Outdoor Learning and Ageing

Ox Eye Daisy, Eden Project



A personal story and a challenge for outdoor learning …

What on earth could a short, overweight, grey haired woman need with a lightweight stove?

I had gone to our local outdoor shop to get a small gas cylinder for a stove I have not used in a while. I was informed that the one that I required was no longer available, and therefore, I would need a replacement stove. There’s no stereotyping in that. However, although stating that any replacement would need to be lightweight, I was shown stoves that would be too large to fit into a rucsac and definitely too heavy to contemplate carrying for any distance. Plus, these stoves were unstable compared with my old model. I pointed this out to the salesperson. In addition, I felt I was being patronised and stereotyped. What I was being offered was totally unsuitable for some back packing on a long distance path and my planned visit to a music festival. As I left the shop, the assistant tried to retrieve some of his credibility, complementing the ‘wartime’ technology of my old stove! Hmmm! So where is this leading? There are at least two areas for consideration.

As I move from employment into a different existence, I am conscious that the focus of my involvement in the world of outdoor learning is changing. Unfortunately, now that I have more time to offer to the outdoor world, I am very aware that my enthusiasm for working with some groups is waning and some of the things I would like to do are limited by my economic situation.

I am also very aware that the aging process can have an enormous impact on the mobility of older people. For many, the outdoors has a restorative, therapeutic value. It has been an essential aspect of a person’s identity. For the short time I was a carer for my mother, we explored ways in which she could maintain and even develop her love of the outdoors, as well as sharing her interests with other people. Yet, I met older people who were not offered the opportunity to feel fresh air on their faces, let alone to look out of a window and watch the breeze in the trees. A number of national organisations, such as the National Trust and the Forestry Commission, are working to increase access to the outdoors, and we are an ageing population. Could or should IOL have a role in supporting the ongoing learning and involvement in the outdoors of our growing numbers of older people?

This article was published in Horizons (56) Autumn 2011.

This is the magazine of Institute for Outdoor Learning (IOL).

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