Physical Activities in the Outdoors

I have always been a nature lover. I find peace in the quiet majesty of mountains, in the hidden depths of rushing waves. Loving nature is an essential part of who I am.

As a physical educator, I believe it’s important to give students the opportunity to be active beyond the field and the court, immersed in the outdoors. This year, I organized a field trip for our fifth graders, taking them to one of the most beautiful country parks of Hong Kong.

Hiking in the mountains, running in the forest, swimming in rivers and lakes and practicing all sort of sports and physical activities while being outside it’s always being a favorite thing for me to do. The feelings and sensations you get when you sky down the slopes or try to balance your body while doing windsurf are unique and an authentic way to challenge yourself as you learn the limits of your body and mind.

In Spain, the country where I am from, “Physical Activities in Nature” are considered part of the curriculum and need to be taught and assessed. Many teachers struggle with that as they don’t have the resources, facilities, or expertise to offer any of these activities and they end up teaching orienteering as a way to “cover” and teach and assess that part of the curriculum.

It is indeed not easy, but as physical educators, we should find ways to expose our students to this kind of physical activities and sports.

While teaching in Madrid, Spain, I worked in a high school with students that belonged to medium-low social class. Some of them had had very little opportunities in their lives and did not get away from the city very often. I figured out a way to take all my high schoolers to the mountains in Madrid. We did some hiking, explored the outdoors, and participated in an orienteering fun run.

Students had a blast and so I decided to expose them to other activities in the outdoors. This time I contacted a company and they organized a day of “Multi Adventure” for us. Students were able to learn basic skills for kayaking in a lake, climbing and rappelling skills, riding horses and learn the arts of archery. I have no words to describe the happiness they felt.

This was a life experience for them.

Now, 10 years later, I see that physical activities in nature are slowly starting to be taught in some schools but I feel that there is still a big way to go to. There is never enough time to teach all the things we want/have to teach and, if adding something new means taking something out.

I live in the south of China, in a big city of 12 million people. The only nature I can expose my students to is the bay, which really is a park of people biking, running, walking, etc, so not really the idea of pure nature. There is also a small hill quite close to our school with man made steps that go all the way to the top, so again, it’s not quite the same feeling as being out in the middle of a nature path.

Last year, grade 5 students traveled to Hong Kong for a two days hike and outdoor experience with their classroom teachers. When they got back, all they could remember was a number of mosquitos, the rain, and how awful the trip had been. Listening to their complaints broke my heart so I decided to do something to change that. It made me feel sad. These kids had no exposure to the outdoors, they didn’t know how to enjoy it and learn from their experiences.

Many people picture Hong Kong as a huge, bustling city, where shopping is the only thing on everyone’s mind. In reality, Hong Kong is full of hidden havens and natural treasures. Hundreds of islands and hiking trails give us the opportunity to experience the outdoors in an active, immersive way.

I wanted my students to experience this kind of environment, so I contacted an outdoor activity company for suggestions. They recommended “canyoning” as a good activity for my students’ age range.

The counselors had tons of energy and did a wonderful job explaining the importance of safety and respect. They also taught students important tips about being a global citizen in all aspects of their everyday lives.

Our main activity consisted of hiking down a river while navigating over the rocky slope. Students learned how to spot safe stepping rocks by looking at their color. A gray rock was dry enough to walk on, while darker, brownish rocks were wet or covered in algae, which meant they were too slippery for our feet.

Students learned how to communicate with their peers by letting them know if a rock was wobbly or looked unstable. They helped each other to the best of their ability, offering their hand and words of encouragement if a classmate needed some extra assistance.

Throughout the trip, my students constantly offered positive observations and comments, such as, “This is so cool,” “I love it,” and “This is so fun!”

At the end of our river journey, we glimpsed a gorgeous view of the ocean — such a pretty and relaxing sight, surrounded by trees and mountains. We could even see a few fish swimming the crystal-clear water. We were so lucky to have chosen a bright, sunny day for our field trip. The sky was blue, and the pollution that had been quite bad in Shenzhen suddenly seemed to have vanished. It felt like paradise.

We stepped out of the riverbank and out of the canyon, shaking the water from our clothes. We returned to the campsite by hiking on a pleasant trail through the forest.

It is a goal of mine to include more physical activities in the physed curriculum that will lead learners to choose to be active not only while playing a team sport, or exercising, but enjoying the nature and all it has to offer to us.