The issue of human-nature relationships has become increasingly important given the environmental issues affecting the world. Thus, education which can encourage students to positively engage and connect with the world around them is vital. Outdoor education offers one way to help build relationships, but only if outdoor educators have an understanding and appreciation of the ways 'the outdoors' influences their pedagogy. Over the years, growing emphasis on adventure activities, social and personal development, and experiential learning styles, has subsumed the role of 'the outdoors' within outdoor education.
Using an interpretive narrative framework, this research focuses on 'the outdoors' as a defining feature of outdoor education. A series of three semi-structured interviews with 11 outdoor educators provided opportunities to explore meanings of the outdoors and how those meanings influenced their understandings and practices of outdoor education. An inductive analysis of the interviews identified five primary themes; locations, activities, living simply, emotional responses, and relationships, and these were used to unpack the participants' beliefs and experiences of 'the outdoors' and outdoor education. In order to retain the richness and complexity of the meanings the participants shared, the findings are presented in a variety of formats including vignettes and poetic text.
The findings are multi-layered, something that reflected the dynamic nature of 'the outdoors' and the ensuing opportunities offered for creative and critical thinking. There was also evidence that the participants were vigilant about adopting a multi-dimensional approach to outdoor education. This required integrating pragmatic pro-environmental actions, experiential opportunities, challenge activities, spontaneous learning moments, and quiet time into many of their sessions. In so doing, they ensured experiences for their students were holistic, meaningful, and engaging, as well as promoting a respectful relationship with 'the outdoors'. Some of these practices were constrained at times by the expectations of current secondary school educational orthodoxies, especially those relating to assessing pre-determined outcomes. Nonetheless, there was an unreserved belief that outdoor education has an increasingly distinct and important role to play in the school curriculum. How this will be enacted depends on the challenges and opportunities that rise and fall with changing social, political, and economic agendas.||