Curriculum Perspectives

, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 67–72 | Cite as

Outdoor learning and psychological resilience: making today’s students better prepared for tomorrow’s world

  • Tonia GrayEmail author
Point and counterpoint


One of the hallmarks of education is to build students’ emotional, psychological and physical resilience (Booth 2015; Haggerty et al. 1996). However, all available indicators suggest what we are doing does not appear to be universally effective (Black Dog Institute 2016; Haidt and Paresky 2019). Rates of mental illness, anxiety, depression, and a myriad of other health issues such as ADHD, obesity and diabetes are rising (Gray 2018a, b; Henley 2010). These modern maladies are in part, linked with our inactive and nature-estranged lifestyles (Kellert and Wilson 1993; Maller and Townsend 2006; Selhub and Logan 2012). Correspondingly, Louv (2011) states that children are suffering from what is commonly referred to as Vitamin N (N for Nature) deficiency. Recent provocations by Braus and Milligan-Toffler (2018) and Truong and colleagues (Truong et al. 2018) carry this viewpoint to further magnitude.

A ‘challenge by choice’ philosophy provides one (of many) underlying...


Outdoor education Outdoor learning Resilience Challenge Nature Coping skills 



  1. American Psychological Association (2010). The road to resilience. Retrieved from
  2. Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) (2017). Curriculum Connections: Outdoor Learning. Retrieved from
  3. Bonanno, G. A. (2004). Loss, trauma, and human resilience: Have we underestimated the human capacity to thrive after extremely aversive events? American Psychologist, 59, 20–28. Scholar
  4. Booth, J. (2015). Coping strategies and the development of psychological resilience in outdoor education. Honours Thesis, University of Canberra.
  5. Boyle, I. (2003). The impact of adventure-based training on team cohesion and psychological skills development in elite sporting teams. (Doctoral Dissertation). Wollongong, Australia: University of Wollongong. Retrieved from
  6. Braus, J., & Milligan-Toffler, S. (2018). The children and nature connection: Why it matters. Ecopsychology., 10(4), 193–194. Scholar
  7. Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Csikszentmihalyi, I. S. (1990). Adventure and the flow experience. In J. C. Miles & S. Priest (Eds.) Adventure education (pp. 149–155). State College: Venture.Google Scholar
  8. Davies, M. (1996). Outdoors: An important context for young children’s development. Early Child Development and Care, 115(1), 37–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dowdell, K., Gray, T., & Malone, K. (2011). Nature and its influence on Children’s outdoor play. Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education., 15(2), 24–35 Scholar
  10. Ewert, A., & Yoshino, A. (2011). The influence of short-term adventure-based experiences on levels of resilience. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 11, 35–50. Scholar
  11. Ewing, R. (2018). Exploding some of the myths about learning to read: A review of research on the role of phonics. ISBN 978-0-6482555-6-7 Retrieved from
  12. Gray, T. (1997). The impact of an extended stay outdoor education school program upon adolescent participants. (Doctoral Dissertation). Wollongong, Australia: University of Wollongong. Retrieved from
  13. Gray, T. (2017). A 30-year retrospective study of the impact of outdoor education upon adolescent participants: Salient lessons from the field. Pathways the Ontario Outdoor Education Journal, Spring, 29(3), 4–15.Google Scholar
  14. Gray, T (2018a). Being in nature is good for learning, here's how to get kids off screens and outside. The Conversation. Retrieved from
  15. Gray, T. (2018b). Outdoor learning: Not new, just newly important. Curriculum perspectives.
  16. Gray, T., & Martin, P. (2012). The role and place of outdoor education in the Australian National Curriculum. Australian Journal of Outdoor Education, 16(1), 39–50. Scholar
  17. Gray, T., & Perusco, D. (1993). Footprints in the sand—Reflecting upon the value of outdoor education in the school curriculum. Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation National Journal, 40(1), 17–21.Google Scholar
  18. Gray, T., & Pigott, F. (2018). Lasting lessons in outdoor learning: A facilitation model emerging from 30 years of reflective practice. Ecopsychology., 10(4), 195–204. Scholar
  19. Gray, T. Tracey, D., Truong, S., & Ward, K. (2017). Fostering the wellbeing of students with challenging behaviour and/or emotional needs through Acceptance Commitment Therapy and outdoor learning: Research report. Sydney, New South Wales: Centre for Educational Research, School of Education, Western Sydney University.
  20. Gray, T., Truong, S., Reid, C., Ward, K., Singh, M. & Jacobs, M. (2018). Vertical Schools and Green Space: Canvassing the Literature. Western Sydney University.
  21. Haggerty, R. J., Sherrod, L. R., Garmezy, N., & Rutter, M. (1996). Stress, risk, and resilience in children and adolescents: Processes, mechanisms, and interventions. Cambridge. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Haidt, J. & Paresky, P. (2019). By mollycoddling our children, we're fuelling mental illness in teenagers. (Accessed January 28, 2019).
  23. Hattie, J., Marsh, H. W., Neill, J. T., & Richards, G. E. (1997). Adventure education and outward bound: Out-of-class experiences that make a lasting difference. Review of Educational Research, 67(1), 43–87. Scholar
  24. Hayhurst, J., Hunter, J., Kafka, S., & Boyes, M. (2015). Enhancing resilience in youth through a 10-day developmental voyage. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 15(1), 40–52. Scholar
  25. Henley, J. (2010). Why our children need to get outside and engage with nature. The Guardian, Accessed 23 July, 2018.
  26. Jew, C. L., & Green, K. E. (1998). Effects of risk factors on adolescents’ resiliency and coping. Psychological Reports, 82, 675–678. Scholar
  27. Kahn, P. H., & Kellert, S. R. (2002). Children and nature: Psychological, sociocultural and evolutionary investigations. Cambridge: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1989). The experience of nature: A psychological perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Kellert, S. R. (1998). A national study of outdoor wilderness experience, Unpublished report, Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.Google Scholar
  30. Kellert, S. R. (2005). Building for life: Designing and understanding the human- nature connection. Washington: Island Press.Google Scholar
  31. Kellert, S. R., & Wilson, E. O. (1993). The biophilia hypothesis. Washington: Island Press.Google Scholar
  32. Lloyd, A., Truong, S., & Gray. (2018). Take the class outside! A call for place-based outdoor learning in the Australian primary school curriculum. Curriculum Perspectives, 38, 163–167. Scholar
  33. Louv, R. (2011). The Nature Principle: Human restoration and the end of Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.Google Scholar
  34. Maller, C. J., & Townsend, M. (2006). Children’s mental health and wellbeing and hands- on contact with nature: Perceptions of principals and teachers. International Journal of Learning, 12(4), 359–372.Google Scholar
  35. Malone, K. (2007). The bubble-wrap generation: Children growing up in walled gardens. Environmental Education Research, 13(4), 513–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Neill, J. T. (2008). Enhancing life effectiveness: The impacts of outdoor education programs. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation), Faculty of Education, University of Western Sydney, NSW, Australia. Retrieved from
  37. Neill, J. T., & Dias, K. L. (2001). Adventure education and resilience: The double-edged sword. Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning, 1, 35–42. Scholar
  38. Neill, J. T., & Heubeck, B. (1998). Adolescent coping styles and outdoor education: Searching for the mechanisms of change. In. Exploring the boundaries of adventure therapy: International perspectives. Proceedings of the International Adventure Therapy Conference (1st, Perth, Australia, July 1997). Retrieved from:
  39. Neilson, T. & Hansen, K. (2007). Do green areas affect health? Results from a Danish survey on the use of green areas and health indicators. Health and Place, 13(4) 839-850.
  40. Nettles, S. M., & Pleck, J. H. (1996). Risk, resilience, and development: The multiple ecologies of black adolescents in the United States. In R. J. Haggerty, L. R. Sherrod, N. Garmezy, & M. Rutter (Eds.), Stress, risk, and resilience in children and adolescents: Processes, mechanisms, and interventions. (pp. 147–181). Cambridge. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Rutter, M. (1987). Psychosocial resilience and protective mechanisms. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 57, 316. Scholar
  42. Rutter, M. (1993). Resilience: Some conceptual considerations. Journal of Adolescent Health, 14, 626–631. Scholar
  43. Rutter, M. (1996). Stress research: Accomplishments and tasks ahead. In R. J. Haggerty, L. R. Sherrod, N. Garmezy, & M. Rutter (Eds.), Stress, risk, and resilience in children and adolescents: Processes, mechanisms, and interventions (pp. 354–385). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Rutter, M. (2006). Implications of resilience concepts for scientific understanding. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1094, 1–12. doi:
  45. Ryan, D., & Gray, T. (1993). Integrating outdoor education into the school curriculum - a case study. International Council for Health, Physical Education. Recreation, 29(2), 6–13.Google Scholar
  46. Scott, M. (2017). Preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s world. Speech delivered at the Trans Tasman Business Circle, 29 June, 2017. Retrieved From: . Accessed January 28, 2019.
  47. Selhub, E., & Logan, A. (2012). Your Brain on Nature: The Science of Nature's Influence on Your Health, Happiness and Vitality. Somerset, UK: Wiley.Google Scholar
  48. Sheard, M., & Golby, J. (2006). The efficacy of an outdoor adventure education curriculum on selected aspects of positive psychological development. The Journal of Experimental Education, 29, 187–209. Scholar
  49. Shellman, A. (2009). Empowerment and resilience: A multi-method approach to understanding processes and outcomes of adventure education program experiences. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Indiana University, Indiana, MI, USA. Retrieved from
  50. Sibthorp, J., Paisley, K., Furman, N., & Gookin, J. (2008). Long-term impacts attributed to participation in wilderness education: Preliminary findings from NOLS. In Ninth Biennial Research Symposium (p. 115).Google Scholar
  51. Skehill, C. M. (2001). Resilience, coping with an extended stay outdoor education program, and adolescent mental health. (Unpublished thesis). University Canberra, Canberra, Australia. Retrieved from
  52. Smith, B. W., Dalen, J., Wiggins, K., Tooley, E., Christopher, P., & Bernard, J. (2008). The brief resilience scale: Assessing the ability to bounce back. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 15, 194–200. Scholar
  53. Steinhardt, M., & Dolbier, C. (2008). Evaluation of a resilience intervention to enhance coping strategies and protective factors and decrease symptomatology. Journal of American College Health, 56, 445–453. Scholar
  54. Taniguchi, S., & Freeman, P. A. (2004). Outdoor education and meaningful learning: Finding the attributes to meaningful learning experiences in an outdoor education program. The Journal of Experimental Education, 26, 210–211 Retrieved from Scholar
  55. Townsend, M., & Weerasuriya, R. (2010). Beyond blue to Green: The benefits of contact with nature. Deakin University.Google Scholar
  56. Truong, S., Singh, M., Reid, C., Gray, T., & Ward, K. (2018). Vertical schooling and learning transformations in curriculum research: Points and counterpoints in outdoor education and sustainability. Curriculum Perspectives.
  57. Wilson, E. O. (1984). Biophilia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Wilson, E. O. (2015). E.O. Wilson Explains Why Parks and Nature are Really Good for Your Brain. The Washington Post. Retrieved From: Http://Www.Childrenandnature.Org/2015 /10/01/E-O-Wilson- Explains-Why-Parks-And-Nature-Are-Really-Good-For-Your-Brain/.

Copyright information

© Australian Curriculum Studies Association 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Educational ResearchWestern Sydney UniversitySydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations