How outdoor learning benefits people with disabilities

Ask any adult what their fondest memory of school is and most will come back with an exciting story about a residential trip; how they explored, played, took risks, tried new things and made new friends. At the time, you don’t realise how these experiences shape who you become later in life.

The Government are committed to making such opportunities available to everyone, no matter their background, ability or needs. In their recent white paper ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’, the Department for Education outlined the need for every child to have experiences that equip them with “the knowledge, skills, values, character traits and experiences that will help them to navigate a rapidly changing world with confidence”.

High-quality residentials play an important part in this aim with impacts being seen immediately. The research project, Learning Away, demonstrated the impact that residential learning can have on learner engagement, achievement and relationships. They found that “a residential learning experience provides opportunities and benefits/impacts that cannot be achieved in any other educational context”. These traits not only open doors to employment and social opportunities but underpin academic success, happiness and wellbeing.

It can be argued that these benefits are even more profound and life-changing for the 0.9million children (7%) in the UK who are disabled. High-quality residentials provide “opportunities for students with disabilities to be engaged in physical activities” which is greatly needed as 86% of families with disabled children go without leisure activities. Add to this the fact that 65% of families caring for disabled children report feeling isolated frequently or all of the time and the need for truly inclusive outdoor provision is clear.

Inspiration through adventure

“George” (a pseudonym) was one such student for whom a brilliant residential had a profoundly positive benefit. Therry, a teacher who frequently brought students on residential courses to Bendrigg Trust, tells his story:

The youngest student we ever had with the team was an 8 year old young man, George, with cerebral palsy, epilepsy and profound visual and auditory impairments. This was to be his first time away from his family and home. He blossomed with his responses and became so smiley and noisy (to the degree of cheeky!) showing us there were ways around, through and over the barriers we previously had believed to be there in the school environment.

Once free of his wheelchair and secure in his climbing gear, George felt his way carefully up the climbing wall requiring minimal support from Bendrigg staff but making his own choices, as his fingers and feet found bumps, hollows and things to push and pull on. He was able to fly along the zip wire with happy howls of delight and his eyes, which we understood to provide him with no vision, sparkled. We know that Bendrigg worked its magic in ways no one could have imagined and we are so grateful that George was able to have this experience. I wish it was possible to bottle this ‘Bendrigg magic’ from start to finish so everyone could see, and truly believe what each individual can achieve.

“George” may be a made-up name but his story is real.

Bendrigg Trust believes in the impact that high-quality residential courses can have for young people with a disability; combining activities that they never dreamt possible with a welcoming and inclusive home-from-home. From learning to make your own bed to taking your first journey in a canoe, Bendrigg believes in giving young people skills for life, an increased motivation and appetite for learning and broadening horizons, often opening up a whole new world of opportunity.

 

Do you have a story about the impact outdoor learning? Comment below and let us know!