We are 24 months into the Project, having already taken all Year 4s, 5s, and 6s, through a series of outdoor learning workshops last academic year (2014-15). It was a successful year, despite some very 'challenging' weather. For the current (2015-16) academic year of course, the Year 5s and 6s will already have had experience of what the Project entails. Each pupil in these two year groups will have had the equivalent of three complete school days of learning outdoors per year.
So what exactly do the pupils do? Firstly, 99% of the work is literally outdoors. We do have the great luxury of a Scandinavian Cabin ('The Lodge') on-site which acts as the Project base on Outdoor Education days, but we try hard to work through the weather. The Project is centred on two aspects: Survival, and Problem Solving. Survival is itself a problem solving emergency so the two dovetail together. The pupils do very well in handling materials and new situations - especially learning to listen to the instructions, guidance, and advice, when there are distractions that they would not meet in the classroom. It's a good training ground for growing up.
The Survival theme is built around the 'Big Six' of survival: shelter, water, fire, food, medical (first aid), and navigation. All of theses themes are curriculum-linked in that with a thorough investigation of the Key Stage 2 National Curriculum the Instructor - usually Barry Howard - can dovetail ideas/concepts, methods/techniques, and fun into the theme, and the theme into classroom work. So we get a lot of, for example, science done when we study fire[s] - and light quite a few in our cabin.
Barry Howard has nearly 45 years of experience as a mountaineer, and qualified Mountain Leader - and 30 years as a survival instructor. He was a Combat Survival Training Specialist and Cold Weather Warfare Survival Adviser to UK military units in northern Norway; in addition he spent many years as an award-winning secondary school teacher. He is currently a Squadron & Wing Combat Survival (& Fieldcraft) Instructor with RAF Cadets, as well as running his own outdoor education and training company.
All the Survival skills that the pupils undertake are 'hands-on' that is they build the shelters, weather permitting they light their fires, and they filter water, treat injured victims (following the St. John Ambulance 'Young First Aider Award' syllabus) and find their own way navigating around various sites (a lot of numeracy here). In this, the second year of the Project, pupils are navigating across and around the Recreation Ground - and learning very quickly about the compass, contours, distance, timing, views, and 'location'.
Scenarios are important in getting this age group to understand ideas and the way to solve problems. Our story/scenario 'WRECKED' is based upon a survival incident experienced by five people who get shipwrecked off a remote androcky coast (BELOW) and are forced to spend weeks surviving. Pupils are given the outline of the story and then have to come up with solutions to the problems faced; no ideas are rejected, as these young people are still learning!
All pupils then have the opportunity to learn - and practice, ask questions, and try out - ways to 'survive' by handling genuine survival equipment, building trial shelters, using other peoples' ideas as well as their own, working 'around' problems, and putting themselves - if they can - in the place of someone who has just a few pieces of equipment to help them through; we provide that equipment, we provide the skills and expertise, and the pupils provide - hopefully - the will and determination. It's a great 'mix' and they learn a lot very quickly.
ABOVE: Introducing the map of the school site: learning scale and symbols
ABOVE: Using the compass, & counting 'paces', double steps. Minus 4 degrees!
Problem solving is both a hidden and open-and-obvious target of our sessions. When we leave the survival scenarios behind we concentrate on working together - REALLY working together: giving-way to other's ideas, being industrious (".....work hard!"), "......listen to your mates, they have good ideas too!" and getting this done by concentrating. It's often (very often) not what the pupils do but how they go about it that is important - and interesting to teachers. No-one in secondary school in a couple of year's time is going to give the pupils a big pat on the back for having gotten a golf ball along a piece of guttering (try 45 metres of it), but they will be impressed if these young people have learned to get stuck in to the task, help their mates, help people that aren't their mates, and see the task through to the end - whatever the outcome.
So we use about 18 different problem-solving / teamwork / communications exercises to bring out the pupils' characters. We don't just build characters at Hunter Outdoor Training - we uncover it. The teams do remarkably well; if you'd looked at the apparent disarray of scores of bits of downpipe, guttering, ropes and bungees the exercise would not look at all 'smooth' and ordered, but we have seen at Eversley, time and time again pupils' results far surpassing those of someadults; and the road to success has been littered with trial-and-error, crashes, disappointments, frustrations and not a little excitement - especially when racing against the clock.
Problem solving.....a really tough task to build a free-standing structure, a frame to take a number of shelter-sheets ('basha' sheets) using hazel poles and bungees.