Part Two

Philosophy of Outdoor Education


This paper will study my own philosophy of outdoor education. My philosophy is based on the Bible because of my Christian background. My belief system informs all aspects of life, not the least of which is my practice as an educator. “The greatest want of the world is the want of men—men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall” (White, 1952, p.57). This selection from the book Education is the inspiration for me as a Christian teacher.

My responsibility is to give my students the tools necessary to fulfill their goal of becoming Godly men and women. Thus, first and foremost, my goal as an outdoor educator is to help people to recognize that they are created in the image of God (Holy Bible, Genesis 1:27) and develop attitudes, skills and dispositions that support this underlying belief. Any form of education that does not result in positive learning and change is pointless, and outdoor education is no different. My goal as an outdoor educator is to help people better understand themselves, their world, and their creator through the medium of the outdoors, and to grow into the image of God.

Philosophical Foundation

As a Bible believing Christian and a Seventh-day Adventist who believes that our church is uniquely gifted with the Spirit of Prophecy, a large part of my philosophy of outdoor education comes from the Bible and the writings of Ellen White. Specifically, I believe that scripture is the inspired Word of God (Holy Bible, II Timothy 3:16). This belief leads me to accepting the scriptures as the sure foundation upon which to build a true philosophy of education.

God’s might and power illuminates His created works. In outdoor education, it is important to remember that the created world is significant only so long as it points us back to God. Creation helps us to understand the greatness and majesty of God (Holy Bible, Psalm 104) as well as help us to correctly understand our place in the big picture (Holy Bible, Job 38-42 and Isaiah 40).

Job was thoroughly humbled after God spoke to him. In Job 42:5-6, he answers God saying, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Holy Bible). This comes immediately after acknowledging that God’s purpose will always be accomplished. What is the will of God for mankind? How does He want us to serve Him?

Our worldview strongly influences everything we do. Working as an educator, it is important to understand your worldview thoroughly. A Christian worldview acknowledges God as the source of all true knowledge. Recognizing God as the Creator of the world and of mankind, it is important to explore the nature of man and also God’s purpose in creating man (White, 1952, p. 14). Man was created sinless, and yet we now live in a sinful world. Thus it is also important to study what God wants to accomplish in our lives now that we are sinful human beings instead of His original perfect creation (White, 1952, p. 15).

“To restore in man the image of his Maker, to bring him back to the perfection in which he was created, to promote the development of body, mind and soul, that the divine purpose in his creation might be realized—this was to be the work of redemption. This is the object of education, the great object of life” (White, 1952, p. 15-16).

Many people believe that God requires them to be perfect. In fact, Jesus own words seem to support this when He said “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Holy Bible, Matthew 5:48). The catch is that most people’s view of being perfect involves focusing a lot on things that they should not do instead of on things they should do.

In the Holy Bible in Isaiah 58, we find God asking a question and then immediately providing an intriguing response regarding what He wants from us. He says, “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am’” (verses 6-9). God created us as “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” and this is what any true education should be preparing the students for (Holy Bible, Ephesians 2:10).

Why does God want us to be doing good works? Because it is a reflection of Who He is. In Isaiah, we see the question asked, “To whom will you liken God?” (Holy Bible, Isaiah 40:18) and then later on the question continues in verse 21. The answer comes in verse 22 saying, “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers.” God is far above us in might and majesty. Yet, even though we are nothing in comparison with God, He still cares for us and communicates with us. “He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength” (Isaiah 40:29).

As an outdoor educator, I think it is important to always seek God’s will and purpose in every aspect of an outdoor education program. The ultimate goal is to win souls for the Kingdom, and that is accomplished by the revelation of God’s character. “God is love…Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (Holy Bible, I John 4:8, 11). “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Holy Bible, John 3:16). Revealing God’s character means that we will always be engaged in service to others, showing them God’s love in concrete ways.

God’s solution to the sin problem was to send His Son to the world to live a perfect life and ultimately die in man’s place. Jesus came to restore the knowledge of God (White, 1952, p. 76). He also came to demonstrate and teach how divine principles are developed and applied (White, 1952, p. 77). Jesus always had the highest expectations for His audiences. “In every human being He discerned infinite possibilities” (White, 1952, p. 80). In so doing, He demonstrated one of the bedrock principles of education. Jesus also demonstrated how to gain the confidence of your students. “Christ bound me to His heart by the ties of love and devotion” (White, 1952, p. 80).

Nature should be used to help students understand their place in the big scheme of things, but also to help them learn of God’s great love for us. God’s creation is a testament to the Creator (Psalm 104 and Job 38-42). My goal is to always point my students to God through a study of Creation.

Even though we are less than nothing in comparison to God, He planned a way for us to escape from this world of sin by sending Jesus to die for us. Now, if we live according to the Spirit, God will adopt us as His children making us “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Then He will help us to fulfill the fast that He has chosen for us from Isaiah 58:6-9.

I love the imagery used in Isaiah 58:8. “Then your light shall break forth like the morning” (Holy Bible). God understood the beauty and power of a moment in nature. Anyone who has ever spent a sunrise on a beach, at a mountain overlook, or on a remote tumbling stream understands the beauty that can be seen at the moment that the morning light pierces through the quickly departing shadows. Jesus used illustrations from Nature regularly in His teachings. He even spent more time teaching outside than inside, or at least that is how it appears in the Bible.

Today, the book of nature still provides one of the best avenues to learn of God. Children should have many opportunities from an early age to spend time in nature where they can learn of nature’s God (White, 1952, p. 100). If the Master Teacher used Nature to teach, then working with nature in an outdoor education setting is good enough for me.

Jesus understood that time spent in nature would tend to soften the hearts of His students and hearers. Once their minds were receptive, they were ready to hear the great truths He came to share. He often used illustrations from nature as well as from the normal tasks of daily life. Clearly, it is important that any education connects to students’ daily lives and this is easy to see in Jesus’ teaching methods (White, 1952, p. 102-103).

Turning our thoughts back to our Creator is the first work of education. As students look to God, they see His infinite love for man and see the great sacrifice that God made in sending His Son to die for us. In studying the love of God, we begin to change into His character and better reflect that character to the world around us. Our educational goal should ultimately be Godliness (White, 1952, p. 18).

In the beginning, when God created the earth, He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. His plan was for the beautiful natural setting of the garden to be a school for Adam and Eve. Angels as well as God Himself visited them to instruct them. Unfortunately, God’s ultimate plan to fill the whole earth with perfect homes and schools was ruined when Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The curse of sin extended throughout the whole earth. Now, “where once was written only the character of God, the knowledge of good, was now written also the character of Satan, the knowledge of evil” (White, 1952, p. 26). Thus, nature not only displays God’s handiwork, but now it also provides for us a warning as to the results of sin and evil.

The beautiful thing is that, even in sin, the earth still “speaks not only of creation but of redemption” (White, 1952, p. 27). One example would be the trees and shrubs that lose their leaves in apparent death as winter approaches. However, when spring comes, they are brought forth in newness of life. Jesus wants to offer this same redemption to us. “In the highest sense the work of education and the work of redemption are one” (White, 1952, p. 30). Teachers should make every effort to help their students understand the character of God and the principles of His government (White, 1952, p. 30).

God’s solution to the sin problem was to send His Son to the world to live a perfect life and ultimately die in man’s place. Jesus came to restore the knowledge of God (White, 1952, p. 76). He also came to demonstrate and teach how divine principles are developed and applied (White, 1952, p. 77). Jesus always had the highest expectations for His audiences. “In every human being He discerned infinite possibilities” (White, 1952, p. 80). In so doing, He demonstrated one of the bedrock principles of education. Jesus also demonstrated how to gain the confidence of your students. “Christ bound me to His heart by the ties of love and devotion” (White, 1952, p. 80).

If we teach children to learn the many lessons that God has for us in the natural world, then we can also be teaching them a greater principle. Teach them not just facts, but how to learn. Teach them to constantly ask questions and look for God’s answers in the process. Teach them to always look for evidences of God’s love and care in nature (White, 1952, p. 119).

One of God’s greatest institutions can be traced all the way to creation and is essential for teaching others about Him. “The value of the Sabbath as a means of education is beyond estimate…The Sabbath is a sign of creative and redeeming power; it points to God as the source of life and knowledge; it recall’s man’s primeval glory, and thus witnesses to God’s purpose to re-create us in His own image” (White, 1952, p. 250).

God also instituted the idea of family in the Garden of Eden. These two institutions are linked together and the Sabbath should be a day for the family to draw closer to God and to each other. One of the best ways to learn of God as a family is through spending time in His created world. “By such associations parents may bind their children to their hearts, and thus to God, by ties that can never be broken” (White, 1952, p. 251).

Stewardship is a theme that runs throughout the Bible. We are to be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us, starting with the natural world around us. I hope to always strive to take care of the world that God entrusted to us and teach others to do so as well. If we truly believe that the world was created by the Word of God, then our motivation to care for it should accordingly increase.

The Creation story told in Genesis 1 and 2 provides a framework for understanding the true value of the world around us. As Christians who believe in Creation, we should believe in and advocate for true conservation and environmental protection.

Some outdoor educators would argue that the teacher should be unbiased and simply provide the framework for the student to make their own discoveries. I agree with that to some extent, but in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to Christian beliefs, I believe we have a responsibility to stand for God’s principles even as teachers. We must acknowledge that we bring our worldview with us. As a Christian, I believe it is important for me to integrate my worldview into the curriculum as far as possible to counter the overwhelmingly anti-God tendencies in the world today.

Furthermore, not only will we take care of the natural world, we will also take care of our fellow mankind. “God created man in His own image” (Genesis 1:27). As an outdoor educator, this helps to inform my guidelines in providing safe activities. Safety includes physical, emotional, and spiritual elements. Since God created us in His image, it would then follow that education should seek to restore God’s image in mankind. This is the main goal to me as an educator.

It is very important to note here that not all students will be at the same point in their life journey. Being a caring facilitator includes acknowledging this fact and structuring every activity in such a way that individuals from any walk of life can find meaning and purpose in the program or event. While God is seeking everyone, He never compels or forces anyone to accept Him and this also should be an important element of my philosophy as an outdoor educator.

Since we have the freedom of choice, I need to help my students learn to make good decisions. If they can learn this, then they can become contributing members of society. I will always remember my high school principle because he always said, “Make good decisions” (J. Ingersoll, personal communication, May 21, 2002). Challenge by choice is an essential element of a good outdoor education program. I will always respect the choices made by my student participants in any outdoor educational setting.

As a teacher, one of my most important goals will be to continually grow as a person. If I expect my students to grow, then I need to give them a good example to follow. The ultimate goal in life is to let the plan of salvation work (White, 1952, p. 15-16). As a teacher, it is my job to help my students to accept God’s grace if they have not already. If they have, then I need to help them continue to grow in their walk with God.

I also want to teach my students to spread the gospel. The rule for life can be found in Matthew, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19, 20). If I can teach my students to have a personal relationship with God and to tell others about it, then I have attained the most important goal. All of the other goals are secondary. Teaching them to love and serve God is more important than anything else in the world (Micah 6:8).

Philosophy Applied

There are three areas that outdoor education traditionally emphasizes which are “ecological relationships, developing physical skills, and interpersonal relationships” (Gilbertson, Bates, McLaughlin, and Ewert, p. 5). These three areas provide the framework within which most outdoor education takes place, and my personal practice as an outdoor educator will closely mirror these. However, I will also borrow from more recent outdoor practitioners.

Being new to the field of outdoor education, I was surprised by the apparently heavy emphasis on adventure and challenge activities. For me, Nature has not necessarily been something to conquer but instead something to adapt to and even become a part of. One problem with current mainstream outdoor education practice is that it embraces adventure and risk taking as “inherently positive” (Wattchow & Brown, Chapter Two).           These ideas have their roots in the colonial and frontier periods where people would head out on grand “adventures” in search of a better life. In a since, we have been searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow ever since. Naturally this requires an element of risk. In frontier days, confrontation with natives, and the harsh landscape itself were the challenges confronted. Now, with frontiers and even wilderness areas tamed, outdoor education seeks to contrive activities that contain elements of risk.

As an outdoor educator, I do not see as much merit in outdoor education as it has traditionally been done, with a heavy emphasis on challenge through the use of low and high ropes courses, high adrenaline adventure trips, and conquering the wilderness. Thus, the ideas introduced by authors such as Wattchow and Brown in A Pedagogy of Place have been a breath of fresh air. I am already a strong believer in place responsive outdoor education before I even knew what to call it.

One huge benefit of focusing on place in outdoor education, especially local places, is that “place is always in a state of change” (Wattchow & Brown, Chapter Eight). Learning strong observation skills will help students immensely in their life. Kids need to be allowed to just be kids and do things like play in the dirt or sand. They should be allowed to experience the sense of awe and wonder that all kids need in the world. As they connect to places, they make sense of the world because the world is made up of places (Wattchow & Brown, Chapter Eight).

As an outdoor educator, I still believe that adventure and challenge has merit, but I am not as convinced that it needs to be a high dollar undertaking. Spending time in nature should be seen as attainable for anyone. I believe that outdoor education should be a gateway for students of all ages from young kids to elderly people. The gateway should be one that leads them to a new perspective on nature and the outdoors. We only have one earth. Environmental education and outdoor education should go hand in hand, but not always in blatantly obvious ways. Outdoor education should help teach people to love what we have. If people love the outdoors, then they are much more likely to take care of it and even fight for nature when necessary.

The goal of adventure and challenge should be to lead people to a better understanding of their Creator and their relationship with Him. Through outdoor education, people should “learn the critical abilities needed to develop their spiritual identity. The abilities to listen, wait, be honest with self and others, confess, and grow our faith are developed as much by how we talk to and treat others as in what we talk about” and we also need to work towards building “a community of people who treat each other dramatically differently than any other place in the world” (Robinson, p. 20).

Love for God and love for our fellow man should be the driving force behind everything that we do. My goal is to instill this principle in my students through the medium of outdoor education.

Spending in nature helps us to meet and get to know the God of nature. Training my students to look for God in everything will be a significant goal of mine as an outdoor educator. Even though sin has marred the perfection He created, the world still shows His glory and goodness. My hope is that I will demonstrate a wonder and joy about the natural world that my students can emulate. This wonder and joy has its origins in the amazing truth that God created all of this for us, and then when we messed up, He sent His Son to die for us.

We can look forward to the day when everything will be made new. The earth will be restored to the glory of creation from before the fall of Adam. I want to encourage my students to both look forward to this day and to teach them to work to hasten His coming.

Summary of My Philosophy

As an outdoor educator, my goal will be the restoration of the image of God in my students. This will be accomplished through a study and understanding of His creation. My goal is to help my students understand the depth of the sacrifice that God and His Son made for the human race.

To accomplish these goals, it is essential that I myself have a connection with God. Daily Bible study and prayer combined with active service will help me to be in touch with the Holy Spirit. Listening to His promptings, I hope to always be a witness for God in all areas of life. Only when I have a connection with Him will I be able to effectively point my students back to God.



Works Cited

(1995). Holy Bible: New King James Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gilbertson, Bates, McLaughlin, and Ewert. (2006). Outdoor Education. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Robinson, Greg. (2009). Adventure and the Way of Jesus: An experiential approach to spiritual formation.. Oklahoma City: Wood ‘N’ Barnes Publishing & Distribution.

Wattchow, Brian, & Brown, Mike. (2011). A Pedagogy of Place. Outdoor education for a changing world. Clayton, Victoria, Australia: Monash University Publishing.

White, E.G. (1952). Education. Boise: Pacific Press Publishing.


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