Book review: Roots and Wings: A History of Outdoor Education and Outdoor Learning in the UK

Ogilvie, K. C. (2013) Roots and Wings: A History of Outdoor Education and Outdoor Learning in the UK, Lyme Regis, Russell House Publishing. ISBN 978-1-905541-84-3: £39.95 + £1.50 delivery: www.russellhouse.co.uk.

This is a mammoth of a book, with over 800 pages in total. As its title indicates, it has a strong historical focus – and that focus is also very wide, locating outdoor education in the context of wider human history, beginning the story over ten million years ago. As someone who is interested in history, I very much enjoyed that wide sweep and the effective way the history of outdoor education was woven into the picture of human history. However, I fear that those who want to know about the history of outdoor education specifically without much interest in the wider picture will feel unhappy with the page after page of historical detail approach that the author has adopted.

Outdoor learningBut, if you can get past that, there is much of value in this book. It shows how approaches to outdoor learning have changed over time and yet have a strong sense of continuity. It could be argued that you don’t need to know the history of an approach to learning to be able to practise it effectively. However, I would want to argue that having a grasp of the historical context will enrich our understanding and therefore put us in a stronger position to make use of the learning opportunities outdoor education presents.

Fundamental to this book is the recognition that different people learn in different ways. While traditional, classroom-based learning can be very effective in the right circumstances, it is not the only way of promoting learning. Outdoor education focuses on the whole person and recognises that there is much to be learned from activities, particularly those that involve engaging with nature. The author argues convincingly that it is important for children to develop an awareness of, and appreciation for, nature. Much the same can be said of adults, of course, especially those whose fast-paced urban lifestyles can leave them out of touch with the natural world. Perhaps, as a species, we would have more respect for our habitat and pollute it less if we were less disconnected from it.

One of the longstanding criticisms of classroom-based education is that it encourages a narrow, conformist approach to learning and to life more broadly. Outdoor learning, by contrast, has the potential to encourage a broader, more adventurous approach to learning and indeed to how we rise to the challenges our lives throw at us. No one is claiming it is a panacea, but a clear message from this book is that it has much to commend it, much that can be of great value in promoting learning.

This is an important book that documents an important history. It deserves to be widely read by educators of children and adults alike.

Links:

Neil Thompson: www.neilthompson.info 
The Avenue Learning Centre: www.avenuelearningcentre.co.uk
The Avenue Professional Development Programme: http://tinyurl.com/apdpneilthompson
Russell House Publishing: www.russellhouse.co.uk
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Dr Neil Thompson

About the Author:

Neil Thompson is a writer, trainer and consultant who has published several best-selling textbooks. He edits THE humansolutions BULLETIN, a fortnightly e-zine. For a no cost subscription go to http://www.humansolutions.org/bulletin. He also tutors the online learning community, The Avenue Professional Development Programme: http://www.apdp.org.uk.
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