Once in a while, when the campers are asleep and the fire in the cabin fireplace burns low, there comes a time for mental stock-taking - a review of the kind of camp I want to run and a critical look at the one I am running. Long ago I learned that I must not just look at the woods and envision a program of educational camping; it goes much deeper than that. (Donaldson, 1950, p. 529)
Donaldson wrote this in 1950. As a pioneer of the American outdoor education and camping education movement, understanding and reflecting on his personal educational philosophy was obviously as important for guiding his practice, as it is for mine. The first time I read this quote by Donaldson, I began asking myself: What do I do as an outdoor educator? What drives my actions in the field? What influences me? As an outdoor educator, what is my educational philosophy? How can I improve my craft? How can reflective practice as a form of research improve practitioners' understanding of their craft? A personal educational philosophy is exactly that, a personal plan based on an educator's set of ideas and beliefs about education that guides his professional behavior (Levin, Nolan, Kerr, & Elliott, 2005). It requires educators to reflect on their practice and how they perform their craft (Russell. 2006). When I refer to educator's practice as a craft, I am referring to what Tregust and Harrison (1999) argue is the sense that "expert teachers use artistic styles and creative formats within which they develop their explanations, arguments and questions" (p. 28) as well as other aspects of their practice. An educator's craft is guided by his educational philosophy. This type of philosophy cannot be learned by rote, instead, is learned and developed through a professional's practical experiences. It "represents the way in which the worker assigns internal meaning and hence governs her/his actions" (Nivala, 2002, p. 19). According to Carol (1996), "A personal educational philosophy can be stated in about one page and should include the roles of the instructor, setting, and student in the teaching learning process" (p. 12). Caspell (2006) argues that when an outdoor educator's educational philosophy is not in line with the program he runs, maybe it is time to rethink how he operates his program.
Higgins and Nicol (2002) argue that reflective professional practice is central to an outdoor educator's craft because it provides an opportunity for educators to reflect on their actions and ensure they are achieving their stated aims. Andrews (2003) emphasizes this same point arguing in his book, Accountability in Outdoor Education, "you cannot defend something unless your viewpoint is clear and consistent. A philosophy is a values system that guides behavior. Therefore a philosophy of outdoor education directs your actions when you are designing outdoor programs" (p.
14). Goodman and Knapp (1981) recognize that today most practitioners can describe a personal philosophy about their practice. Only, "the 'rub' comes when we ask these people to elaborate beyond glib expressions. V hen vve ask them to clarity their goals, guiding principles, program or curriculum focus, and beliefs, they become less verbal and more unsure" (p. 25). This is a concern of mine because, as Novak (2002) states, it is important for educators to be able to describe and justify the actions they perform in practice.
In Outdoor Education: Authentic Learning in the Context of Landscapes published with support from the European Union, Higgins and Nicol (2002) argue that:
The trend in outdoor education is towards the provision of short duration, high excitement experiences ... such activities rarely involve real risk, but often emphasize apparent risk. It seems disingenuous to develop a range of such activities which appear to be risky, and argue that they have some unspecified educational benefits, when they are at least giving participants a false impression of hazard and risk. (p. 9)
Even more disconcerting is that with the advent of technology, such as artificial recreation environments, outdoor education programs do not necessarily even have to focus on these types of extended outdoor pursuits-based programs. Artificial environments, such as challenge courses (also called ropes courses) which are essentially large playgrounds people climb using rock climbing gear (Haras, Bunting, & Witt, 2006), allow consumers the opportunity to engage in equally thrilling experiences without having to travel far distances outside of urban environments (Forester & Ross. 2005).
For me, outdoor education is a really simple concept. As Henly and Peavy (2006) describe: "for a person to truly connect and develop a deep appreciation for nature they [sic] must be immersed in the outdoors. This requires teaching people to perceive their interrelationships to natural resources, other people, and the customs of their societies. Through an understanding of basic ecological, sociological, and cultural principles, people can begin to develop or redevelop an ethic of environmental stewardship. This is important because the goal of promoting stewardship of natural environments is crucial as it is "most often left out in contemporary classroom education" (Henly & Peavy, 2006. p. 6).
As an outdoor educator, the outdoors is my classroom where I teach people about their relationships to the natural environment, themselves, and other people through activities such as track identification, outdoor cooking, camping, and challenge course programs (Andrews, 2003; Brookes, 2002). I teach people to perceive the outdoors around them. I provide people an opportunity to use their senses to practice their interpretive skills, ' to see, to hear, and to gain an understanding of the environment around oneself' (Ambry, p. 51). One way I do this is through play (Loynes, 2004).
Play promotes creativity (Woolfolk, Winnie, & Perry, 2006) and this applies to children and adults. However, much of the literature focusing on play currently published focuses on child's play (Apter, 1991). However, looking beyond this issue as a learning medium, play provides content to, "be discovered by the learner before it can be internalized" (Christie, 2001, p. 357). This is because play provides a safe venue for people to use their imagination to practice and test the social rules of a person's culture before following or breaking those rules outside of play (Vygotsky, 1978).
This supports Heerwagen and Orians (2002) argument that outdoor play amongst children teaches socialization skills, which is also supported by Loynes (2004). "Outdoor play, as many researchers have pointed out, may be especially valuable because it integrates cognitive, emotional, and social behaviors (Heerwagen & Orians, p. 55). Rivkin (2006) argues that outdoor play provides opportunities for children to develop a mental map of their outdoor world which contributes to developing independence from adults, fosters healthy physical development, and develops an ethic of environmental stewardship. Play in natural places allows students to develop basic bush and survival skills which connect students with the legacy of our hunting and gathering past (Pyle, 2002). I argue that these factors apply to adolescents and adults. Play provides a way for people to develop and socially contextualize their identities (Kjolsrod, 2003).
Therefore, as an outdoor educator, this does not mean I teach people broad universal understandings drawn strictly from books and scholarly literature (Brookes. 1994). Though I do teach people within the classroom (using books and scholarly literature), I also take people outdoors to participate in ecological and adventurous activities like track identification and challenge course programs. I do not focus strictly on teaching skills about how to navigate through the outdoors (Brookes, 1994). In fact, Andrews (2003), Brookes (1994), and Preston (2004) all argue that this type of approach only teaches people how to move through the outdoors, instead of being able to perceive, interpret, appreciate, and develop a deeper understanding of natural environments.
Outdoor education programs that solely promote the development of outdoor skills contextualize people's identities through play as members of a materialistic culture that collect thrills (Kjolsrod, 2003). In this way, people's identities begin to be contextualized through their collections. The recognition that they have participated in these activities becomes more important to their social status than the activity itself (Holyfield et al., 2005). Through this process, experience becomes a commodity to be bought. Instead of educating people about the outdoors, education becomes something to be packaged and sold to meet the desires of a practitioner's clientele (Loynes, 1998).
Learning through play, then, loses its value as practitioners gain power over clients in the pursuit of wealth, or, as Priest (1999) describes, the pursuit of educating people about their relationships to themselves, each other, and the environment.