Shining Outside the Classroom

Updated: Nov 18, 2018



In an average classroom of students, some are likely to possess a talent for mathematics. Others might find art a natural fit and enjoy letting their creativity flow through the tip of a paint brush. Likewise, some may find their calling in the sciences and relish being immersed in a web of test tubes and Bunsen Burners.


Fitting the Mold

But what about those kids who don't fit the mold? Those square pegs who simply don't fit into the round holes of the education system. For many youngsters, focused learning in the classroom is a real battle but, importantly, this doesn't mean that academically less inclined children are not smart of course. Researchers have identified at least 8 distinct types of intelligence and have shown that most education systems around the world only manage to cater for two or three of these at most.


Additionally, many children find that dyslexia holds them back from achieving their full potential in school. This includes well-known Virgin business tycoon, Sir Richard Branson who had a tough time with dyslexia in his school days, at a time when the condition had very little recognition, let alone available support. As a result, his teachers considered him to be stupid and lazy and he dropped out of school at age 16! Subsequently though, Branson was able to turn his dyslexia into his biggest advantage in the world of business as he built his own mullti-million dollar business empire.

"But what about those kids who don't fit the mold? Those square pegs who simply don't fit into the round holes of the education system...while traditional forms of education are a good match for many children, it's easy to understand why this one-size-fits-all model of schooling fails more than its fair share of our young minds."

What's more, many children find concentrating in formal learning environments incredibly challenging and have difficulties with self-regulation and managing emotions. Often displaying impulsive behaviors and hyperactivity, children falling under this banner tend to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (commonly known as ADHD). This is one of the most common conditions in childhood with 5-11% of children estimated to have ADHD in the United States. That means there may be up to 3 children in the average class who have the condition. So is formal classroom teaching really maximizing the potential of those diagnosed with ADHD, or do we need to reconsider a more flexible approach to how and where we teach?

My point is, all of us come in different shapes and sizes, with unique quirks and talents. So while traditional forms of education are a good match for many children, it's easy to understand why this one-size-fits-all model of schooling fails more than its fair share of our young minds.

Shining Outside the Classroom

But could it be that some youngsters simply aren't made to be contained in a classroom environment? Could it be that some kids are better suited to different learning environments? Might some be talented dancers, promising athletes or skilled craftspeople, for example? Or might others be young entrepreneurs in the making brimming with creative ideas?

To ensure the next generation of young people reach their potential no matter what types of intelligence they're gifted with, I believe we must place much higher value on out-of-classroom and informal approaches to learning. Every individual has inbuilt talent and untapped potential and it's our job as educators to celebrate individual difference, and help children understand the value of their unique attributes.


As an accomplished experiential educator, I've seen how outside learning can transform young minds. I've worked with troubled teens, whose teachers and peers have all but given up on them in class, come to life in outdoor team challenges and transform themselves into confident leaders, capable of uniting their classmates behind them. I've come across children diagnosed with ADHD, who've become so focused on designing and building natural bivy shelters, that they remained firmly on task for almost an hour, literally leaving their teachers speechless! I've even worked with students so disconnected with the natural world that they were afraid of sitting on the grass for fear of getting dirty, only to end up knee deep in mud 24 hours later and having great fun!

Flipping the Classroom Hierarchy Upside Down

In the classroom, children quickly form hierarchies based on individual skills and abilities including everything from academic subjects and sporting abilities, from muscle strength to tag - you name it. Of course, it's common and completely natural for children to compare things like test scores, reading ages, goals scored in soccer, what time they go to bed at home and so on and so forth, among their classmates. Weighing one another up like this is only human nature of course - instinctively we want to know where we fall in the hierarchy of our social frameworks.

Rightly or wrongly, the fact remains that academically gifted students are often seated together by teachers and given extra work to push them more. Less academic students tend to be grouped together for extra classroom support (if available), while those who fall in between, are likely to find themselves cruising in the middle lane making slow and steady progress.

Outside the classroom though, established class hierarchies are no longer in play. Suddenly, the skills and knowledge required for outdoor and experiential learning are unfamiliar and the hierarchy flips upside down, breathing new life into the class. Those kids who dominate classroom discussions and get the best test scores, might find themselves far outside their comfort zones, while some of those who struggle to keep up in class, find they perform well in practical tasks and team activities. The best thing about this is that it leaves the whole group enriched, with the knowledge that all of us have value and can contribute to the world in our own unique way.


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