Demonstrating the benefits of outdoor programs: exploring complexity

Dr Ian Williams

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute


Most outdoor educators have witnessed first hand the many ways that young people can benefit from outdoor programs and camps. However, there is increasing demand for schools and providers to demonstrate that their outdoor programs are effective – to provide evidence that they work. We set out to design a high quality study to capture evidence of key benefits, but what we found was quite unexpected.

Conducted by the Outdoor Youth Programs Research Alliance (OYPRA), with support from the Australian Federal Government, this project involved collaboration between 12 partner organisations across education, health, government, and outdoor industry sectors.

In this session we will present first findings from a three-year study involving year 9 students from two Victorian secondary schools. Over 300 young people were recruited into the study, and took part in either a 7-day outdoor program (including both hard-top and journey elements) or a control group. Participants completed surveys on five occasions (twice before and three times following camp), with program leaders and classroom teachers also completing supplementary surveys. Student surveys focused on psychological wellbeing, emotional difficulties, social relationships, and nature connectedness. We will share initial findings from our study and explore why the story of camp benefits is more complex than many of us might think.

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