Building the foundation skills for connecting with New Zealand nature

October 1, 2018

Te Awamutu College is using the Skills Active Tramping & Camping Youth Award to help students develop a lifelong love of the outdoors.

The College offers the Youth Award as part of its outdoor education programme at Year 11. Skills Active Youth Awards are industry-endorsed training programmes delivered by schools, which count towards students’ academic credits, and provide pathways to future industry training.

During Term 2 at Te Awamutu College, students start practising navigation and learning how to interpret weather forecasts. They learn about packing the right clothes and equipment, bringing the right foods, managing their pack and equipment, and keeping themselves organised. Their preparation culminates in a three-day trip in September, where they put their skills into action.

Outdoor education head of department Bernard Oliver says that many students who choose the subject in Year 11 are already well on their way to being keen trampers.

“They tramp in Year 10 outdoor education, and they go on kayaking and rafting trips, during which they camp. So lots of those background camping skills are getting easier by this stage, as there has been some preparation through those other units.”

For other students though, tramping skills are unfamiliar at first and can be somewhat intimidating. But practice is the key, says Bernard.

“With the navigation, we start out with grid references, different types of maps, scale, etc.

“They pick that up quickly, but then they have this fear when they join the compass with the map it’s going to be hard. But they find that they can do it, and their confidence in their navigation builds really fast.

“I’ll teach the concepts and then we do lots of repetition and practice so they can get fast at it. That way, when they’re out in the bush, even if the weather is rubbish, they can navigate quickly.”

Te Awamutu College is fortunate to be literally right beside a nature reserve, he says, which means the class can go into the bush and practise building shelters.

Mental toughness in the bush

This year, the College did its three-day trip in the Kaimai Range. The expedition certainly pushes the students, Bernard says.

“For some students, just the mental toughness of tramping is a major challenge. There are a lot of activities in which you can pull out when it gets hard, but tramping is not one of those. There is no helicopter to pick them up just because it’s hard,” he says.

“And for some, they don’t get that realisation until they are out there, three-quarters of the way through the first day. ‘Oh wow, I really have to do this.’ But post-trip, there’s a lot of confidence and satisfaction that comes from that.”

As well as building resilience, the programme also emphasises teamwork, Bernard says.

“There are always going to be strengths and weaknesses within the group and if the stronger and more athletic kids can realise that early on – that it’s about getting us all to our destination at a reasonable time – then they muck in and help.

“On the trip we just had, I had a few students that were slow walkers. The other students realised that fast, and took stuff out of their pack loads, moved them in the group, and were good at encouraging them.”