Teamwork is a skill required in many aspect of one’s life including school, group projects, and future careers. However, most people would not consider outdoor education to have a major influence on developing cooperation and teamwork. Many scientific articles and education literature reference environmental or outdoor education as a framework for creating teamwork among people of all ages.
Benefits of Outdoor Education in Early Years
Last week, a fifth grade school group came to Greenacres for a wilderness survival field trip. A constant remark made by most chaperones was that it was great to see their pupils or children interacting and working together. In particular, the fire building station was the activity that provoked the most need for communication and teamwork. Students were broken down into groups of four to construct their fires. During this activity, students were only given five matches to create a successful fire. With only five matches, the students had to debate when and how they would use their provided matches to light the tinder and kindling. With some guidance, most student groups were able to successfully start a small fire.
One group specifically comes to mind when discussing teamwork. This group of fifth graders seemed far beyond their years when attempting to build a fire cooperatively. Instead of rushing off to find sticks and leaves, the students collectively decided to delegate certain tasks to individuals in their group. For example, one person would go collect tinder, one would go collect kindling, and one would collect larger sticks to build the “fire architecture”. Although these students were only 10 years old, their cooperation rivaled (and possibly exceeded) group projects of far older children. From personal experience, there always seems to be one child who designates themselves the leader and either does all the work of tells everyone else what to do. However, this group shattered the typical one leader and follower stereotype commonly seen in school group projects. Although I cannot attribute the students’ success in fire building to Greenacres or outdoor education, I can say that working together on an outdoor activity helped these students further develop their communication skills and cooperation.
Outdoor education not only builds teamwork and cooperation, but also builds more evasive attributes such as self-esteem and confidence. While building fires, even the most shy child would feel validated and successful when they and their group were able to start a fire. Additionally, children are able to ask questions freely, allowing for exploration of imagination, increased self confidence in reasoning, and a greater appreciation for learning.
Benefits of Outdoor Education for Adults
As an undergraduate, students are somewhere in between high school and the real world, which often times creates a very individualized workload. During my junior year, I attended a class that heavily involved group work for a semester long project. Although every undergraduate has had some form of group project in high school, I found that communication was an issue between group members. Sometimes the objectives or goals of our project were not clear to other members, mainly because we were not overly familiar with one another, but also because we had never been taught effective cooperative communication methods.
Not only K-12 students can benefit from outdoor education. Multiple research articles indicate that undergraduates and postgraduates exposed to Outdoor Adventure Education (OAE) programs report growth in teamwork, communication skills, and leadership. Specifically, a study conducted by Roos et. al 2016 suggests that when visiting an OAE program more than once, adult students reported growth in teamwork and communication skills upon their first visit and improvements in leadership upon their consecutive visits to the OAE. Additional review articles indicate that OAE’s improve group work skills, while improving existing student connections.
Teamwork, group work, or communication skills are not only important academically, but also for employability and life in general. Student’s who develop effective communication skills early can better communicate their wants, needs, and feelings with teachers, adults, or their peers. In the end, this makes their communication skills highly trained by the time they reach adulthood and enter careers. In general, the more effective your communication, the more effective your work space; both of which can be fostered and nurtured by outdoor education.
Roos, S.J., Lennox, A., Botha-Ravyse, C. 2016. Student’s soft skill acquisition in an outdoor adventure education event over two years of participation. International Journal of Social Sciences and Humanity Studies Vol 8 No 2.
Cooley, S.J., Burns, V.E., Cumming, J. 2014. The role of outdoor adventure education in facilitating groupwork in higher education. School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston B15 2TT, UK