Outdoor Education – what can you do as a parent – Part 1 of 2

Parents students outdoor education

I’ve worked in the Outdoor Education field (child-bearing years excluded) since 1989 and there have been many changes over that time. As an entity, our management of risk has improved tremendously, our programs are now more journey based and often sequential, giving a sense of change and resetting the daily expectations. The quality of food and recipes are broad and nutritional as well as catering for all the dietaries that present themselves. The equipment is well maintained and turned over within good time frames. The staff are better trained and equipped to deal with different groups and emergencies. Venues are scoped to achieve outcomes for programs. And so much more.

Parents students outdoor education

However, there have been many changes since 1989 and when you read the following you’ll notice the difference between your memories of what you did ‘on camp’ and what’s happening these days. Part 2 (go here) of this article will give you the practical tips and guidance to work through some of these issues.

Let me highlight some of the issues we face as outdoor educators today:

  • Most students don’t know how to cut vegetables, particularly hard ones like carrots. Given a capsicum, a student will often look at me quizzically and say either ‘what is this’ or ‘how do I chop this?’

Parents students outdoor education

  • Most students don’t know how to cook. Asked to bring rice on a program for a group of three, I’ve seen numerous times a student pull out a 1kg bag on a self-cater program not knowing that this would feed an entire group + other campers nearby. This is despite encouragement to practice at home prior to the trip to work out quantities.


Cooking breakfast camping

  • On a five day program, students would prefer to bring 8 Up & Go’s for breakfast than muesli, weetbix or other cereal and mix up powdered milk. Their reason? Too hard. If they are self-catering, encourage them to bring healthy whole food – muesli, weetbix, porridge etc.
  • With restrictions on perishable food being taken on camp – many parents are supplying their kids with expensive dehydrated dinners. This is missing the point. It’s about the process, not the end result. Plus, they’ll receive a constipated child at the end of the week as these dinners are fine as a one-off but not on a regular basis.
  • Two-minute noodles do not count as a meal. I regard them as a nice snack while preparing dinner but not to replace dinner. They offer not calorific value and believe me, kids need all the nutritional value they can on an outdoor education program.
  • No lollies. No energy drinks. No processed snack foods. Stick to whole foods. They’ll offer more dietary value and get them through the program with more energy and fewer cravings.
  • Young people need to understand that it’s imperative they practice good hygiene techniques while camping. Gelsan isn’t enough. Soap, water and more soap, then more water. It’s all provided so use it.

Parents students outdoor education

  • Students in the ’90s would carry 15kgs packs, walk for five days, averaging 15 – 20kms a day. Today they’d be lucky to carry 12kgs (many students needing a pack shuttle), they’d rarely walk for three days and it would be unheard of a student walking 15kms – more like 10 – 12 kms.
  • There were no mobile phones in 1989 and in fact in 1992 on my BMLCC (Bushwalking & Mountaincraft Leadership Course – the only qualification around at the time for bushwalking leaders), someone brought a large brick style phone along to ‘test it out’. We were all horrified that a phone on our bushwalk would spoil the experience. We enjoyed walking to get away from the technology and here it was in our face. Within two years, as a leader, if you didn’t take a phone on a program you were regarded as negligent! How times change. However, we still encourage no technology in the outdoors. No MP3’s, phones, Nintendos, DS’s, tablets and so on. Not sure how we’ll go with the Apple Watch becoming more mainstream, but we encourage students to disconnect from technology and connect with what’s around them – people and nature.
Parents students outdoor education

NO phones on camp – please!

  • Parents pass on their fears and expectations to their children. They don’t want their child to get cold and wet but that isn’t necessarily the same for your kids. And frankly, they need to be a little uncomfortable, a little stretched and stressed. Yes, that word stressed. No one wants their kid to be stretched, least of all me as a parent. But I know that my kids have awesomeness inside them and it’s only when I allow them to experience the goods with the bads and let them shine through that they appreciate the potential they have.

  • Your experiences camping will no doubt be different to what your child will experience. Let them find their own feet on the trip.
  • How can our kids grow if their world is a bubble of never experience walking with a backpack in strong wind, trying to put a tent up in the rain, putting on a wetsuit in the morning that is cold, sunburnt shoulders because they didn’t put on sunblock, the hard slog up a hill with the reward of beautiful views. The world can be tough whether in business or working for yourself. How can we expect our kids to draw on their strengths if they’ve never had to face adversity?
  • Young people lack resilience and yet it’s the one word that is bandied around within educational institutions all the time – ‘help make my child resilient – but don’t let them work hard, do it tough, make them cold or wet or hungry or accountable.’ Grrrr. Effort equals achievement. Read this for more information.

Parent student outdoor education

  • Don’t make excuses for them. Here is a  list of the regular excuses I hear from parents: “she’s too small to carry a pack”, “my son has growing pains so he can’t carry a pack” or one of my favourites, “my daughter must have a shower during the week otherwise she feels dirty”. Again, don’t underestimate your kids.
  • For those of you that camping is unfamiliar – I urge you to embrace it. I’ve consistently found that the best leaders have come from those who’ve taken onboard outdoor education trips. They are organised, prepared, flexible, can work in a team, take control if required, be a leader as well as a follower, think on their feet, be proactive, play devils advocate, problem solve, think laterally and creatively, mindful and respectful of others, work collaboratively, are often humble, see the greatness in others, sympathetic and much more. That’s not a bad list.
  • If a teacher or leader says your child ‘played up’ – they did. Whatever you might be thinking that ‘they would never do that’ – they did. And probably more than once.

Now it’s your turn.

How have you found your experiences send your children off on camp?

How have they coped?

What advice would you offer other parents?

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