Learning through adventure

2009-11-25 00:00

TOO often in today’s world the lives of our children are lived through their parents. Whether it be through genuine concern, lack of understanding, overprotectiveness, misplaced guilt or any other reason, parents like to appear to be in control of the lives of their little­ ones. While cocooned living is comfortable, it is not necessarily preferable.

As adults and teachers we should always be looking for ways to challenge our children, expose them to new experiences, encourage them to take risks, applaud their efforts, guide them after their failures and reshape their comfort zones.

As psychologist Tim Barry says: “We must encourage our children to venture out of their harbours and face the open seas in the faith that, should they need to, they can return to the safety and comfort of their port until they are ready to go out again.”

With this in mind, I have always believed that school life should be an experience. It is this experience that will shape children’s lives and establish their outlooks on life.

In order to facilitate such experiences a hike was arranged, a few years ago, to a local game farm. Walking, crawling, clambering and falling for an entire day, we covered 22 kilometres, crossed various farmlands and went through several microclimates to the lodge where we were to stay for the next three days.

The programme was to be a simple one: little or no written work, plenty of practical exercises, interacting, exploring and having loads of fun.

Subsequently, that simple hike has evolved into the Great Trek. This year there was much discussion and plotting as we planned the five-day Great Trek. The route would be done on mountain bikes and by foot through the rolling hills of the KwaZulu-Natal highlands. The distance was 196 kilometres. It was never going to be easy and a number of people expressed their concern at the challenges that faced the class.

What were the goals at the outset? Firstly, to provide an amazing experience that would be difficult to replicate — especially in terms of challenging comfort zones. Mental and physical stress was to play an important part in the programme. Secondly, the simple notion of experiencing our local area was an important component. How often do we travel great distances to broaden our horizons when, sadly, we know very little about our own front gardens?

Activities along the way included a look at bee farming, seeing an animal being dissected, exploring an indigenous forest, staying overnight at farmhouses and sleeping under the stars.

Pupils were also able to enjoy moments of fear, elation, disappointment, pain, comfort, thirst, support, discussion and debate, camaraderie, educational moments, leadership opportunities, failure, hunger, perseverance and endurance, pride, laughter, reflection, humility and success.

Throughout the Great Trek there were elements of danger and the unknown, hence the attraction and excitement that it generated. This is, I believe, a crucial part of education at primary school level. In our modern (often overprotective) society children are seldom provided with opportunities to be truly adventurous and feel the pressures of new and uncomfortable situations.

It is precisely these situations, when you are out of your comfort zone, that you grow the most.

The Great Trek was incredibly successful at exposing the children to various elements of risk in a controlled environment.

Risk takers are willing to try new ideas, explore uncharted territories, challenge the status quo and, when they fail, bounce back to try again.

I am anxious about the day when bureaucratic red tape, overprotective helicopter parents, the litigious­ nature of our society and other destructive forces will bring these experiences to an end.

 

• Rob Odell is a Grade 7 teacher at Lynford School, a small, co-educational school just outside Ixopo. Lynford was founded in 1996 and has 120 pupils who enjoy the school’s park- like grounds and facilities. There were 20 Grade 7 children and six adults who enjoyed the Great Trek experience.

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