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Outdoor Education for Behavior Disordered Students

Author: Edward Lappin



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ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools, Las Cruces, N. Mex.

Contents

What Is Outdoor Education?

What Are the Characteristics of Behavior Disordered Students?

What Effects Can Outdoor Education Have on Behavior Disordered Students?

What Types of Programs and Activities Can Be Used With Behavior Disordered Students?

For More Information


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Outdoor education offers special benefits to behavior disordered students. Programs range from simple, near-school activities to lengthy, more expensive wilderness camping experiences. In either case, positive behavioral changes among behavior disordered students have been reported. A review of possible programs/activities and possible benefits is a step in the direction of offering new opportunities to these students.


What Is Outdoor Education?

Outdoor education is a means of curriculum enrichment, whereby the process of learning takes place out of doors. Outdoor education broadly includes environmental education, conservation education, adventure education, school camping, wilderness therapy, and some aspects of outdoor recreation. Among the curricular areas often associated with outdoor education are language arts, social studies, mathematics, science, nature study, and music. Self-concept enhancement is approached through outdoor physical stress situations and opportunities for leadership development.

Outdoor education enables students and teachers to interact in an environment free from the limitations of the classroom. The change in environment can facilitate learning by removing behavior disordered students from the classroom setting which they may already identify with failure.

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What Are the Characteristics of Behavior Disordered Students?

The federal government, in Public Law 94-142, defines a behavior disorder or serious emotional disturbance as follows:

"...a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and to a marked degree, which adversely affects educational performance:

  • an inability to learn which cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors;

  • an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers;

  • inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances;

  • a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or

  • a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.

The term includes children who are schizophrenic or autistic. The term does not include children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that they are seriously emotionally disturbed."

There are many different terms used to describe behavior disordered students. Those used most frequently in the literature include emotionally disturbed, disruptive, aggressive, emotionally handicapped or conduct disordered. Such students are frequently said to have "behavior problems."

Behaviors that characterize behavior disordered students and lead to referral for services include defiance, uncooperativeness, shyness, withdrawal, passivity, self-consciousness, fearfulness, and anxiety, to name a few. The degree of severity and the duration of these and other behaviors may vary from student to student.

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What Effects Can Outdoor Education Have on Behavior Disordered Students?

Research done on outdoor education programs for behavior disordered students yields a number of positive findings. Among these are improvement in self-concept, social adjustment, academic achievement, and group cohesion. Relationships with peers, parents, teachers, and counselors were also improved in some of the programs. Teachers also reported greater ability to teach specific skills and academic behaviors, and to lessen disruptive behavior when programs were conducted out of doors.

Reports from individual programs show promising results in the application of outdoor education priniciples in teaching behavior disordered youth. Lane and others (1983) found increases in peer relationships and group cohesion in their counseling-oriented "Group Walk-Talk" program, which combined hiking and counseling in a public school program for adolescents.

Residential programs that use wilderness camping have also reported success. According to Griffen (l981), an evaluation of the Eckard Foundation, a residential therapeutic camping program, revealed significant improvement in self-concept, personality adjustment, and academic skill level. Rigothi (1974) reported favorable student and teacher evaluation of student adjustment and academic achievement in a similar program for secondary students with emotional and drug-related problems in New York State.

Non-residential programs also have reported success with behavior disordered students. Burdsal and Force (1983) examined counselor ratings of youth involved in three two-week wilderness expeditions. The results show that boys are perceived as becoming more self-reliant and as increasing in involvement with the therapeutic process. No significant changes were reported for girls. A study of a Dallas, Texas, program specifically for girls (Neff, 1973), called Girl's Adventure Trails, revealed statistically significant changes in the student attitude scale and academic motivation measures. Girls who participated in the 26-day wilderness camping program, which featured individual and group counseling, attained a positive attitude towards themselves, parents, and teachers.

Hobbs and Radka (1975) studied behavior change during a short-term (five-day) therapeutic camping program. Operant techniques were used to modify verbal behaviors of adolescent boys during group therapy sessions. Besides having success with modifying verbal behaviors, the authors also reported that the group became more close-knit and generally worked together on camp problems.

Possible methodological shortcomings must be taken into consideration when evaluating the results of many outdoor education studies. Byers (1979) mentions that a common problem in many studies is the lack of a control group. To correct other problems with research, Byers recommends documentation of the actual content of camping programs. Also, short-term outcomes in terms of changes in camper behavior must be assessed along with the relationship between the camp program and these changes. Finally, the long-term outcomes concerning community adjustment of the campers must be evaluated.

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What Types of Programs and Activities Can Be Used With Behavior Disordered Students?

Currently in existence are many types of programs that utilize the out-of-doors in treating behavior disordered children. Many are long-term residential camps that offer wilderness camping as therapy, while others are wilderness camping programs of shorter duration. The latter include summer programs, month-long programs, and day camps. Another type of program is the public school class that integrates outdoor education into the curriculum areas or combines the academic programs with high-adventure programming.

Behavior-disordered students benefit from activities that offer a challenge to the students. Camping, hiking, rock climbing, rappelling, canoeing, rafting, and backpacking are all activities that can be adapted to the novice and do not require exceptional physical ability. A patient and knowledgeable instructor can make these high-adventure activities success experiences for the behavior disordered student. Other activities that benefit students include ropes courses, initiative games, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, orienteering, cycling, skin diving, tubing, and sailing.

Although not all schools can provide these activities, there are near-school activities which are also valuable. Field trips that emphasize nature study, environmental education, conservation of natural resources, awareness of the outside world, local history, community services, nutrition, physical education, and health education can also be learning experiences for behavior disordered students.

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For More Information

Burdsal, Charles, and Ronald C. Force. "An Examination of or Ratings of Behavior Problem Youth in an Early Stage, Community-based Intervention Program." JOURNAL OF CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY 39 (1983): 353-360.

Byers, E.S. "Wilderness Camping as a Therapy for Emotionally Disturbed Children: A Critical Review." EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN 45 (1979) 628-635.

Erickson, Susan, and Buck Harris. THE ADVENTURE BOOK: A CURRICULUM GUIDE TO SCHOOL BASED ADVENTURING WITH TROUBLED ADOLESCENTS. Goshen, CT: Wilderness School, l980. ED 200 381.

Griffen, William H. EVALUATION OF A RESIDENTIAL THERAPEUTIC CAMPING PROGRAM FOR DISTURBED CHILDREN. Pensacola, FL: West Florida University, Education Research and Development Center, 1981. ED 204 041.

Hobbs, T.R. and J.E. Radka. "A Short Term Therapeutic Camping Program for Emotionally Disturbed Adolescent Boys." ADOLESCENCE 10 (1975): 447-455.

Kimball, Richard O. "The Wilderness as Therapy." JOURNAL OF EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION 6 (l983): 6-9.

Lane, B., J. Bonic, and N. Wallgren-Bonic. "The Group Walk-Talk: A Therapeutic Challenge for Secondary Students with Social/Emotional Problems." TEACHING EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN 16 (1983): 12-17.

Neff, Pauline. BETTER TOMORROWS. Dallas, TX: Girl's Adventure Trails, Inc. 1973. ED 089 155.

thi, Anthony. A RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL'S OUTDOOR EDUCATION PROGRAM FOR EMOTIONALLY HANDICAPPED ADOLESCENTS: FINAL PROJECT REPORT OF THE RHINECLIFF UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT, HOLY CROSS CAMPUS. Plattsburgh, NY: Rhinecliff Union Free School District, 1974. ED 101 866.

Thomas, Stephen. EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING AND THE HANDICAPPED: REPORTS FROM THE FIELD. Buffalo, NY: Council for Exceptional Children, l981. ED 215 481.

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Credits

THIS DIGEST WAS CREATED BY ERIC, THE EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES INFORMATION CENTER. FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT ERIC, CONTACT ACCESS ERIC 1-800-LET-ERIC

This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under OERI contract. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of Education.

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