Making Sense of a Day in the Woods: Outdoor Adventure Experiences and Early Childhood Teacher Education Students

Oct. 01, 2013

Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, Volume 34, No. 4, p. 320–334, 2013.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study examines the outdoor adventure education experiences of groups of nontraditional university students pursuing degrees and licensure in early childhood education.
The researcher’s goal was to give the students an opportunity to
(a) share their fears, frustrations, and worries,
(b) see their situations in a new context, and
(c) perhaps recreate their perceptions of professional and personal self in more empowered and efficacious roles.

The participants included a total of 78 female ECE students enrolled in evening courses in early childhood education at a university located in a metropolitan city in the southeastern United States.
These participants were all employed in the ECE field and were required to complete an undergraduate program that resulted in teacher licensure in order to retain their jobs.
The data is comprised of descriptive observations of the participants before, during, and after the activities, as well as quotations from participants that could be captured on paper by the researcher throughout the day.


The findings reveal four basic themes.
a) The value of perseverance
The participants realized the need for perseverance to be successful in completing the challenge activities.
A more empathetic dimension of perseverance was also noted when some of the participants expressed how discouraged they felt when limitations were placed on them during challenge activities, and similarly how dejected some of the children in their classrooms must feel.
The participants seemed to embrace new insights about the need not only to persevere as effective professionals in serving young children and families but as importantly to model perseverance for the young children who themselves faced daily disadvantages.
This theme seemed to be a powerful one for the participants as many of them worked in high-poverty schools and faced constant pressure for improved tests scores in the face of increased class size and decreased resources.

b) The necessity of collaboration
The realization that communication was key to successful collaboration also seemed to be a lesson that was repeatedly acknowledged by the teams.
Many times the groups would attempt an activity without discussion, and these attempts would result in failure and frustration.
Completing the activities required discussion, listening, and consensus.
In some ways it seemed that collaborating was difficult for some of the women who were used to being in leadership roles, and they had to learn to release that responsibility in order “to let others do it”, to let others take care of them.
During one debriefing, the facilitator pointed out how effective their efforts were once they started communicating with each other.
The necessity of communication in working with others was also extended to participants’ involvement with families as well as their frustration with administrators on the job.

c) Overcoming fears
In every activity, participants expressed their fears and limitations in being able to complete the objectives.
This theme of overcoming fears seemed to hold unique significance in terms of the use of challenge activities as professional development opportunities for educators.
Many participants spoke of an increased sense of self-efficacy as well as group-efficacy after overcoming their fears and completing the activity.
As they spoke of the ways that they felt differently after experiencing their successes, it seemed that this enhanced sense of efficacy could be a lasting effect of their efforts and involvement.

D) Reflection
Finally, as the participants were encouraged to debrief after each activity, they had the opportunity to practice reflection as an outcome of each activity and also as a process during the activities.


It appears that the nontraditional students who participated in these outdoor adventure education challenges similarly experienced strong feelings of self-efficacy, problem-solving, coping, social support, group cohesiveness, and improved communication skills.
It would subsequently be important to learn whether these outcomes were sustained over time for the participants.
Professional development models of awareness and change are a key aspect of the potential of the outdoor adventure education experience, and additional research may help to further explain “what happened” in the current study during the activities experienced by the ECE participants.
These individuals seemed to make their way through the activities and debriefings with a sense of enhanced effectiveness.
The findings reveal that the activities that energized and challenged participants’ interpersonal and intrapersonal skills did seem to trigger a sense of empowerment for participants that flowed into their debriefing discussions of self and work.

The roles of ECE teachers often include the multilayered responsibilities of caregiver, counselor, advocate, nurse, and mentor.
The opportunity to explore and develop each individual’s sense of personal and professional perseverance, collaboration, ability to overcome fears, and engage in reflection in the woods on a foggy Saturday morning is an intriguing option in terms of supporting their roles and responsibilities as students, teachers, and graduates.

Updated: Oct. 20, 2015