outdoor education

A fracture in the snow sheet: the invisibility of animals in outdoor learning research

Roger Cutting
Presentation date

Outdoor learning has traditionally been associated with using the natural environment as a mechanism for not only developing and enhancing behavioural characteristics such as confidence and resilience, but also in more recent times perhaps, as a means of developing a greater understanding of the natural world and therefore, promoting a greater sense of its curation.

The increasing interest in outdoor learning, both nationally and internationally, has facilitated a significant body of research work. Since 2000, two of the leading peer-reviewed journals in outdoor learning, have published nearly 1,000 research papers (approximately one a week). Research to inform the development and effectiveness of outdoor learning appears to concentrate primarily on relationships within and between the student/s and the natural environment. Popular topic areas include initiatives such as Forest Schools and the taught programmes of outdoor, or field studies, centres. It is interesting to note that only one paper in nineteen years of research in these two journals, deals with animals.

At a time when the Care Farm movement and animal assisted therapies are playing an increasingly important role in education and social support, animals are curiously absent from the research literature. Papers review 'nature therapies' and the important benefits to be gained by people being in the natural environment, but animals seem quite invisible within those environments.

Starting from this position, the presentation will initially explore the elusive nature of animal-human relationships. It will then explore the reasons why both outdoor and environmental education emphasise on the importance of 'place' , yet when the living environment is considered, it is more likely to be the floristic rather than the faunal. It concludes by exploring the efficacy of a more animal centred approach for promoting compassionate education and thereby enhancing the proposed, deeper, aims of environmental and outdoor learning.

Between the worlds of lost and found: the reciprocal relationship between excluded individuals and excluded animals

Roger Cutting
Presentation date

The Donkey Sanctuary is one of the world’s largest animal welfare charities and although its primary work is focussed on animals in Low Income Countries, the organisation does run significant animal assisted therapy programmes at its six farm centres in the UK. The ethological characteristics of the donkey make it an excellent facilitator in this process, reacting positively to human contact and actively seeking out interaction. Initially, at least, these programmes focused on children with additional needs but over the past four decades the demand for a programme that could help adults and children with a wide range of emotional, psychological and cognitive needs became increasingly apparent. The programme now also focusses on key life skills such as self-esteem, managing emotions and empathy. Furthermore, the wider client group now encompasses a more diverse set of emotional, psychological or physical needs, such as veterans, young people at risk, recovering addicts or those suffering the legacy of abuse. Engagement with animals in outdoor settings is an effective technique for establishing a position where affective behaviours may be explored and eventually expedited.

However, this paper presents two complimentary accounts. Initially it will discuss, through anonymised case-studies, the approaches that are adopted within this programme and will critically evaluate the difficulties of evaluating outcomes. It will then explore, within the context of the growing interest in animal therapies, the apparent enigma that while the outdoors is often cited as a medium in which therapies of varying types may take place, animals appear largely excluded from these narratives and therefore from published research. It concludes by exploring the paradoxical proposition that donkey assisted therapies involve one of the most derided and low status of animals, in strategies to promote the inclusion of those excluded from wider human society.

Not published as conference proceedings
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