or crewing our tall ship, Jolie Brise.
Younger pupils develop a passion for adventure through the accessible adventure programme which is then developed and expanded as they move up the School when they can take on more challenging activities in the high adventure programmes. The results we observe are remarkable. Pupils who started with us being relatively quiet and cautious by nature, grow in confidence and are willing to take on new experiences. Those who you might not immediately view as “the outdoors type” can demonstrate great resilience and good humour in the face of adversity. I particularly enjoy seeing pupils learning to be as concerned for others as for themselves and – most importantly – being able to admit and then correct their mistakes. Equally, the more confident ones learn to follow leadership before they are then able to provide leadership when needed.
Developing these traits can take courage. Exploration inevitably involves a few wrong turns, so we work to build the confidence needed to tackle challenges pupils may not believe they can do, safe in the knowledge that, if things go wrong, we are here to guide their learning. As a result, pupils’ confidence and self-esteem rise dramatically as they discover what can be achieved, often under challenging conditions – and this pays noticeable dividends back in the classroom in terms of academic progress.
I have been lucky enough to develop a career out of adventure but I would argue that adventure activities at School create a platform for pupils to set themselves apart and, as a consequence, develop into the person that they aspire to be. In short, what you learn through adventure can have a profound effect on the development of your character and your entire future.