ERIC Identifier: ED261811
Publication Date: 1984-09-00
Author: Lappin, Edward
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural
Education and Small Schools Las Cruces NM.
Outdoor Education for Behavior Disordered Students.
Outdoor education offers special benefits to behavior disordered
students. Programs range from simple, near-school activities to lengthy, more
expensive wilderness camping experiences. In either case, positive behavioral
changes among behavior disordered students have been reported. A review of
possible programs/activities and possible benefits is a step in the direction of
offering new opportunities to these students.
WHAT IS OUTDOOR EDUCATION?
Outdoor education is a means of curriculum enrichment, whereby the process of
learning takes place out of doors. Outdoor education broadly includes
environmental education, conservation education, adventure education, school
camping, wilderness therapy, and some aspects of outdoor recreation. Among the
curricular areas often associated with outdoor education are language arts,
social studies, mathematics, science, nature study, and music. Self-concept
enhancement is approached through outdoor physical stress situations and
opportunities for leadership development.
Outdoor education enables students and teachers to interact in an environment
free from the limitations of the classroom. The change in environment can
facilitate learning by removing behavior disordered students from the classroom
setting which they may already identify with failure.
WHAT ARE THE CHARACTERISTICS OF BEHAVIOR DISORDERED STUDENTS?
The federal government, in Public Law 94-142, defines a behavior disorder or
serious emotional disturbance as follows:
"...a condition exhibiting one or more of the following characteristics over
a long period of time and to a marked degree, which adversely affects
--an inability to learn which cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory,
or health factors;
--an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships
with peers and teachers;
--inappropriate types of behavior or feelings under normal circumstances;
--a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or
--a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal
or school problems.
The term includes children who are schizophrenic or autistic. The term does
not include children who are socially maladjusted, unless it is determined that
they are seriously emotionally disturbed."
There are many different terms used to describe behavior disordered students.
Those used most frequently in the literature include emotionally disturbed,
disruptive, aggressive, emotionally handicapped or conduct disordered. Such
students are frequently said to have "behavior problems."
Behaviors that characterize behavior disordered students and lead to referral
for services include defiance, uncooperativeness, shyness, withdrawal,
passivity, self-consciousness, fearfulness, and anxiety, to name a few. The
degree of severity and the duration of these and other behaviors may vary from
student to student.
WHAT EFFECTS CAN OUTDOOR EDUCATION HAVE ON BEHAVIOR DISORDERED STUDENTS?
Research done on outdoor education programs for behavior disordered students
yields a number of positive findings. Among these are improvement in
self-concept, social adjustment, academic achievement, and group cohesion.
Relationships with peers, parents, teachers, and counselors were also improved
in some of the programs. Teachers also reported greater ability to teach
specific skills and academic behaviors, and to lessen disruptive behavior when
programs were conducted out of doors.
Reports from individual programs show promising results in the application of
outdoor education priniciples in teaching behavior disordered youth. Lane and
others (1983) found increases in peer relationships and group cohesion in their
counseling-oriented "Group Walk-Talk" program, which combined hiking and
counseling in a public school program for adolescents.
Residential programs that use wilderness camping have also reported success.
According to Griffen (l981), an evaluation of the Eckard Foundation, a
residential therapeutic camping program, revealed significant improvement in
self-concept, personality adjustment, and academic skill level. Rigothi (1974)
reported favorable student and teacher evaluation of student adjustment and
academic achievement in a similar program for secondary students with emotional
and drug-related problems in New York State.
Non-residential programs also have reported success with behavior disordered
students. Burdsal and Force (1983) examined counselor ratings of youth involved
in three two-week wilderness expeditions. The results show that boys are
perceived as becoming more self-reliant and as increasing in involvement with
the therapeutic process. No significant changes were reported for girls. A study
of a Dallas, Texas, program specifically for girls (Neff, 1973), called Girl's
Adventure Trails, revealed statistically significant changes in the student
attitude scale and academic motivation measures. Girls who participated in the
26-day wilderness camping program, which featured individual and group
counseling, attained a positive attitude towards themselves, parents, and
Hobbs and Radka (1975) studied behavior change during a short-term (five-day)
therapeutic camping program. Operant techniques were used to modify verbal
behaviors of adolescent boys during group therapy sessions. Besides having
success with modifying verbal behaviors, the authors also reported that the
group became more close-knit and generally worked together on camp problems.
Possible methodological shortcomings must be taken into consideration when
evaluating the results of many outdoor education studies. Byers (1979) mentions
that a common problem in many studies is the lack of a control group. To correct
other problems with research, Byers recommends documentation of the actual
content of camping programs. Also, short-term outcomes in terms of changes in
camper behavior must be assessed along with the relationship between the camp
program and these changes. Finally, the long-term outcomes concerning community
adjustment of the campers must be evaluated.
WHAT TYPES OF PROGRAMS AND ACTIVITIES CAN BE USED WITH BEHAVIOR DISORDERED
Currently in existence are many types of programs that utilize the
out-of-doors in treating behavior disordered children. Many are long-term
residential camps that offer wilderness camping as therapy, while others are
wilderness camping programs of shorter duration. The latter include summer
programs, month-long programs, and day camps. Another type of program is the
public school class that integrates outdoor education into the curriculum areas
or combines the academic programs with high-adventure programming.
Behavior-disordered students benefit from activities that offer a challenge
to the students. Camping, hiking, rock climbing, rappelling, canoeing, rafting,
and backpacking are all activities that can be adapted to the novice and do not
require exceptional physical ability. A patient and knowledgeable instructor can
make these high-adventure activities success experiences for the behavior
disordered student. Other activities that benefit students include ropes
courses, initiative games, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, orienteering,
cycling, skin diving, tubing, and sailing.
Although not all schools can provide these activities, there are near-school
activities which are also valuable. Field trips that emphasize nature study,
environmental education, conservation of natural resources, awareness of the
outside world, local history, community services, nutrition, physical education,
and health education can also be learning experiences for behavior disordered
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Burdsal, Charles, and Ronald C. Force. "An Examination of or Ratings of
Behavior Problem Youth in an Early Stage, Community-based Intervention Program."
JOURNAL OF CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY 39 (1983): 353-360.
Byers, E.S. "Wilderness Camping as a Therapy for Emotionally Disturbed
Children: A Critical Review." EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN 45 (1979) 628-635.
Erickson, Susan, and Buck Harris. THE ADVENTURE BOOK: A CURRICULUM GUIDE TO
SCHOOL BASED ADVENTURING WITH TROUBLED ADOLESCENTS. Goshen, CT: Wilderness
School, l980. ED 200 381.
Griffen, William H. EVALUATION OF A RESIDENTIAL THERAPEUTIC CAMPING PROGRAM
FOR DISTURBED CHILDREN. Pensacola, FL: West Florida University, Education
Research and Development Center, 1981. ED 204 041.
Hobbs, T.R. and J.E. Radka. "A Short Term Therapeutic Camping Program for
Emotionally Disturbed Adolescent Boys." ADOLESCENCE 10 (1975): 447-455.
Kimball, Richard O. "The Wilderness as Therapy." JOURNAL OF EXPERIENTIAL
EDUCATION 6 (l983): 6-9.
Lane, B., J. Bonic, and N. Wallgren-Bonic. "The Group Walk-Talk: A
Therapeutic Challenge for Secondary Students with Social/Emotional Problems."
TEACHING EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN 16 (1983): 12-17.
Neff, Pauline. BETTER TOMORROWS. Dallas, TX: Girl's Adventure Trails, Inc.
1973. ED 089 155.
thi, Anthony. A RESIDENTIAL SCHOOL'S OUTDOOR EDUCATION PROGRAM FOR
EMOTIONALLY HANDICAPPED ADOLESCENTS: FINAL PROJECT REPORT OF THE RHINECLIFF
UNION FREE SCHOOL DISTRICT, HOLY CROSS CAMPUS. Plattsburgh, NY: Rhinecliff Union
Free School District, 1974. ED 101 866.
Thomas, Stephen. EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING AND THE HANDICAPPED: REPORTS FROM THE
FIELD. Buffalo, NY: Council for Exceptional Children, l981. ED 215 481.