Outdoor Recreation in Education and the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme

Outdoor recreation plays a huge role in education with many schools having it placed high up on their list of priorities. The benefits of children partaking in outdoor recreation were pioneered by the German educationalist Kurt Hahn in the 1930s. In 1934 he founded Gordonstoun School in Scotland. His educational philosophy was based around the theory that education of the mind and the body should be conducted together and not separately. The school promoted the importance of physical fitness and the use of expeditions

Some of Hahn’s beliefs were extreme such as daily cold showers and “punishment runs”, and would later be taken off the school’s curriculum. However, some of his beliefs inspired other schools and led to the introduction of the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme in 1956. He greatly believed that children benefited from being taken out of their normal comfort zones. In partaking in expeditions, they would learn many skills that would be of real benefit to them in later life. Many of the school’s trips were on foot around the Cairngorms area of Scotland, and also on the seas aboard the schools own 80-foot vessel Ocean Spirit.

Gordonstoun’s very own Ocean Spirit

In 1956 John Hunt designed the Duke of Edinburgh scheme which was originally aimed at 15-year-old boys. In time it has been modified to be aimed at all young people between the ages of 14 and 21. This has recently been extended so that people can complete the course successfully up to the age of 25. Hunt was an army officer who had led the successful 1953 expedition to Mount Everest that had seen the mountain scaled for the first time by Hillary and Tenzing. On retiring from the army, he was inspired by the work of Hahn in Scotland and became director of the “D of E” for its first ten years.

The award is taken by 420,000 young people every year. There are three levels bronze, silver and gold that take between one and four years to complete. The main areas that the students undertake are firstly volunteering for services to the local community. Secondly there is the physical challenge of showing excellence in a sporting activity. Thirdly, the participants need to show social and personal skills. Finally, an expedition needs to be undertaken which involves staying away from home for at least a night. The planning of these trips includes learning the skills that are needed to survive in the wilderness. Those who partake in the gold award are also required to travel and work away from home for 5 days.

The ten tors race on Dartmoor in Devon

The Duke of Edinburgh Award has seen more than 8 million young people from the UK and overseas complete the course since 1956. It has been used in schools, youth clubs, business and even prisons to benefit the participants. Another major event in UK schools on their outdoor recreation calendar is the ten tors race, which is held annually on Dartmoor in Devon. This race has been organized by the army since 1960 and it involves teams of 4 to 6 young people hiking to check points on the ten tors.

The distances of the hikes vary with the age groups but are between 35 and 55 miles. The event is spread over 3 days and the competitors have to carry their own provisions enabling them to survive safely on the trip. The event is held in May and the weather on Dartmoor at this time of the year can be quite unpleasant. This event is so popular that only south-west teams are allowed to enter, and they will spend months preparing for the big event.

Outdoor recreation is a major part of most school’s extra-curricular program. The lessons that students learn outdoors are easily transferred into the class room.