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.