When this seminal book was written, much Outdoor Education was designed to encourage young people to take up outdoor pursuits. The emphasis on recreation used to be much stronger then, e.g. training young people in camping skills. However, as time has passed, developing new recreational habits has become only one of many aims, which has been drowned out by 'higher' aims (social, environmental, educational, developmental, therapeutic, spiritual). Nowadays, therefore, activities will often be chosen with these higher aims in mind, rather than the simple aim of providing recreation.
Providers of outdoor recreation may therefore be contributing more than providers of outdoor learning to engendering a love of outdoor activities for their own sake, because the primary aim here is to give children fun. They can justly claim that they already make a valuable general contribution to a well-balanced (and therefore healthy) personality, as a result of providing residential outdoor activities/ holidays/ courses in an informal learning environment (experienced, however, as recreational rather than as primarily educational). The main benefits are:
The phenomenon of urban adventure and artificial adventure (climbing walls, ski slopes, boulder parks, skateboard parks, BMX tracks, new cycle routes) has grown in importance because it is more accessible/local and therefore more likely to result in regular activity. Urban-based projects such as the Akers Trust in Birmingham, the Drumchapel Adventure Group and Mobex are well placed to provide regular opportunities for outdoor activity, and could be developed to cater more for the same young people over extended periods - like an outdoor club). Such projects may have useful statistics, as may other schemes/projects that already support regular outdoor exercise, eg the Duke of Edinburgh's Award and Sustrans.
This research shows the appeal of outdoor activities (and their potential for attracting young people to become more active), but unfortunately does not provide robust evidence of an enduring effect on lifestyle. However, this may be more a question of whether programmes were specifically designed to achieve this. The following excerpts are relevant:
A follow-up survey of the same pupils three years later showed that the opportunities to take up the activities they mentioned outside of school were just not there. Only 5 out of the 114 in the follow-up survey managed to take up one of the activities on a regular basis. No-one had even tried rock climbing, motor racing or horse-riding, let alone had the chance to take it up.
This suggests that the lack of evidence of an enduring effect may be more to do with lack of opportunity than with lack of motivation. This could be because there were no local facilities or because participants could not afford to access them.
Questions about what activities they wanted to try showed that their interests were shifting towards adventure activities as young people get older.
As the CCPR response to the Choosing Health? Choosing Activity Consultation has shown, lack of long-term investment in such activities is currently a barrier to increasing capacity to deliver, and hence to increasing participation.
Particulars of this research may be viewed at www.shef.ac.uk/pr/press_releases/pr96/44-96.html. Nichols evaluated schemes designed to encourage and support young people in taking up a regular interest in sport or outdoor activity in order to divert them from crime. The same principles and procedures might well apply in relation to obesity. These programmes were the most deliberate efforts we know of to get young people to change their lifestyle and take up a regular physical activity.
It is a longitudinal study showing that sports counselling has an enduring effect on offender behaviour. Although we have not researched the evidence, we think that there must have been studies showing how PE lessons in schools affect lifestyle choices. Equally, the reduction of PE in schools must surely be contributing to more sedentary lifestyles.
This study lists health (mental and physical) as a benefit of participation in watersports and gives evidence from Welshman's research on Children's Fitness and Activity Levels (British Journal of Physical Education, July 1994, vol. 6, no. 4, p. 13) that 'mounting evidence indicates that adult activity patterns may be established in childhood, therefore emphasising the significance of early childhood experiences in sport'.
Also Wallace provides evidence of increasingly sedentary lifestyles amongst young people (Wallace, J., 1994, The Health of the Nation, in The Leisure Manager, August/September, Vol. 13, no. 3, p. 27). Taken together, these papers demonstrate the advantages of watersports for reversing the undesirable effects of sedentary lifestyles.
Development training providers are experts in behaviour change and can point to successful work in all kinds of areas (people with disabilities, people with health problems, people who have offended, people developing vocational skills). Just as it is possible to design programmes that tackle low self-esteem, offending behaviour, stress management etc. so it is possible to design programmes designed to encourage other kinds of lifestyle change - towards a more active lifestyle. Development trainers have a wide array of skills that help people to learn from the consequences of their actions, that help people to reflect deeply on long term goals and values, that get people into more positive grooves by building on small successes and that create (through partnership or coaching) the long term support needed to maintain the desired behaviour change.
A suitable outdoor programme (such as a sailing voyage) could be used as a reward for taking regular steps towards a more active lifestyle (e.g. walking to and from school every day) or for taking steps towards nutritional change (e.g. keeping a food and drink diary). The reward approach has been highly successfully used by the Merseyside Police in their PAYES scheme over a period of ten years, in conjunction with a leading provider of outdoor development training, the Brathay Hall Trust. It has prevented many young people known to be at risk of coming to the attention of the police. There is similar research, over a shorter period, into the lasting effects of the West Yorkshire Police Inclusion Programme, also conducted with Brathay.
A key feature of development training and outdoor education is the importance of promoting the transfer of learning to different settings; indeed, the ability to do this is one of the mandatory national units of occupational competence. All candidates for the Level 3 S/NVQ in Outdoor Education and Development Training are required to submit evidence of having promoted the successful transfer of learning from the outdoors to other settings (eg work, home, club). The number of such candidates is estimated to be about 500-800, and the average number of participants in outdoor activities per candidate is estimated to be 50-100, so there exists uncollated evidence that 25,000 to 80,000 participants have, or can be inferred from externally verified portfolio evidence to have, transferred their learning to other settings. It would be quite extraordinary if such learning has not included a desire for more physical activities like those they have enjoyed.
It follows that the 'feel-good factor' experienced by the vast majority of participants in outdoor centre activities can readily be related to opportunities back home, and information can be (and is) provided about local facilities. This could be strengthened by having suitable posters in the centres to encourage lasting participation in outdoor activities. It is also quite usual to plan for follow-up initiatives at intervals after a residential, to ensure that the requisite learning has, as expected, been transferred to the home setting.
As our earlier paper described, there is a barrier to the greater use of the outdoors for keeping fit. Parents have become almost paranoid in not letting their children out into open spaces unaccompanied by an adult. At a policy level there is common ground between the Outdoor and the Playwork sectors of the Active Leisure and Learning industry in trying to combat an irrational fear of the outdoors. Amongst the many causes of childhood obesity, this parental paranoia probably has a large part to play.
In any campaign to encourage the greater use of outdoor activities to combat obesity, it will be important to take this culture of fear seriously. The Campaign for Adventure, launched in November by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh with the support of the English Outdoor Council, is proving very successful in persuading parliamentarians to address this problem. It is to be hoped that the Department of Health will add its support to the Campaign, with the object of lowering the barrier that is dissuading young people from engaging in active outdoor activities. The fact that the Brazier Volunteering Bill, which sought to address this problem, was talked out in the House of Commons makes it all the more important for government departments to find other ways of lowering the barrier of fear. A reference to this in the White Paper would be one such means.
Bertie Everard, Martin Hudson, Graham Lodge