Facing challenges and pushing beyond one's comfort zone is a fundamental part of the programs we offer at The Outdoor Education Group. Presenting our participants with fresh and unique physical and emotional challenges provides them with the opportunity to discover what they are truly capable of, how to manage fear, acceptance and responsibility and support from others. Confronting challenges empowers young people to extend themselves and succeed in exciting ways. We foster an atmosphere of challenge by choice on all our programs because it brings out the best in young people.
There are many ways to talk about challenge. Through an educative lens, we challenge students by facilitating their learning journey rather than simply running them through a series of recreational activities. The term challenge by choice is used to describe the risk versus reward paradigm of participation.
As adults, we regularly exercise choice through decision making, but young people are often told what to do and how to do it.
The Outdoor Education Group's facilitation style focuses on safety, skill-building, and communication to empower and support students in making informed decisions regarding their safety and personal wellbeing, at a level right for them.
The challenge by choice model empowers the young people on our programs to decide their own level of participation and engagement in an activity; this approach allows them the time and space to tune into themselves, consider all things and acknowledge their instincts.
Challenge by choice creates an invisible safety net for students feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Distress can be a common emotional reaction when confronted with a new environment, worrying about the unknown, or being in a stressful situation. School camps might be the first time students are away from home, camping in the bush, trying new activities, or in unfamiliar social groups. For these reasons and more, it is essential to support students' emotional wellbeing, ensuring a safety net exists, and they feel confident to dip a toe outside their comfort zone without having to dive in headfirst.
The Yerkes-Dodson Law describes the positive and negative impacts on performance linked to anxiety levels. As people are introduced to a new activity or task, interest peaks, there's a steep learning curve from zero to one. Performance and interest peak as the activity becomes more complex; many practitioners refer to this as the growth zone because it offers the greatest opportunity to learn and develop a new skill. But a tipping point can occur if the activity becomes too challenging or if situational factors like inclement weather impact stress levels. Social and emotional factors can also impact the learning curve, which is why challenge by choice is so important as a safety net.
Outdoor education allows students to practice making decisions, setting boundaries, and understanding what it feels like to voice their feelings when they don't feel safe. Challenge by choice encourages critical thinking about decision making and wellbeing.
Challenge by choice sets the tone for the entire experiential learning experience, from pre-program planning and design right through to delivery.
At The Outdoor Education Group, we focus on learning outcomes best achieved through a balanced and well-supported learning program. Whether your students are visiting one of our centre-based camps for a 3-day program or are setting off for a 10-day expedition, our programs are designed to be inclusive and engaging, with various opportunities to develop independence and tackle challenges, big and small.
Applying the challenge by choice model to all programs creates a respectful, supportive, and thoughtful atmosphere where students feel free to explore themselves while creating opportunities for growth and learning.
There's no one-size-fits-all approach to personal development. We believe creating a safe and inclusive environment is an essential first step toward fostering a positive experience in outdoor education.
Through challenge by choice, students extend their critical thinking skills by assessing and analysing situations and environments; they must evaluate their skill level in relation to situational, environmental and social factors.
Students are encouraged to communicate what they're thinking and feeling and show initiative by making their voices heard. Often, when students decide to take a step back from an activity, they adapt the situation to their comfort level and find other ways to support the group and maintain positive social interaction in creative ways.
During a program, we begin every activity by briefing the students to review equipment, potential hazards, and practice skill development; this sets students up for success by providing an overview of what's to come. Although there's always an element of adventure, starting with the activity briefing is a great way to alleviate the anxiety of the unknown.
The briefing often includes a quick exercise to gauge students' comfort zone, which segues into reminding them every activity is challenging by choice – they decide how high they will climb or if they'd like to try chopping the vegetable for the night's meal, for example. It also provides leadership opportunities for more experienced students to role-model and even mentor less experienced students.
Kolb's experiential learning cycle moves through 4 stages, beginning with the experience itself. Every student will have a unique experience during the same activity, including those who might opt out. The second stage is reflective observation which is often practised organically during and directly after the activity. The third stage is abstract conceptualisation, in which the learning process is more effective when a mentor or teacher actively facilitates this stage. Debrief sessions encourage students to articulate their reflective experience and conclude what they've learned from the experience. Finally, conclusions are drawn by synthesising what happened, what was have learnt and what could be improved in the future. Although this experience is brief when enacted, it generates a practice of reflective processing, particularly beneficial for students engaging in challenge by choice who opted out of an activity to begin with because they often have the most opportunity for growth.
Our Outdoor Educators undertake training categorised in three pillars:
Much of our Outdoor Educators' facilitation skills are focused on:
Training is consistent with The Outdoor education Group's commitment to encouraging our team toward a growth mindset focused on creating positive experiences, being flexible, adaptable, and working together in a collaborative atmosphere.
Maria Escobar-Berna, Client Administrator says, "When students are given the ability to decide how they will contribute to any given situation, their satisfaction is evident. In this way, they are also able to reflect on their decisions and consider those of their peers. In the end the experience is rewarding for everyone!"
Our programs facilitate the psychological needs of students faced with uncertain situations in the outdoors through to self-actualisation and personal growth - this middle area can be full of unknowns for young people and scary if they don't have peer support. Challenge by choice is integral to the process to encourage students to push themselves a little further than they might if there were no safety net. Challenge by choice is always there as a plan B.