Importance of Outdoor Recreation in Education

Modified: 9th Jul 2018
Wordcount: 1562 words

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This essay is designed to have you explore the research around the goals and purposes of different approaches to outdoor learning. There is a significant body of learning theory that informs how people interpret and understand natural environments and it is essential that you familiarise yourself with this work. Some of the key approaches you should consider in your work include: adventure education, outdoor recreation, outdoor education, outdoor environmental education, environmental education, outdoor environmental studies, adventure therapy, and bush adventure therapy.


My name is Steele Millroy and I am currently studying a Bachelor in Secondary Education at the University of the Sunshine Coast, majoring in Health and Physical Education (HPE), or as it may also be known, outdoor studies. HPE is an umbrella term for many varieties of outdoor educational teaching practices. These include outdoor recreation, outdoor education, adventure therapy and outdoor environmental education. The two that I would like to focus on for this essay are outdoor recreation and outdoor education. I believe these two have the biggest impact on my career area, while still being effective even within the limitations the classroom provides.

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Today, when we hear outdoor recreation, it is often associated with the term leisure or leisure activities (Martin, Cashell, Wagstaff, & Breunig, 2006). Outdoor recreation is defined to be an active side of leisure that transpires in a natural setting such as a mountain, lake or field (Martin et al, 2006). Being actively immersed in these outdoor locations can have a profound effect on the way people view their environment. It can change a person’s perspective of the way we use, understand and appreciate the natural environment (Martin et al, 2006). As a person begins to use their environment for recreation, it starts off as just another piece of equipment for them to use, but as they return to the same spots repeatedly, it can become like an old friend. A person will notice more and more detail about the environment as it will become more familiar to them. They develop a deeper appreciation for landscape and everything it has to offer. Outdoor Recreation now has become increasingly popular since the 1950’s due to the prosperity of western countries and their increase in leisure time (Martin et al, 2006). This also lead to areas that previously had been relatively unknown becoming popular activity spots and in doing so has had a detrimental effect in some natural areas (Martin et al, 2006). In America, this concern led to the first significant study done by the Outdoor Recreation Resource Review Commission (ORRRC), which was to assess the state of outdoor recreation in America and make suggestions on its future development (Martin et al, 2006). These suggestions by ORRRC have led to the Outdoor Recreation Act of 1963 and the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 (Martin et al, 2006). These acts have helped reduce the impact humans have on natural recreation areas and help improve those areas for the future. Examples of the natural areas that we use for recreation are things like hiking trails, rivers or streams that we kayak on, mountains for climbing or even an open field for a game of football or cricket. In summation outdoor recreation is a great way for humans to become more involved in nature, but we must become educated in a way that ensures us we are not doing damage to the places we love.

A way to keep humans educated with how our environment works and why we need it is through Outdoor Education. Outdoor Education is broadly defined as the philosophy of learning by doing (Priest & Gass, 1997). The term Outdoor Education covers two main subjects of Environmental Education and Adventure Education (Martin et al, 2006). In Environmental Education the emphasis of learning is placed between people and their natural environment and natural resources (Priest & Gass, 1997). Adventure Education focuses on interpersonal growth through the opportunities that adventure experiences can give to us (Martin et al, 2006). Adventure Education is often done with a group of people that will have to work together to complete a certain task. This provides them with a personal challenge while still have to use skills such as decision making, communication, cooperation and most of all they learn to trust each other (Priest & Gass, 1997). The educator who is running the challenge structures it in such a way that the risk is perceived to be much higher than it truly is. This gives more opportunity for the participants to hit their peak adventure point while still being challenged to grow and change (Priest & Gass, 1997). Examples of this type of education would be a rope course where your team must all pass together or a navigation exercise where your team is left some basic equipment and you are dropped off in an area you don’t know. This navigation exercise can be very beneficial as it can seem like the risks are very high (when it is just your group and their survival skills), but in truth the guides who dropped you there would know the area extremely well and can remove you at any time if the situation calls for it. With this adventure education you must then become involved with environmental education for without knowing about the environment we could lose the nature and beauty that we all love about adventure education (Priest & Gass, 1997). Environmental education can be parted into two segments: ecosystemic relationships and ekistic relationships (Martin et al, 2006). Ecosystemic relationships refer to independent organisms living in the ecosystem, whereas ekistic relationships refer to the interactions between people and the environment, or how we treat our ecosystem, and in turn, how that will affect us (Martin et al, 2006). An example of this relationship would be humans polluting a river or lake, then in turn having no fresh water to drink. In this relationship, if we take care of that specific environment, it will in turn take care of us. Outdoor education is a very important tool for us to understand each other and our natural environment.

Both outdoor recreation and outdoor education are important to me being a HPE teacher. Outdoor recreation is one of the big examples of being a HPE teacher. Since all schools will not have the same funding for their sporting programs, the ability to go outside and create a game or activity, that uses the natural landscapes around us, are vitally important. Doing this will show the students how to use the land respectfully and in turn can be woven into a lesson of Environmental Education. The benefits of using outdoor recreation as a learning tool are that it can be very cost effective, the games can be played by the students at home without much equipment and the students begin to appreciate the natural environment and getting immersed within it. Outdoor education can work well alongside outdoor recreation. I believe that they complement each other well. In recreation, they can make relationships to a place while in outdoor education they learn why that relationship is so important. During my career as a HPE teacher I will also be endeavouring to use Adventure Education. I believe that using Adventure Education in a class setting as it can strengthen the class as a whole and make different friendship circles communicate with each other. A challenge for me will be providing such a challenge in a school setting that seems high risk even when it isn’t. A possible way around this would be a day trip somewhere if the school budget allows it. When we are not doing practical classes and are in the classroom, that is when I will begin to teach the students about ecosystemic and ekistic relationships. These are both important pieces to the outdoor education puzzle as they teach the students how we can impact one little organism and then how that can impact the ecosystem as a whole. In that past there has been some debate on whether all this should be taught in a HPE classroom, but I agree with L. B. Sharp (cited in Ewert & Sibthorp, 2014) when he said “those things which can best be taught outdoors should there be taught” (p. 6).

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These disciplines of outdoor recreation and outdoor education will be a great tool and asset to the modern HPE classroom. Getting the students involved in the outdoors and playing games is a great way to keep their attention while we teach them how to respect it. When students form their own relationships with a place, that is when they truly start to understand the importance of nature. Doing this through outdoor recreation and outdoor education is an effective and affordable way to achieve this goal.


Ewert, A. W., & Sibthorp, J. (2014). Outdoor adventure education: foundations, theory, and research. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Martin, B., Cashel, C., Wagstaff, M., & Bruenig, M. (2006). Outdoor leadership: theory and practice. Journal of Education and Outdoor Learning, 8, 3-12.

Priest, S., & Gass, M. A. (1997). Effective leadership in adventure programming. Palaestra, 22, 17-26.


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