Search This Blog

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Applied Bushcraft; Outdoor Education

Now that we are posting regularly again on the bushcraft education blog we will be resurrecting the regular series that we used to run. The 'Applied Bushcraft' series will be one of them and today's topic for the applied bushcraft series is Outdoor Education. 

As a postgraduate student I studied Outdoor Education (OE) and because of my background and interest in bushcraft often looked for ways in which bushcraft could be integrated into OE programmes. I have also regularly looked at the benefits of teaching bushcraft as an educational activity, in fact that is the whole premise of this blog. I will use some excerpts from my post grad essays here to give a little bit of history of OE and how it intertwines with bushcraft. 

Throughout the first half of the 20th Century pioneering outdoor education programmes were established all around the world to address a range of perceived needs of the youth of their respective  countries and generations. Some of the reasons for the establishment of these programmes included; 

• Development of moral fibre and desirable character traits (Cook 1999)

• Developing active lifestyles through games and recreation (Smith 1997a)

• Combat social decline (Loynes 2007; Richards 1990)

• Development of 'Character' (Baden-Powell 1908)

• preparing boys to be MEN (Baden-Powell 1908)

• prepare boys physically and mentally for service in war and/or the community (Baden-Powell 1908; Loynes 2007)

Emmeline Pethick's country holiday programme for girls, Baden-Powell's Scouting movement, The Woodcraft Folk and Kurt Hahn’s Outward Bound schools are all examples of these outdoor education movements. It may have been the moral panic of the Victorian era and concern over a perceived social decline amongst the working classes that led these and other influential 'social entrepreneurs' to begin developing early forms of OE (Loynes 2007). These early forays into OE were informal, in that they were not established in a recognised or nationally endorsed curriculum or delivered in schools or as part of any formal training. Although many became very popular and some are certainly now recognised on both a national and international scale.

Scout stone Brownsea
A stone on Brownsea Island in Dorset commemorating the first scout camp.
By Adrian Pingstone (Image:Scout.stone.750pix.jpg) [Public domain]
Even though the outdoors was a common theme whatever the specific objectives of these early programmes there were significant cultural clashes within the field of OE from it's very inception.

Kibbo kift althing 1927
A ceremony of the kindred of the kibo kift, an early outdoor education movement based in the UK.
Image courtesy of The Kibbo Kift Foundation 
The Kindred of The Kibbo Kift was a breakaway group from Scouting. Leaving behind what it's leader John Hargrave felt was an overly militaristic approach to engaging boys with the outdoors, although interestingly according to Smith (1997b) this is the same reason given by Baden-Powell as to why he stopped his involvement with the Boys Brigade and focused on his Scouting programme. Kibbo Kift focused more on living an open-air life and would eventually become The Woodcraft Folk in 1924 and which still exists today..

The Woodcraft Folk were also heavily influenced by Ernest Thompson-Seaton, who was born in Britain and brought up in the USA and had developed a strong appreciation of Native American culture and teachings. Seaton was a founding member of the Boy Scouts of America and his writings and his Woodcraft Indians organisation heavily influenced the establishment of the The Woodcraft Folk (Woodcraft Folk 2010), although Smith (1997b) claims that Baden-Powell was strongly influenced by Seaton as well.

Scouting pioneers
Seaton, Baden Powell and Dan Beard, another influential figure in the Boy Scouts of America and the founder of an organisation known as the Sons of Daniel Boon which merged with the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. 
Seaton's overarching philosophy was that the outdoor experience should be more recreational (Seton quoted by Smith 2002), but in the classical Latin sense relating recreation to social education rather than time out from work or responsibility (Glyptis 1991). Seaton also had a fascination with the Native American Indian cultures basing a lot of the principles of his Woodcraft movement on their teachings of harmony and balance in nature, He was also a supporter of instinct psychology and rather than directly addressing the development of the moral, physical and character of young people he allowed them to exhibit a 'boyish savagery' as part of their developmental journey (Hall 1999) towards 'civilization'. He eventually accepted the Indian way of life as an end goal without there being a need to look further for civilisation and by 1915 was encouraging the teaching of Native American religion and ceremonies (Smith 2002).

Seton Book Woodcraft knots.jpg
An Excerpt from on of Seatons books; The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore, Doubleday (1912)
It only takes a cursory glance at the books by Baden Powell and Ernest Thompson Seaton and at the  curriculum of these various societies and organisations to spot the links with bushcraft. There is more to the history of OE than the British and American contribution though, rather than the key goals of preparation and character development in the programmes discussed here so far there is another approach to the outdoors which is deeply ingrained in the Scandinavian culture. This culture of outdoors engagement is so ingrained within the culture of those nations who practice it that it has become part of the vocabulary.

In Scandinavia the word 'friluftsliv', literally 'fresh air life', encompasses all forms of outdoor and nature based activity and is not a discipline, subject or means of facilitation but rather a way of life (Stormeldeting 1972; Swedish Ministry of Culture 1999). I would argue that the vast majority of those people in the UK who go outdoors, whether that involves walking, rock climbing, fishing, canoeing or bushcraft do it in the spirit of friluftsliv even if we don't have a specific phrase for it. However, on the whole it seems to me that in the UK, instead of outdoor and nature based activities being an integral part of our culture and society we are in fact drawing further away from the natural world. As demonstrated by recent studies which indicate that the amount of time children spend playing outdoors has dwindled to between five and a half (JCB Kids 2013) and as little as 30 minutes per week (Mothercare 2014). This is not just the case in the UK, In the USA The Nature Conservancy conducted a poll in 2011 to gauge how 'connected' America's youth are to nature. Key findings included the fact that 88% of American youth claim to spend time on-line every day, with 69% playing video games or watching TV with that same level of frequency. Contrast that to the fact that less than 40% of American youth spend time taking part in outdoor activities on a weekly basis (The Nature Conservancy 2011). With all these distractions and easily obtained entertainment, and with the temptation for parents to use the TV and games console as an 'electronic babysitter' to get a bit of peace and quite or a free minute to prepare a meal in addition to the risk averse culture we now live in (Gill 2007), we are certainly not immersed in the spirit of outdoor life like those who practice 'friluftsliv'.

Perhaps this reduction in outdoor engagement is due to the advance of modern technology? Perhaps the outdoors does not provide the convenient, easily accessible recreation of a games console? Or perhaps it's just too muddy? Maybe Marinetti got something right in his Futurist Manifesto? Maybe there would be a time when technology and 'progress' is all that matters and nature is but a hindrance and a dirty place to be avoided? (Marinetti 1909)

Games consoles and other modern entertainment distracts fro outdoor experiences.
By Evan-Amos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The poor voluntary engagement with nature indicated by the studies cited above may well be one of the reasons for including OE in the modern national curriculum; so that it can be used as a tool to engage children and facilitate learning with the outdoors as an arena for development. Much in the way that Gösta Frohm established Skogsmulle in Sweden in 1957. As a response to what he saw as a population that was becoming more and more urbanised and less in touch with the natural world than the increasingly mechanised industries of forestry, trapping, mining and agriculture would previously have necessitated (Friluftsfrämjandet, nd). Although the skogsmulle programme is not officially part of school curriculum in Sweden outdoor play and nature based learning is (Ärlemalm-Hagser 2006), as it is in other Scandinavian countries, in particular in the Norwegian education system. In Norway outdoor learning was formally recognised in the curriculum in an attempt to improve the overall pedagogy of schooling and deliver a rounded programme using the outdoors and nature to provide situated learning (Lave & Wenger 1991) rather than de-contextualised learning (Säljö 2001). Outdoor learning achieves this by teaching about nature in nature, about society in society and about the local environment in the local environment (Jordet 1998) instead of trying to teach children about things outside of the classroom from the classroom. Outdoor learning as it is delivered in the Norwegian curriculum should be a course of prolonged exposure to the outdoors directly linked with the theoretical subjects being studied (Jordet 2009) not just one off activities with short term objectives and impacts. This approach and it's origins as part of the curriculum is different to the way OE has developed and been applied in the UK. OE as it is applied in the English Curriculum. This might be due to the existing culture of friluftsliv in Norway compared to a different culture perhaps best described as one of outdoor avoidance or nature deficiency (Louv 2005) in the UK.

Another cultural difference, comparable to that difference between the friluftsliv attitude in Scandinavia and the more contrived involvement with nature, through OE, in the UK. Is the difference between the UK and other countries with no memory or remnant of first nations and those countries with a preserved tradition of ancestral skills and remnant populations still living by means of traditional skills. Outdoor education could be considered a concept unique to first world countries where the general populace are disconnected from the outdoors to the point where it has some sort of novelty value. But where a nations prevailing or remnant culture embraces or demands a closer connection with nature and the outdoors does the concept of outdoor education exist at all?

I would argue that it does not, at least not in the same way. Think of first nations and the research which exists into the continuation of their traditional skills and knowledge. For them teaching those skills, such as Polar Bear Hunting (Pearce, et al., 2011), making skin clothing (Kritsch & Wright-Frazer, 2002), Fur preparation, hunting, fishing and trapping (Ohmagari & Berkes, 1997), is a necessary continuation of their traditional way of life and an exercise in cultural heritage. Whereas if we were to deliver a similar or even identical activity in the UK it would fall in the realm of OE, or be illegal/impossible due to environmental changes, extinctions and modern legislation.

Today we are far removed from the ancient skills that would once have been used by native peoples living in the British Isles; the hunter gatherer societies of the Maesolithic (10,000-5,500 years ago) were the last people in the British Isles to operate without agriculture and would have used their own bushcraft skills to survive (Darvill, 2010). In other parts of the world primitive survival and bushcraft skills have been used by native peoples in living memory and in some parts of the world is still a way of life (Wescott, 2001). As Pearce et all (2011), Kritsch & Wright-Frazer (2002) and Ohmagari & Berkes (1997) explain, the successful transmission of these skills is a vital part of preserving the skills, traditions and way of life of surviving native peoples. Where these traditional cultures are threatened or dwindling formal schools have even been set up to ensure these skills can be taught to younger generations such as the Samernas Utbildningscentrum (The Sami’s Training Centre) in Jokkmokk, Sweden, and the TePuia in Rotoroa, New Zealand (Te Puia , 2010). These types of skills have already been lost, or at least only practiced by a very small minority in the UK. They may be primitive skills based on stone age technologies or more modern methods and techniques used well into the 20th Century as part of woodland management practices, but to teach them now is to re-introduce them rather than to preserve them. While these skills are of heritage value elsewhere here they would certainly be classed as part of bushcraft in the UK which has emerged over the last twenty to thirty years as an increasingly popular part of the outdoor recreation and education scene. Other than the obvious cultural value of retaining or re-learning traditional skills are there also educational benefits.

Fassbauen Kollega hat Durst 1935
Traditional crafts and skills such as coppering and other skills with a much closer relationship with the raw materials required are largely lost in the Western world. These skills are practised by a few artisans in little more than cottage industries with few people learning to carry on those skills.
Image By Josef Reichenberger (Scan von Fotografie aus eigenem Besitz) [Public domain]
Just as the field of OE claims that there are educational benefits to being involved with adventurous activities such as rock climbing, kayaking and expeditions I would suggest that the same benefits can be seen and objectives met through the use of bushcraft. Although there is limited, if any, conclusive evidence of this I conducted a brief study in 2013 looking at the benefit of including bushcraft in countryside management studies as a way of improving students performance in specific element s of their course, including plant identification (Guy 2013). My research suggested that this was the case although it was based on a small sample size and would benefit from further exploration. I presented the talk in the video bellow at the 2014 Bushcraft Show at Catton Hall in Derbyshire summarising the findings of this research.

In preparation for this research I had to justify that bushcraft was relevant to the curriculum of the BTEC Extended Diploma in countryside management that I was teaching. This highlights the current culture in education of standardized testing and delivery of a prescribed curriculum rather than focusing on the potential developmental benefit of an activity or experience even if it does stray slightly beyond they bounds of the conventional curriculum. Fortunately the field of Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Wisdom (TEKW) is closely related to bushcraft and there is plenty of research to suggest that traditional knowledge and skills are valuable and valid even when you consider the availability of modern land management methods and improved scientific knowledge (Agrawal, 1995) (Colorado & Collins , 1987) (Posey, 1990) (Schultes , 1988) (Hunn, 1993) (Ellis, 2005) (Berkes, et al., 1993) (Richards , 1997).

So that is a little bit about Outdoor Education and it's relationship to bushcraft, I hope you enjoyed it or at least found it interesting. The references will be available below for those of you who are interested. 

We will be posting new applied bushcraft articles fairly regularly and I'm even working on a new book titled 'Applied Bushcraft' which I am hoping to finish by the end of the year. 

Agrawal, A.. (1995). Dismantling the divide between indigenous and scientific knowledge. Development Change, Volume 26, pp. 413-439.
Baden-Powell, R. (1908) Scouting for Boys
Berkes, F., Gadgil, M. & Folke, C., (1993) Indigenous knowledge for biodiversity conservation. Ambio, 22(2-3), pp. 151-156.
BookCaps. (2010) Marxism in Plain and Simple English; The Theory of Marxism in a Way Anyone Can Understand. s.l.:CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Brown, D (2011) Back to the Land; The Eduring Dream of Self-sufficiency in Modern America. University of Wisconsin Press; 1st edition
Burk, A. (nd) In your opinion, what should the purpose of education be? TED Conferences LLC [Online] Available at; [accessed; 09/11/14]
Colorado, P. & Collins , D., (1987) Western scientific colonialism and the re-emergence of native Science.. Practice: Journal of Politics, Economics, Psychology, Sociology and Culture , Volume Winter , pp. 50-65.
COOK, L. (1999) The 1994 Education Act and Outdoor Education: From Policy to Practice. History of Education, 22(2), 157-172.
Darvill, T. (2010) Prehistoric Britain. 2nd ed. London: Routledge .
Department of Education and Science , (1975) Outdoor Education - Dartington conference report. s.l., Department of Education and Science.
Ellis, S. C. (2005) Meaningful Consideration? A review of Traditional Knowledge in Environmental Decision Making. Arctic, 58(1), pp. 66-77.
Friluftsfrämjandet. (nd) Det här är Skogsmulle. available online; [Online] available at; [accessed on 09/11/14]
Gill, T. (2007) No Fear: Growing Up In A Risk Averse Society. Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. London.
Glyptis, S. (1991) Countryside Recreation, Gateshead
Guy, G. (2013) Does Bushcraft Have a Place in Formal Education, Horizons, (63) pp 26-29.
Hall, C. S. (1999) A Primer of Freudian Psychology, Meridian, New York.
Hill, H,. (1980) Freedom to Roam – The Struggle for Access to Britain’s Moors and Mountains, Moorland Publishing Company Ltd. Newton Abbot.
Hillage, J; Pollard, E. (1998) Employability: Developing a Framework for Policy Analysis, Institute for Employment Studies. DfEE Publications, Nottingham.
Hunn, E. N. (1993) What is traditional ecological knowledge?. In: N. M. Williams & G. Baines , eds. Traditional Ecological Knowledge; wisdom for sustainable development. Canberra: Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University, pp. 13-15.
JCB Kids (2013) 'Fresh Air Campaign'  [Online] cited in [accessed 07/11/14]
Jordet, A. N. (2009) Chapter 2: What is Outdoor Learning? Outlines Outdoor Learning in Elementary Schools From Grassroot to Curriculum in Teacher Education.  Socrates Programme [Online] available online; [accessed 08/11/14]
Jordet, A. N. (1998) Nærmiljøet som klasserom. Uteskole i teori og praksis. Cappelen Akademisk Forlag, Oslo.
Kritsch, I. & Wright-Frazer, K. (2002) The Gwich'in Traditional Caribou Skin Clothing Project; Repatriating Traditional Knowledge and Skills. Arctic, 55(2), pp. 205-213.
Lave, J., Wenger, E. (1991). Situated Learning Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge University Press
Louv, R. (2005) Last Child in the Woods. Atlantic Books. London
Loynes, C (2007) Social Reform, Militarism and other historical influences on the practice of Outdoor Education in youth work; in Becker, P. Braun, K.H. and Schirp, J. Erlebnisse und die Padagokik. Abenteuer.
Marinetti, F. T. (1909) Manifesto of Futurism, Le Figaro
Morley, L (2001) Producing New Workers: quality, equality and employability in higher education. Quality in Higher Education, Vol 7, No 2
Ofted (2004) Outdoor Education; Aspects of Good Practice.
Ohmagari, K. & Berkes, F. (1997) Transmission of Indigenous Knowledge and Bush Skills among Western James Bay Cree Women of Subarctic Canada. Human Ecology, 25(2), pp. 197-222.
Pearce, T. et al. (2011) Transmission of Environmental Knowledge and Land Skills among Inuit Men in Ulukhatok, Northwest Territories, Canada. Human Ecology, Volume 39, pp. 271-288. (2014) Grammar Schools, [Online] Available at [accessed on 13/11/14]
Posey, D. A. (1990) The Science of the Mebengokre. Orion, 9(3), pp. 16-21.
Richards, A. (1990) Kurt Hahn, in: Priest, S./Miles, J.C. (Hg.): Adventure Education,  State College
Richards, R. T. (1997) What the natives know: wild mushrooms and forest health. Journal of Forestry, Volume September, pp. 5-10.
Robinson, K. (2009) The Element; How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. London: Penguin.
Roth, R. E. (1969). Fundamental Concepts for Environmental Management Education. Madison: Wisconsin Univ.
Schultes, R. E. (1988) Primitive Plant Lore and Modern Conservation. Orion, 7(3 ), pp. 8-15.
Smith, M. (1997a)  Emmeline Pethick, Mary Neal and the development of work with young women, [Online] available at; [accessed on 12/11/14]
Smith, M. (1997b) Robert Baden-Powell as an educational innovator, [Online] available at; [accessed 10/11/14] 
Smith, M. (2002) Ernest Thompson Seton and Woodcraft, [Online] available at; [accessed 10/11/14] 
Srinivas, H., (nd) Tbilisi Declaration 1977. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 03 05 2014].
Stapp, W. B. (1969) The Concept of Environmental Education. The Journal of Environmental Education, 1(1), pp. 30-31.
Fallows, S. Steven, C. (2000) "Building employability skills into the higher education curriculum: a university‐wide initiative" Education + Training, Vol. 42 Iss: 2, pp.75 - 83
Stormeldeting (1972). No. 71 for 1972-73: Langtidsprogrammet for 1974-77 – Spesialanalyse nr. 6: Friluftsliv
Swedish Ministry of Culture (1999). Statens stöd till friluftsliv och främjandeorganisationer.  [Online] available  at; [accessed 09/11/14]
Säljö, R. (2001). Læring i praksis: et sociokulturelt perspektiv. Oslo: Cappelen akademisk
The Nature Conservancy (2011) Connecting Americas Youth to Nature, The Nature Conservancy, Arlington VA. 
Wescott, D. (2001) Introduction. In: D. Wescott, ed. Primitive Technology II; Ancestral Skills. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith.
Williams, A. Wainwright, N (2011) Changing Times for Outdoor Learning in Wales: Outdoor Learning Cards, Adventurous Activities and Physical Education, Horizons (56), IOL pgs 30-33
Woodcraft Folk (2010) History, [Online] available at; [accessed 08/11/14]
Yorke, M. Knight, P. T. (2006) Embedding employability into the curriculum, The Higher Education Academy, York.
Ärlemalm-Hagser, E. (2006) Gender, playing and learning in natural outdoor environments, Interaction in Outdoor Play Environments. In; Gender, Culture and Learning.  Brodin. J; Lindstrand. P (Eds) Stockholm Institute of Education.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Bushcraft Education Videos