Outdoor Education for Women: Journeying Gently Through Australia: Making Connections with Nature.
In 2001, I travelled to Australia on a Churchill Fellowship. My Fellowship was an inspiration. Colleagues and friends told me that I walked around with a smile on my face for weeks. It confirmed that I am not alone in recognizing that some people feel alienated from making connections with nature. It helped me to identify ways that people can be encouraged to engage with the outdoors.
As an outdoor educator, it is easy to become hooked on ‘adrenaline rush’ activities. However, it is these activities and the associated image of the outdoors that can alienate. Some of my colleagues have even expressed a personal fear of venturing outdoors. In my work in play, youth and community development, I have been concerned that many colleagues, and particularly women colleagues, have been reluctant to offer outdoor experiences to the people with whom they are working. In a broader context, at a time when there is an increasing concern about the local and global impact of our carbon footprints and the consequences of global warming. this may have an impact on environmental awareness and literacy,
The purpose of my Fellowship was to explore ways in which women, in particular, are supported in developing relationships with the outdoors through adventure and learning. My Fellowship took me to Victoria, South Australia, the Northern Territories and Western Australia. Initially I met with outdoor educators. However, as the Fellowship progressed, I met with naturalists, artists, museum curators. I also explored a range of tourist sites.
My stay in Australia showed me that low key activities can be just as powerful in facilitating connections with nature as ‘adrenalinerush’ activities. The exploration of cultural activities was the most significant experience, providing me with ways of developing activities that value their cultural context, for example story telling and art. I became more conscious of the power of community and environmental arts projects, as a vehicle for enabling people to work together and connect with their environments. In addition, my understanding of the meaning of sustainable communities was challenged.
My Fellowship was an inspiration. Colleagues and friends told me that I walked around with a smile on my face for weeks. It confirmed that I am not alone in recognizing that some people feel alienated from making connections with nature. It helped me to identify ways that people can be encouraged to engage with the outdoors.
Since the Fellowship, I have lead workshops for play, youth and community development workers on exploring the ecology microenvironments; creating stories and writing poems in and inspired by the outdoors; and using photography as a means for increasing the powers of observation, capturing the essence of a place or group experience and increasing environmental awareness. I have also worked on community-based projects to support residents in developing their local open spaces so that they are attractive and accessible. This can be a first step in encouraging people to start making a connection with nature.
My learning from the Fellowship has prompted me to deliver workshops on informal learning and serendipity for both the Institute for Outdoor Learning and the European Institute of Outdoor Adventure Education and Experiential Learning (EOE) in England, Wales, Scotland, Sweden, Finland and Poland. In informal learning, it is the role and responsibility of the facilitator to open up stimulating and varied opportunities for connecting and exploring, while the participant takes responsibility for the direction of their learning. Serendipity involves optimizing the chance occurrences and opportunities that are encountered as a part of an activity or of everyday life.
The Fellowship has certainly changed the direction of my career and life and I trust that through my work with colleagues and children, young people and adults I have influenced the aspirations of others.