Do you remember when?
My father used to tell me of days when he would leave home at dawn and go rabbiting for the day, traipsing around the hills by himself, only returning home when it was dark. He was fourteen. There is no way I would let my fourteen year old son be gone all day without knowing where he was or making sure he had his phone with him. Am I paranoid and over protective, or just a caring parent dealing with society as it has now become? By stopping him from experiencing life as we did, am I restricting his ability to cope with his future?
Children of the twenty-first century have less interaction with unstructured activities that offer challenge, instead they are involved in organised sports and activities. Gone are the days where children would spend time climbing trees, searching along creek beds and generally just playing in the natural environment. This has been replaced by a structured timetable of sports, homework and free time spent on electronic devices. ‘For a whole generation of kids, direct experiences in the …woods, have been replaced by indirect learning, through machines.’ (Louv, 2009, p. 67)
Is this a problem? Richard Louv, chairman of the Children and Nature network, recently spoke in Australia about his new book ‘Last Child in the Woods’ and the concept of Nature Deficit Disorder. He stated that the human cost of alienation from nature is ‘diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.’ (Louv, 2009, p. 36) As a result we are producing a generation who lack resilience to deal with life and what it presents. Children ‘need to experience risky and challenging play in order to ensure they are able to manage risk in their daily lives. There is a real danger that by cocooning, over protecting and over supervising children, society might be denying the next generation the opportunity to grow up and become capable, confident adults.’(Gulberg, 2008)
Play in natural environments offers many benefits to the development of our children and our community. While our children still play each day, the removal of this play from the natural environment is affecting the fibre that holds them together as they grow into adults.
During play in the natural environment children are engaging the full use of their senses; touching, smelling, tasting as well as seeing and hearing. Unlike existence in the virtual world in which our children are now enveloped, the nature experience is a whole body experience. There may be injuries but ‘small injuries are a part of the learning process and we need to treat them as an opportunity rather than an event to be avoided at all costs’ (Tully, 2010). Such injuries need to be compared with the physical and psychological risks that result from alternative play that does not involve the natural environment ‘risks to the child’s concept and perception of community, risk to self confidence and the ability to discern true danger — and beauty’. (Louv, 2009, p. 124) Rather than scratches and broken bones, our children may develop repetitive strain injury (RSI), sensory overload and a lack of the ability to switch off from the constant barrage of stimulus.
Louv is of the belief that if we recognise play in the natural environment as good for our health then we would be more likely to allow time for it in our daily routine, as we do for good nutrition or adequate sleep. ‘Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health.’ (Louv, 2009, p. 120) We need to consider that it is not just play time but an important element in the development of our child as a whole person. As Dick Smith, Australian Entrepreneur stated ‘We have to stop helicopting (hovering over) our children and grandchildren and allow them to have adventure in their lives, expanding their horizons by accepting an element of risk.’(Scouts Australia, 2009)
Ms J O’Sullivan, Head of Griffith House, stated in her article The Paradox of Risk-Taking ‘risk-taking is … an integral part of everyday social interactions’ (BGGS News, June 2009), it is a responsibility of Brisbane Girls Grammar School to provide these experiences where our students can practice safe risk taking and analyse their decisions in a safe and caring environment. While at the Brisbane campus our students are encouraged to take risks in their academic work, while at Marrapatta Memorial Outdoor Education Centre the students are encouraged to take physical and emotional risks.
Marrapatta offers opportunities for students to ‘play’ in the natural environment and to be involved in perceived risky activities in a physically and emotionally safe environment. Students are supported in their participation in activities as well as decision making. They are encouraged to take risks and be accepting of failure in a caring community. Students are prompted to consider their own personal development and how they might behave in different situations.
Through a sequential programme, students develop skills that enable them to take ownership and responsibility of their own experiences. The girls are encouraged to take acceptable risks and work through the problems that they encounter. In Year 8 students spend time exploring the Marrapatta campus, guided by clues, using a map and compass. The small groups work independently, problem solving through teamwork. They are never any more than 200 metres from staff but in the bush and without an adult in their group they feel like they are having a wilderness adventure.
For the Year 9 Programme the students venture out on a three day expedition, bike riding or canoeing to reach the campsite. They are provided with equipment, food and track notes but it is up to the students to guide their own adventure. The girls decide on where to travel, when to travel, where to camp and what to eat. Staff travel with the group but only in the role of logistical support, overseeing and guiding the learning experience. While the staff monitor the group, the girls are allowed to make mistakes.
The theme for Year 10 expeditions is Journeys and each girl is encouraged to be involved in planning her adventure — in some ways, a preparation for planning her journey through life — with a focus on decision making and problem solving. Staff are a part of the travel group, offering assistance in emergency situations, while encouraging each girl to take control of her own journey.
One of the benefits of being a Girls Grammar student is the special bond that every girl has in these shared experiences. The “deepest friendships evolve out of shared experiences, particularly in environments in which all of the senses are enlivened.’ (Louv, 2009, p. 79) The more challenging or exciting the experience is, the stronger the bond. All of the students, from Year 8 through to Year 12 can talk to each other about their time at the Deer Park or how to cook on a trangia and every other girl knows what they are talking about. This bond is fundamental to the community spirit that is found at Brisbane Girls Grammar.
In an attempt to provide new and exciting challenges for the girls, Marrapatta has developed a new high ropes adventure course. This facility offers a variety of individual and group challenges where the girls must work together to achieve goals. Each element presents a degree of perceived risk which challenges participants and necessitates that they trust their peers. The course is being dedicated to the memory of Mr John Stamford who actively encouraged his students to explore the natural environment in the late 1970s and was the School’s inaugural outdoor education teacher. Open Day at Marrapatta this weekend will give visitors a chance to explore the property and view a demonstration of the new Stamford Challenge High Ropes Course.
For more details about the Open Day please visit the School website: http://www.bggs.qld.edu.au/?page_id=6998
Mrs C Lansdown