A day in the life of an Outdoor Instructor
Being an outdoor Instructor is an absolute privilege; we get to take young people into beautiful places and watch them learn and grow. We get to challenge them and give them an experience they will never forget. That’s the best bit anyway, you don’t often hear about the other parts of the day, week and year. Getting kids ready to go out, the kit cleaning and inspecting, the risk assessments and what ever else needs doing in that moment. We can talk about that later, for now lets take a dive into a typical Mountain day with a group of school kids.
9am – Staff and teacher meeting
Topics of discussion include: where we’re all going for the day, the weather, incidents from the previous night, how the kids are doing and anything else we need to know. The timings of these meetings are very much dependant on how much info the teachers want to tell us. When we get a lot of detail about little Jonny’s sisters dog things take a while!
9.15 – 10am – Getting ready to go out
This is always an interesting time. A quick brief to the group about the days activities and then they must get themselves ready. Before going out, we try and check that they’re ready and often send them to put their Lord of the Rings Trilogy/ Teddy/Nintendo DS back in their rooms or to collect all of the kit they’ve forgotten. Quite often there’s one kid that just comes back with nothing. It’s fine, they’re learning independent living skills right?
It’s also a good idea to check the amount of water in everyone’s water bottle, they’re often empty as they were thirsty between breakfast and now. Filling them before heading out is often low on the list of their priorities and if you don’t check, you will find yourself dishing out your own supplies to keep them hydrated.
10am – Shoelaces
If you don’t check them, they’ll come undone. Usually in a pile of dog poo, which while tying them in a hurry, then ends up all over your hands before you clock the smell.
It also gives us a chance to check socks. You may think that wearing warm socks that come above the boot would be common sense. Unfortunately, kids haven’t learnt that yet so they will turn up with trainer socks or none at all, despite it being mentioned in 5 different ways during the briefing.
Prevention is better than cure, especially when it comes to kiddies blistered feet!
10.10am – Drive to the bottom of a mountain
While answering questions of course.
‘How far is it?’
‘Have you ever climbed a mountain before?’
‘Will we be in the clouds?’
‘What does a cloud feel like?’
‘How long is the walk?’
‘Will there be bears?’
10.30am – 3.30pm – Walk up a mountain
If only it were that simple!
Many schools like to make the day educational, so we stop along the way and talk about all sorts of things: Glaciation, Erosion, River Processes, Local Geology, National Park Service, Flora and Fauna, Perseverance, Resilience, Seasonal changes, Clouds, Tourism, Agriculture, Local history. The list could go on forever. We also try and give them a map and show them how to use it. With primary kids it’s pretty basic but it adds a different dimension to the day and gives everyone a chance at a bit of leadership.
You can’t just walk with kids, it’s got to be fun and interesting as well as challenging. We stop what can sometimes feel like a thousand times thanks to their short legs, giving them another nugget of learning each time. By lunch time they’ve covered enough content to get them a GCSE!
We stop and look for frogs in ponds, we debate whether footpaths are man made or natural and we have some brilliant discussions on why running next to the top of cliff is not a good idea.
Kids ask the best questions. As adults we can be quick to think they’re being silly or annoying but when you treat each one as an opportunity for that kid to learn you get some great conversations. ‘Why is that fence there’ starts discussions on land use and ‘why is the grass long over there and not here’ is a great opportunity to discuss sheep grazing and footpath erosion.
3.30pm – Review the day and drive back
Reviews can be anything from ‘tell me something you learnt today’ to ‘give me a descriptive word that sums up your day’. It solidifies the learning that has taken place during the day, whether that be soft skills or Geographical knowledge.
The drive back is often quiet, if you turn up the heat they all fall asleep, especially on a chilly day. Great if they’re a particularly lively bunch and you need some peace!
4pm – Clean and Collect in kit
Sounds simple right? You’ve obviously never seen a child try and clean a walking boot without filling it with water. They generally bring them into the stores still covered in mud, despite being told ‘if you wouldn’t lick it, it’s not clean’. They’ve probably never cleaned anything in their lives so it’s a big deal, but they generally get on board and rise to the challenge.
4.45pm – Tidy stores, Sort out personal kit and Debrief
There’s always something to tidy; a bag left in the middle of the car park, waterproofs that have been hung interestingly. And then there’s your own personal kit, your boots need a clean and waterproofs hanging, more often than not you can find a willing child to take on the task.
I know some centers have a formal debrief. Others have a quick chat about any issues, often with a hot drink and discussions about kids quirks.
That’s a mountain day in a nutshell. The activities vary from day to day, usually with a similar level of chaos and amusement.
One question I’m always being asked is ‘what do you do when there’s no groups?’.
We don’t (often) sit around drinking tea or go on epic adventures. Staff training is usually good fun, but the majority of down time is taken up with risk assessments, kit inspections and random jobs around the centre. All the mundane things that go on behind the scenes to make outdoor activities possible and keep the centre running. A week without a group can include meetings, reading and updating of Risk Assessments, Kit inspections, painting something, mowing the lawn, taking the temperatures of the shower water, fixing tent poles, organising electricians. The list goes on!
It’s an amazing job though, a privilege to do even in the most adverse of weather. We plan on writing a post soon about the various avenues into the world of Outdoor Instructing. For now, if you have any questions we’d be more than happy to answer them for you.