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OutdoorAdventure Programs & Youth at Risk . Outdoor Adventure Education Programs. “ Outdoor” Pursuits- Knowledge and skills associated with movement through the natural environment. Non-motorized/ Non-competitive/ Non-mechanized

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outdoor adventure education programs
Outdoor Adventure Education Programs
  • “Outdoor” Pursuits- Knowledge and skills associated with movement through the natural environment. Non-motorized/ Non-competitive/ Non-mechanized
  • Adventure Education- Putting kids in a unique situation, typically ropes courses where responsibility, decision making and the processes they go through are the main focus.
fundamental aspects of adventure education
Fundamental Aspects of Adventure Education
  • Novel Setting-one that is unfamiliar to the participants the aim of which is to move individuals out of their comfort zone: but within ~
  • Cooperative, caring, and trustingenvironment while being presented with~
  • Unique problem solving opportunities that lead to~
  • Feelings of success or accomplishment: which are augmented through~
  • Time set aside each day for processing the experience and reflection.

(Cross, 2002)

types of programs
Types of Programs
  • Adventure Therapy Programs- Most of these programs are geared toward trouble youth (Berman & Davis- Berman, 1995). These programs take many forms and may take place in a variety of settings. Variations include games and initiatives, ropes courses, family therapy programs, and wilderness therapy (Davis –Berman & Berman, 2000). Length of programs vary greatly.
  • Personal Growth (Adventure) Programs- These programs are not designed as therapy and are intended to have a positive impact on psychological well-being. Participants perform tasks that are beyond perceived limits. Key areas of development are: Self-knowledge, Tenacity, Teamwork, Acceptance of responsibility, Self-reliance, Physical Fitness and Leadership.
  • Recreation Programs- These programs do not attempt to facilitate emotional growth but aim at fun, enjoyment and recreation. Sill development and moral growth are often secondary goals.

Despite the wide variety of outdoor education programs a unifying thread seems to be the facilitation of emotional growth and well-being (Berman & Davis-Berman).

youth at risk
Youth At-Risk
  • Adolescents who are judged delinquent by the courts or commit status offenses, adolescents who abuse substances, youth with emotional or behavioral disorders, academic underachievers, adolescents who are economically or socially disadvantaged, and youth who are deemed incorrigible by school officials, parents, or social service agencies (Weston & Tinsley, 1999).
  • Youth that live in a negative environment and/or lack the skills and values that help them become responsible members of society (Kallusky, 1997).
  • Any child or adolescent having lost their sense of belonging in one or more of his/her worlds. Alienation and lack of control are two important perspectives that dominate adolescents’ decision, behaviors, and emotions (Cross, 2002).
what do adventure programs achieve
What Do Adventure Programs Achieve ?
  • Project Reconnects results were overwhelmingly positive. Growth was reflected in the improved psychological test scores and analysis which showed lower depression and drug use and higher self esteem (Cohen, 1995).
  • At-Risk adolescents who participate in an outdoor intervention program will demonstrate significantly lower perceptions of alienation as compared to their counterparts who receive no such program (Cross, 2002)
  • At-risk adolescents who participate in an outdoor intervention program will demonstrate significantly greater perceptions of personal control as compared to their counterparts who receive no such program (Cross, 2002).
  • Kelly and Baer concluded that outdoor adventure programs could be more effective than traditional programs in rehabilitating delinquent adolescents because of results showing lower recidivism rates.
  • West and Compton found that outdoor adventure programs can be an effective intervention for alienating the negative behaviors of at-risk youth and findings were convincing that self-concept is enhanced and recidivism rates are lower for participants in outdoor adventure programs.
what do adventure programs achieve7
What Do Adventure Programs Achieve?
  • Persons who completed the adventure therapy program and compared with those in a no-treatment group reported higher levels of self-esteem and a shift toward an internal locus of control (Herbert)
  • Adventure therapy places individuals in situations in which prescribed physical and social tasks provide opportunities for personal growth (Stich & Gaylor, 1983).
  • Supported employment staff and workers have a shared experience that may benefit their relationship long after the adventure program ends (Herbert).
  • Outdoor education enables student 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 identity with failure ( Lappin, 2003).
what do adventure programs achieve8
What Do Adventure Programs Achieve?
  • Behavior-disordered student 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. Other activities that benefit students include ropes courses, initiative games, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, orienteering, cycling, skin diving, tubing, and sailing (Lappin, 2003).
Sakofs and Schuurman (1991) stated: the nature of the experience, i.e., The blend of challenge, adventure, and teamwork facilitated by skilled and caring leaders…gave students an experience of a lifetime-an experience upon which they continue to reflect upon and draw strength from- an experience which gave them a glimpse into a better and more positive side of the world and themselves.
why does adventure education have a positive effect on at risk youth
Why Does Adventure Education Have A Positive Effect on At-Risk Youth?

Some experts believe that the natural setting is the most important therapeutic element, while others argue that it is the activities themselves and how they are experienced that have an positive effect on at-risk youth.

Outcome studies measuring changes in areas such as self-esteem, self-concept, self-efficacy have been the most common style of formal research and evolution in outdoor education.

There are theories that our youth are disconnecting from nature and the new found connection with nature has positive effect on them and gives them balance. Others feel Alienation, a lack of belonging and lack of control are addressed through adventure programs and are the key components that help youth with positive changes.


Not all research in the area of adventure education and at-risk youth is positive.

Minor and Elrod (1994) failed to find any significant differences between or within groups when adolescent self-concept and locus of control were examined.

In Herberts study although significant positive change resulted the effect dissipated over the course of a year.


Results reported by Pommier and Witt (1995) showed positive outcomes identified immediately following participation in wilderness adventure activities, particularly in the area of self-perception, followed by a regression toward pretest scores when long-term follow-ups were conductive.

A careful review of literature reveals how little we know about why or how adventure programs work, and for how long they work.


Despite the wide variety of outdoor education programs, a unifying thread seems to be the facilitation of emotional growth and well-being. Some programs intentionally build emotional growth while other it is incidental.

Although there is much research with successful results showing increased self esteem and a shift of locus of control there is much research that still needs to be done. Questions like why? and for how long do the positive effects last? need answering to design better programs that address the issues of at-risk youth.


Berman, D. S., & Davis-German, J. L. (1995). Outdoor education and troubled youth. Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 385 425).

Cross, R. (2002). The Effects of an Adventure Education Program on Perceptions of Alienation and Personal Control Among At-Risk Adolescents. The Journal of Experimental Education. 25, (1), 247-254.

Cohen, M. J. (1995). Reconnecting With Nature (ERIC Document Reproduction Service).

Davis-Berman, J. L., & Berman, D. (2000). Adventure therapy with adolescents. In L. VanderCreek (Ed.), Innovations in clinical practice: A courcebook, Col. 18. Sarasota, FL: Professionsl Resource Press.

Kallusky, J. P. (1997). Constructing an urban sanctary for at-risk youthin physical education: An artistically crafted action research project in an inner-city high school. Unpublished doctoral dissertation,University of Northern Colorado, Greeley.

Krlly, F. J., 7 Baer, D. J. (1968). Outward Bound Schools as an alternative to instruction for adolescents delinquent boys. Boston: Fandel.

Lappin, E. (2003). Outdoor Education for Behavior Disordered Students. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service).

Pommier, J. H., & Witt, P.A. (1995). Evaluation of an outward Bound school plus family training program for juvenile status offenders. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 2, 86-103.

Stich, T. F., & Gaylor, M. S. (1963). Outward Bound: An innovative patient education program. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 247 047).

Weston, R., & Tinsley, H. (1999). Wilderness Adventure Therapy for At-Risk Youth. Parks and Recreation. July, 30-38.