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The Benefits of Camp Schools with Students (Part 3)

Posted by Andrew Stuart* (Youth & Community Development Consultants) on


Student Support Services & other ‘specialised' outdoor programming services provided to our WA schools

The Education industry reports that outdoor education is highly valuable in terms of its ability to develop technical skills to undertake different activities safely in the natural environment, an appreciation for the environment, as well as broader personal development in terms of leadership and interpersonal skills. This was recognised in the first national curriculum, when it stated that outdoor recreation is, “an important part of learning in the Health and Physical Education curriculum as they promote lifelong physical activity. They also contribute to health and wellbeing through direct personal experiences and connections with natural environments. Outdoor activities provide a valid environment for developing movement competence, promoting a sense of wellbeing and enhancing interpersonal skills.”

Providing our students with time-out in nature and related outdoor camp experiences, can be a perfect antidote to the buzzing distraction of modern childhood. After a school camping trip to the forest or the beach, their minds seem to be more reinvigorated. There is a very good reason why...”

Attention Restoration Theory, first developed by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan, asserts that people can concentrate better after spending time in nature, or even looking at scenes of nature.  Turning the theory into practice, by encouraging young people to spend time outdoors in urban parks or wilderness areas has been shown to help many people.

Students can experience significant benefits. According to Attention Restoration Theory, resting in green environments allows students to regain the attentional focus they need for academic success in school. Concentrating in the classroom requires the brain to work in a way that cannot be maintained forever. The longer the brain must hold focus and ignore distraction, the more it loses the ability to concentration.

Attention Restoration Theory predicts that when the student’s brain interacts with nature, there is a shift in the brain’s attention systems. This shift toward relaxation restores the lost mental energy. Allowing students to rest in green areas during breaks can rejuvenate them and improve their readiness to learn.”  (Matt Stevenson, MSc, is a PhD student at the University of Copenhagen)

Today, the need for revitalizing the attentional focus is more relevant than ever. Worldwide, screens increasingly claim our children’s attentional resources during both school and their leisure time. Although smart technology can be used for pleasure and social activities, studies suggest that overuse leads to smart technology-induced stress and addiction in students. The is also a need for schools to utilise more specialised student services that assist children and young people to develop further skills in their personal and behavioural development. Clearly, research indicates spending more time in the outdoors is beneficial.


WA CAMP SCHOOLS:  External Student Support Services in WA -- “It’s all about to Change!”

Specialised Outdoor Education Services in Schools

In similar fashion and complimentary to our amazing WA Camp Schools service delivery, outdoor education involves providing students with practical and active learning experiences in natural environments and settings. These activities can also be provided by experts employed by the school or can be outsourced to outdoor education service providers. Those involved in leading these ‘specialised’ activities are trained either through the vocational qualifications in outdoor recreation, university-level qualifications in outdoor recreation or a teaching degree with some subjects in outdoor recreation.

As the school education system currently stands, the provision of outdoor education in schools is highly dependent on the resources of the school, as well as the Principal’s — or other decision maker’s — appreciation of the benefits of outdoor education. This makes the inclusion of outdoor education in schools highly disparate. However, the sector is also reporting that outdoor education has been a growing field.

These inclusions will mean that all school students will have a potentially greater level of engagement with outdoor recreation and outdoor education, with the implication that the number of trained staff to deliver this to students will need to increase nationally.

In some situations, schools have requested a ‘specialised’ outdoor education camp program for their own select group of school students. These groups are often accompanied by specifically chosen teachers together with their school chaplain and often their school psychologist. Some programs can also be designed to target their student group’s behaviour management issues.

This type of school camp and the program of activities that can be specifically tailored for those ‘at-risk’ students that display challenging behaviours whilst at school. This is also a unique opportunity for these Student Support Services staff members to interact and accompany these students on an extended camp program of challenging outdoor adventure activities. An example is presented here with regards to a specific request for ‘teambuilding & resilience training’ was tailored for and delivered by an outsourced company here in WA.

Case study: Student Support Services

I wanted this group of students to ultimately realise that they did, indeed, have potential! This isn’t always easy to show in a classroom environment, especially if they have experienced failure. We had a mix of Year 9 students. I wanted these students to go back to school with increased self-esteem and to achieve numerous success experiences, ready to choose their options for year 10. Then I hoped that these students would rise to the occasion of being with a group of students for whom they could become role models, as well as increasing their confidence ahead of starting their new challenge the following year.” (School Chaplain, Secondary School)

There currently exists a greater acceptance of schools, alternative education initiatives, welfare agencies and youth organisations in Western Australia, also using outdoor education and wilderness-experience programming as a therapeutic tool. The past four decades have witnessed a considerable growth of programs prepared to offer the use of wilderness-adventure experiences, and agencies willing to ‘experiment’ with alternative ways of dealing with problematic school students. One such program here in WA is the wilderness youth leadership development project (WYLD).


Background: What is the WYLD School Camps Project?

The WYLD Project is an adventure-based counselling program that utilises an experiential learning model of operation through stressful, demanding and challenging outdoor adventure activities, and involvement with the natural environment within a supportive group setting. The objective is to develop and facilitate an increase in the following personal characteristics:

  • an internal sense of power and control
  • behaviour management strategies
  • the ability to persevere
  • social competence
  • self-esteem
  • self-motivation
  • problem solving skills
  • individual and group responsibility
  • responsibility for consequences of actions

The WYLD School Camps Project utilises the collaborative experience of qualified school staff together with a vast amount of experience in this specialised field of therapeutic adventure programming. The WYLD project staff have been offering outdoor education programs for “at-risk” youth for 3 decades here in WA. From the inception of the WYLD School Camps Project, staff, students, parents and related professionals have reported definite changes and positive alterations in attitudes and behaviours of many students. These are changes that last over time. The WYLD training consultants offer professional training in the areas of program design and planning, field management, instruction in technical outdoor pursuits, safe management of people in wilderness-adventure recreation and risk management planning.

The Process of Change & the Adventure Therapy Process (Group Skills Development)


Teacher, School Chaplain, School Psychologist Feedback:

We had many important changes within the group – some I expected, others took me by surprise. In particular I saw students, who had never stayed away from home before, manage their feelings & emotions much better than I predicted they would. I saw students start taking risks, become leaders and have fun! Having fun whilst learning life skills, is something that some of our students desperately needed to experience.”   (School Psychologist)

The WYLD school camp is often expedition based and the group operates self-sufficiently in an isolated wilderness environment for the duration of the program. A range of outdoor adventure activities will be combined in the “journey” expedition that may include: mountain bike touring, canoeing, wilderness hiking, white water rafting, abseiling, rock climbing, caving and camping in remote areas.

In addition, personal and group counselling sessions, de-briefings and discussions, will be held daily, to help translate the experiences of the outdoor activities into each participant’s personal life situation. Both the staff and participants will have the group management responsibility for conducting almost all aspects of the course.

The primary philosophy, on which the WYLD School Camps Project is based, is that challenging outdoor adventure activities produce significant positive changes in self-concept, confidence and sociability that are in turn fundamentally related to “at-risk” behaviour. These outcomes are achieved through participants having to confront personal and group challenges and through the positive value of not only surviving in the rugged wilderness, but also developing some increased personal fitness, personal life goals, experiencing ‘new’ ways of resolving conflicts, and developing some effective coping behaviours.

School Chaplain/Teacher Feedback:

WHAT A WEEK we had with our delightful students!  Hmm, the experiential learning model of ‘outdoor education’ and challenging outdoor adventure activities for our students?... well it’s got something to do with experiencing the challenge and the beauties of the great outdoors, both within a school group setting (as a TEAM) and also personally for each and every one of our students – they had no choice, I love it!  They had to ‘survive’ (together) their own week long school camp and they did. 

Through all the challenges presented, every single one of our students (and teachers, I might add) were forced to dig deep within themselves to find the courage to take a risk, to take chances and to push themselves to unfathomable ‘new’ limits that were well and truly beyond our comfort zones – we survived!  All of our desired outcomes were ALL achieved for our students.  Thus all students were able to reap the great rewards of increasing their self-esteem and their resilience. 

In our school group’s situation the only way to survive was to learn to work together, by recognising and using each other’s strengths and accepting each other’s differences.  The aspects of the week-long camp and all your activities that impressed upon me the most, was the challenge of surviving difficult times and how things can turn around so radically from a tough situation to an awesome experience all through the change of directionof the wind and maybe even a little bit of work on the old attitude!  We’ll be back next year with a new group of students!  I just wanted to thank you personally, and also to all of your amazing team at WYLD!”  (School Chaplain, Senior High School)

Letters & feedback that we have received regarding the WYLD School Camp Project:

Just a quick note to let you know how much we appreciated your support & facilitation during the WYLD camp program.  Lisa & I felt comfortable being able to conduct (our own group therapy) sessions, as you were both very flexible & easily adapted to what we needed. Your laid back & easygoing leadership style seemed to fit very well with the young people we had on camp.  All the young people thoroughly enjoyed the adventure camp & would look forward to further opportunities of having fun & ‘learning more about themselves’. Evaluation / feedback from the participants – FUN, Great atmosphere, Fantastic, Enjoyed the teamwork, Exciting, Challenging, Inspirational, Different!  The ‘Top 5’ Activities Rated on Camp: White Water Rafting, Abseiling in the quarry, Group (therapy) Sessions, High Ropes Course, Conversations around the Campfire.”

Challenging! Rewarding! Achievable! Fun! Great for our group of students. Equipment provided was great.  The effectiveness of the abseiling & white water rafting activities you provided for our school group was very good.  The students learnt so much on the day…and even enjoyed the day’s activities – they are still talking about it! The outcomes & achievements of the participants in relation to the days training was good – because the students had to LISTEN to instructions & safety briefing before each activity could proceed, and also that they had to work together and co-operate with each other.  Your Instructors were very good – tolerant & patient with students, excellent student management techniques & also waiting for those not complying with instructions – all your staff related well to the students.  The ‘challenge-by-choice’ method of experiential learning was highly successful with these ‘type’ of students – no pressure was good!  Students were able to identify their own limitations whilst encouraged to take risks & have a go.”

In 40 years of teaching & coordinating school camps at a wide variety of campsites throughout WA, I have never seen such an excellent method of ‘experiential learning’ being foster to create numerous forms of success experiences for young people.  The adventure training activities and your outdoor instructors are some of the best I have experienced…very professional and caring with the young people.  The high emphasis on teamwork & safety was a great relief. We’ll be back next year!”

This is just one example of the numerous projects that run concurrently with our schools and the WA Camp Schools facilities and staff, and have been for many decades here in Western Australia - this all changes now!.

WA Camp Schools were previously running exceptionally well, but just how they will be conducted in the future - is anybody’s guess?  One thing is for sure, is that all schools now attending will undoubtedly have to take that huge risk to find this out for themselves.   No longer will they be run the same way, as they have been for many decades here in WA! Would I send my own children to a Fairbridge WA Camp Schools – Not likely! Would you risk it?

Also, check in with Fairbridge WA Camp Schools as to whether or not they will once again be running the Fairbridge WYLD Adventures project (as per the above) as they were allocated $4M in State & Federal grant funding for all the Fairbridge Youth Pathways projects, plus all the gear and equipment from several grant funding sources, and a fully equipped and rigged Toyota Personnel Carrier 4WD (11 seater) specifically for the Fairbridge WYLD Adventures Project.  We wonder ‘if’ they will also now be running these type of specialised student support services as well for all of our WA schools again?  Not sure - ask them? 

These school teachers feedback are all incredibly inspiring, the stories of these places don’t wrap themselves up into neat little packages.  It’s not an issue of Camp Schools or no camp schools, at what places and at what cost. Critically speaking, it should be about – for “who’s” benefit!  This government’s near-sighted decision is only a quick fix.  Clearly, Sue Ellery and the McGowan government’s ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to save face and to clamp the continual bleeding of their own Party’s money spending.

Once this government is replaced, it may well be too late to reverse this crazy decision.  What could be worse, is the WRONG selection of the temporary managing agent – on secondment by the government – who may get dug in deeper than an Alabama tick!”   (Education Department Staff Member)

This government will only be here for the short term, next election, then the real work may well need to begin! This ludicrous ‘privatisation’ decision MUST be reversed, and all six Camp Schools given back to the Education Department and all of the amazing Camp School Managers whom ‘have’ already been doing a phenomenal job (some of them for well over 3 decades) at making it viable for all of those children and families from low socioeconomic schools.

Running successful Camp Schools clearly HAS BEEN “core business” of the Education Department, and rightly so, for many decades here in our regional West Australian communities.

Want more info: for those interested readers, Curriculum Perspectives (Australia) just devoted a special issue to Outdoor Learning in the School Curriculum:

Other Research Gate articles & more resources:

“Outdoor Learning: Not new, just newly important.”  Tonia Gray (pp 145-149)

“Don’t ask how outdoor education can be integrated into the school curriculum; ask how the school curriculum can be taught outside the classroom.”  Karen Barfod, Peter Bentsen (pp 151-156)

“‘When are We Going Again? Investigating children’s responses to a new nature playspace at an environmental education centre.”  Sue Elliott, Nadya Rizk, Subhashni Taylor, Julie Kennelly, et at (pp 157-162)

“Take the Class Outside! A call for place-based outdoor learning in the Australian primary school curriculum.”  Amanda Lloyd, et al (pp 163-167)

“Is school working for teenage boys? Outdoor learning and real-life skills could be the keys to re-engagement.”  Jeff Mann (pp 169-174)

“Affordances in Nature: Australian primary school children identify learning opportunities.”  Vinathe Sharma-Brymer, et al (pp 175-180)

“Vertical schooling and learning transformations in curriculum research: points and counterpoints in outdoor education and sustainability.”  Son Truong, et al (pp 181-186)

* About the Author:  Andrew has been actively involved in the youth & community development and outdoor adventure industries for nearly 4 decades. He has also managed several businesses in the outdoor adventure tourism industry including: the Western Venture wilderness-experience program, Corporate Adventure Training, Wilderness Ventures, the Outdoor Adventure Network, Outdoor Gear Australia and he is also a senior outdoor instructor, rafting river guide, and workplace trainer & assessor with the WYLD Camps Project - a wilderness youth leadership development project that works with 'at-risk' children & youth and their families in Western Australia.

Interested? Want to read more of our articles like 'How To Become an Outdoor Adventure Guide', or perhaps more about the ongoing safety and risk management issues sadly lacking on the island of Bali? Check out more at the bottom of our blog page HERE

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