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Thursday, 13 February 2014

Bushcraft as a Link Between Outdoor and Environmental Education

The words Nature and outdoors are often used interchangeably I think; but when you look at how they are used in the context of various authors work the differences become clear. in Richard Louv's works I think he focuses on the outdoors as an environment where nature is the key. In Emile Rousseau talks specifically about an involvement with nature, Henry David Thoreau often refers to nature in his writings and the literature on environmental education shows that its objectives lean more towards understanding and conserving nature and the environment than towards the often cited objectives of outdoor education such as the development of technical skill, social skills, morals such as courage and character development including skills such as resourcefulness, problem solving etc.. There is also lots of popular literature such as the books of Jack London which allude to a connection with 'nature' being something deeper than or at least different to just being outdoors. 
In my opinion worthwhile experience of nature must take place outside, but just because something happens outdoors doesn't mean there is, or even needs to be, a direct link to, or objective related to nature. For example a group might be taken rock climbing or gorge walking with the specific aim of boosting self esteem or confidence without any specific intention to study nature, opportunities might emerge to discuss or learn about nature due to the environment and so instructors/teachers/facilitators need to have a knowledge of nature so they can take advantage of these opportunities. This has been recognised within the industry and Mountain Training now include an element of environmental knowledge in the assessment for their awards. There are other options which take us outdoors but remove us even further from nature such as artificial high ropes courses which might be as valuable as a real climbing route in terms of the development of confidence (although not necessarily technical rock climbing skills), which do not have the same potential to prompt opportunities to discuss nature. 

Bushcraft might be able to bridge this gap  though, at the moment it seems to occupy it's own little sphere somewhere on the periphery of mainstream outdoor education but it can clearly be adventurous and obviously takes place outside but it also has specific 'nature' outcomes. Bushcraft includes the study of botany (plant identification, medicinal uses, edible plants etc..), ecology (direct and indirect observation of wildlife, tracking etc..). I wonder if unlike mainstream outdoor education participating in bushcraft will promote an increased interest and desire in students to take a position about the environment?

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