“Look at that funny sheep!”

Next thing, we were talking about the Belted Galloway cattle that were in the field and why they were there.  It might seem surprising that children cannot identify some of our major animals, but that is the reality for many who grow up without having had the chance to really experience the countryside for themselves.  Going for a walk from any of Brathay’s Lake District Centres and encountering the unexpected provides wonderful opportunities to talk about all sorts of things from farming to tourism to global sustainability issues.  It truly is an outdoor classroom, where memorable activities lead to memorable learning.

Outdoor learning 'boosts children's development' - BBC article

England’s largest outdoor learning project reveals children more motivated to learn when outside - gov.uk press release

Outdoor education and personal development centres have been a part of the Lake District scenery for over half a century (Brathay, for example, is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year) and for many young people have provided them with their first experiences away from home.  One of the key goals of many programmes is to encourage participants to step outside their comfort zone, the aim being to face challenge and learn from the experience.  A growth mindset coupled with increased self-awareness can encourage young people to gain confidence and self-belief leading them to feel that they have the capability to make choices that will, ultimately, help them to a better life.  A week in the Lake District might not provide all the answers, but there is plenty of evidence that says that it is a step in the right direction. 

As well as the personal development outcomes, other key goals are built around social skills.  21st century businesses want people who are resilient, curious, confident and emotionally intelligent – precisely the skills that can be developed by living together on a residential.  When combined with the challenges to be found on our mountains, rivers and lakes, we have a powerful approach to learning that is both very real and enjoyably memorable.

Adventurous activities are often (but not always) a key part of a residential, and many children and young people are introduced to lifetime activities in this way.   Canoeing, walking, sailing and climbing provide ways to engage with the environment that have real consequences – going out in bad weather is not always bad, but going without being prepared can be.   Young people can also participate in conservation work – maybe achieving the John Muir Award on the way - and the discussion about the different land users, and even better, a farm visit, helps children to understand the area they are in, not just see it as a playground. 

The Lake District has long been valued for its impact on the health and wellbeing of the population.  Lake District National Park figures show that while many of the 15.5 million visitors a year come to experience the diverse and beautiful landscape and the opportunity for quiet enjoyment that getting into the hills provides, another key reason for 45% of visitors is that they have been before.  For thousands of young people,, their first visit could well have been on a residential school visit to an outdoor education centre. 

Outdoor Education Centres play an important part in broadening horizons and increasing the life chances of young people.  The Centres are necessarily focussed on the young people’s needs but it is important to realise that they have huge potential impact on the local economy as well. As employers and consumers there is an impact on the supply chain, but it is the education and inspiration of our future visitors that is ultimately, perhaps, more important.

Returning to the centre at the end of the day, we passed the field with the alpacas.

“Just look at THAT funny sheep!”…

Dave Harvey is Head of Residentials at Brathay and the Chair of the Association of Heads of Outdoor Education Centres.