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Adventure at Dauntsey’s – Lessons for Life

Muddy finds out about the role adventure at Dauntsey's plays in building resilience...and we'd love to join in!

Dauntsey’s is pretty exceptional when it comes to adventure – pupils take part in challenges and expeditions far and wide across the globe, every year Sixth-formers tackle the Devizes to Westminster canoe race, each year group takes part in its own adventure programme, and there are numerous options to explore, from kayaking to mountain climbing, outdoor cookery and night hiking to life saving. So, here at Muddy we jumped at the opportunity to talk to Sam Moore, the school’s Head of Adventure, who is passionate about inspiring and encouraging his students. Over to you, Sam…

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented unique challenges for children, parents and teachers alike.  Instinctively, as adults, we want to protect children from the disruption to their education and the significant and unprecedented limitations to their daily lives.  We are used to being able to fix things for our children and pupils, to put things right.  But this time we can’t control events as they unfold around us.

We can, however, do our best to help children and young adults learn some lessons from this experience.  We can help them build a vital life skill – resilience.

Dauntsey’s School, May 2017

Resilience is about being able to adapt your behaviour, to come up with an alternative route.  It’s about being ready for the next challenge and supporting those around us who aren’t coping so well, and not being too proud to accept help when it is offered.

Being open to trying new experiences and entering new environments maximises our learning and develops skills that will help in everyday life.  Reflecting on the success – or failure – of our experiences is a key part of learning and contributes to our development. Understanding risk, and not shying away from it, is an important life skill.  Embracing the unknown, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, perhaps failing in your endeavour, all help build resilience. 

Here at Dauntsey’s, we are passionate about the role adventure plays in building resilience and equipping pupils with the necessary skills and behaviours to set them up to lead a fruitful and interesting life, in which they are organised and flexible, willing to have a go and learn from their experiences. 

Tough times come as part of all adventure.  The nature of challenge is that sometimes it is hard and it presents obstacles.  The way we deal with those obstacles says more about our character than whether we overcome them does.  Most challenges can be overcome by persistence, by trying again or by looking for another solution.  Adventure require a willingness to persevere when things get hard and to do so in a manner that supports and encourages others.

Our adventure programme is made up of two aspects.  Firstly, “Accessible Adventure” where large groups have short experiences that serve as an introduction to adventure.  These serve both as educational experiences in their own right and as a gateway to “High Adventure” for those that enjoy them and find them rewarding. The potential for misadventure is much lower, hence the term “accessible”.  An example might be learning to kayak on the Kennet and Avon canal, camping in the school grounds, or a night hike on Salisbury Plain.

The second aspect to the programme is “High Adventure”. This includes longer-haul trips and experiences that involve relatively small numbers of pupils participating at a high level, normally with a high staff to pupil ratio. Typically, this type of adventure will require time and dedication from the pupils and they will have to work to achieve specific skills and competence at a given activity which will allow them to access remote or challenging environments. The potential for misadventure is greater in high adventure and care must be taken to ensure that participants are ready and willing to engage with it.   Examples of high adventure might be participating in the Devizes to Westminster canoe race, trekking in the Himalaya or crewing our tall ship, Jolie Brise.

Younger pupils develop a passion for adventure through the accessible adventure programme which is then developed and expanded as they move up the school when they can take on more challenging activities in the high adventure programmes.

The results we observe are remarkable.  Pupils who started with us being relatively quiet and cautious by nature, grow in confidence and are willing to take on new experiences.  Those who you might not immediately view as “the outdoors type” can demonstrate great resilience and good humour in the face of adversity.  I particularly enjoy seeing pupils learning to be as concerned for others as for themselves and – most importantly – being able to admit and then correct their mistakes.  Equally, the more confident ones learn to follow leadership before they are then able to provide leadership when needed. 

Developing these traits can take courage.  Exploration inevitably involves a few wrong turns, so we work to build the confidence needed to tackle challenges pupils may not believe they can do, safe in the knowledge that, if things go wrong, we are here to guide their learning.  As a result, pupils’ confidence and resilience rise dramatically as they discover what can be achieved, often under challenging conditions – and this pays noticeable dividends back in the classroom in terms of academic progress. 

Dauntsey’s School, May 2017

We believe that adventure should be an important part of any school’s provision and it does not have to involve far-flung destinations or big budgets.  Plenty of research has shown there is not necessarily a correlation between the ambition and scale of an activity and the impact it has on the individual.  Taking advantage of a school’s own campus or surrounding area can deliver a genuine adventure experience for all.  And, of course, there is the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, offered by so many schools.  The Duke was certainly ahead of his time when he endorsed the County Badge Scheme and created his eponymous Award back in the 1950s.

Resilience can help us get through and overcome hardship and difficult times.  But it is not something we are born with – it’s built over time, depending on the life experiences we have and how we respond to them.  This year we have all had to face new challenges and many have argued that it is our youngest and oldest generations who have been most impacted.  With no clear light at the end of the Covid tunnel, it has never been so important to help children and young adults develop resilience in the face of adversity and emerge stronger.

Dauntsey’s School, High Street, West Lavington, Devizes SN10 4HE, Tel: 01380 814500dauntseys.org

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