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Practice Approaches for Working with Young People through the Outdoors

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Young People
Wordcount: 2015 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Critique two distinct practice approaches to work with young people through the outdoors. Present the Key features of each practice approach while also critically exploring the principle benefits, limitations and challenges of each.

In the following essay I am going to be discussing how important it is for not just young people, but for everyone to be able to take part in outdoor activities. Two of the main practice approaches when working with people through the outdoors would be, forests schools and wilderness therapy (sometimes referred as adventure therapy). Most of us these days spend most of our time online, technology has its benefits but between work, taking care of children, cleaning and more, people end up spending almost 90% of their time indoors. Back in the 1960’s/ 1970’s not spending time outdoors was very rare as technology was not a big thing so not as many people spent time indoors. Unfortunately, spending too much time indoors has an impact on our health- a negative impact. I am going to be focusing on their key features as to why they are important but also on their strengths and weaknesses. This essay will also compare the forest schools with wilderness therapy in various ways.

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Forest schools are growing and getting recognized, not just nationally but also internationally from all around the world. It’s been around 50 years since people stopped connecting with Mother Nature. By connecting with nature again, academics and educationalists are discovering that you do not connect with the world around you if you don’t find your connection with nature once again. Forests schools are a great way to teach children from a really young age all about the environment and nature around them. The school is all about being outdoors in nature and about using learning opportunities within nature and the environment. The aim of forest schools is to help children with resilience, confidence, to be able to boost up their self esteem and to challenge them in several ways. Some of the key features when speaking about forests schools are that children get to be in an outdoor environment. There is a Child-led approach to learning, which is fun and unhurried. Forest schools allows every child to have a voice especially those who find it difficult to communicate in a more conventional learning environment and it also offers a high adult to child ratio which allows children to undertake new experiences and challenges whilst taking appropriate risks. It is a long term programme that allows repetition where children come into contact with nature using all their senses and builds children’s confidence and self esteem as they are responsible for making their own decisions and are carefully supported to achieve. One of the most important key feature for me, would be that it supports personalize learning as children are not all the same or learn the same way. In fact, the facilitators are trained adults who observe, rather than lead or direct.

When attending a forest school, children are way more active than they would be in a normal school. This makes their stamina improve when going through their programme sessions. By taking part of the programme it can also help to improve their lifestyle, by making them healthier and wanting to be more active at all times. Children would ask their parents if they can go outside or for them to take them on a trip to a forest ot green area outside school times. Not also does a forest school help with a healthier lifestyle but it can also have an impact on their emotional and mental health by gaining confidence and improving their self esteem.

By taking part on outdoor activities and being in the ‘wild’, forest schools ensure that children learn to take risks and are encouraged to make sensible decisions when it comes to dealing with unfamiliar situations such as using tools to make a decoration and more. Children learn in a different context, by undertaking a range of practical activities and carrying out tasks, which gives them the opportunity to test their own abilities in a real life context. Some of the benefits of forest schools are that children can develop their team working skills and learn to be more independent. Those who never went outside and weren’t familiar with forests or green areas, they will be more confident in using them and this can form a life long interest in nature. They will be able to bring their new found confidence into their school, home and other areas of their lives. Forests schools are a great way to help children that are not particularly great in a classroom environment. Enterprising behavior is shown in forest schools by allowing children to solve problems and be creative and imaginative by working in a team or by themselves.

Wilderness therapy would be another really effective and important practice approach. Wilderness therapy is also known as Adventure therapy. This method consists on taking part on adventure activities as part of a therapeutic process. There is obviously a huge difference between a normal and an outdoor therapy, outdoor therapy will allow you to engage emotionally but also behaviorally when taking part of it. Why not try something new and effective? Most people spend most of their time indoors as I have mentioned above, but people are proven to be able to learn more by taking part on outdoor activities such as hiking and camping during the programme. This type of therapy helps you identify your problems and understand why and how to cope with them by undertaking some activities in an outdoor area. The wilderness therapy is created to boost self esteem, just like forests schools. The difference between a forest school and adventure therapy is that therapy usually requires longer programmes. While the longer programmes have their benefits, there are also shorter sessions. The best way to describe wilderness therapy is the combination of traditional psychology with wilderness experience. Mental health professionals offer psychological support while the outdoor setting provides a unique environment for healing.

Mental health professionals are the ones who provided adventure therapy, often conducted in natural settings that end up engaging clients on a cognitive, affective and behavioral level. Wilderness therapy is grounded in the outward-bound model, which was developed in the United Kingdom by the Kurt Hahn. Outward bound uses wilderness expeditions designed to challenge participants to overcome their perceived limitations and develop an enhanced sense to self. AT could also use a challenge course as a tool to help families struggling with interpersonal dynamics develop new strategies to help them communicate with each other more effectively. Closely tied to adventure-based therapy, wilderness therapy is a therapeutic approach that helps struggling teens by removing them from the familiar surroundings of daily life and teaches them to reconnect with the most basic elements of nature.

While most things when talking about wilderness therapy but also forest schools seem to be positive, you can also find people who suggest that there is real danger out there when it comes to children. In fact there is no real danger as activities such as rock climbing or rafting down a rapid are common during these sessions. Wilderness therapy could be described as baseball in the sense that at any point, it requires a combination of deeply individual effort and working together as a team.

Removing a child from an unhealthy environment helps them realize the flaws and able to distance themselves from it next time. When a major change occurs it often always allows people to see the world differently. While most therapies offer to deal with issues by going through old methods, they only really touch the surface, while wilderness therapy offers a holistic approach; by this it means that it simultaneously targets the body, mind and soul. Once you take part of wilderness therapy you will never want to go back to an old fashioned one as the adventure therapy ensures that once your experience is over, your symptoms will not return. This method of therapy would be the best way for completing a healing journey.

By taking part on outdoor activities such as the two approaches I have been discussing, people are able to form friendships and memories. It also has a positive impact with their family and community as every change helps.


In spite of the above positive aspects of wilderness programs, there are several concerns. There is no evidence that indicates these programs can treat teens’ mental illnesses or prevent risky behaviors and bad choices. Because these are the reasons for the wilderness therapy, it seems as if such programs are not effective at all in helping at-risk youth.

Furthermore, there have been deaths in wilderness therapy programs. According to investigations, there were several reasons for the unnecessary deaths. The first is that the staff members are often not well-trained to work with at-risk teens. In some cases of deaths, a staff member accused a child of faking illness, when in fact he really was sick.

Investigations also showed that nutrition in several cases was inadequate. In some instances, the teens were forced to fast. Finally, some programs operated in a negligent manner, going out into the wilderness without radios or without guides who knew the area.

In conclusion, we have discovered that by being outdoors our beneficiaries can often feel more relaxed, and less pressured, and using natural tools and exploration the work is more creative and makes engaging much easier. The creative side of the work makes it work well with children and young people – many who reflect on how much calmer they feel outside.

The facilitators believe in holding a safe physical and mental space. They fully risk assess all the areas we work and follow safeguarding guidelines and principles.

They work using core values of equal dignity, personal integrity, personal responsibility and authenticity. The aim is to enable each person who they work with to have an improved understanding of how they can navigate their lives using the core values as a compass for the future, and have tools and increased self-awareness to manage themselves, and life, in a more harmonious way. By writing this essay I have also realized that myself as a person never usually spends time outside, instead I decide to stay indoors like most people in 2018. I am challenging myself to go out for even 15 minutes a day as it has many benefits to your health but also benefits you as a person. Forest schools and wilderness therapy both have strengths, weaknesses and challenges that are faced every day but they are also both a great way to connect with the world once again or even for the first time.


  • Research Gate, (2018). [online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Nevin_Harper/publication/274384593_Outdoor_and_adventure_therapy_What_why_and_where_next/links/57e0898208aece48e9e1fce6/Outdoor-and-adventure-therapy-What-why-and-where-next.pdf [Accessed 28 Nov. 2018].
  • Annmarie Skin Care. (2018). 10 Reasons Why You Should Spend More Time Outdoors. [online] Available at: https://www.annmariegianni.com/why-you-should-spend-more-time-outdoors/ [Accessed 28 Nov. 2018].
  • Natureschool.ie. (2018). Forest School principles | Nature School – Learning Naturally. [online] Available at: http://natureschool.ie/forest-school-principles/ [Accessed 28 Nov. 2018].
  • Gass, M.A. and Russell, K.C., 2012. Adventure therapy: Theory, research, and practice. Routledge.


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