Business 365 Issue 7

Challenge by Choice – A new paradigm for learning?
By Kieran Stoutt

I find myself sat here writing this article on a sunny Monday after one of our most successful events to date, Race the Sun 2021, in which 38 teams of 10 people ran the coastal footpath in a gruelling relay race. This event always makes me reflect on how we work with our young people, specifically the parallels between the challenges that each individual conquer on the event and through our individual work.

The term 'Outdoor Experience' elicits a different response in many people. The idea of throwing yourself off a cliff into the sea or fighting against Mother Nature whilst battling up a series of waterfalls appeals to some; to others it sounds like their idea of the purest form of misery!

Indeed, such responses conjure up images of wetsuit clad, ruddy faced 'instructors' whose sole job is to physically enforce these activities - to perpetuate the misery of unwilling participants. Personally, I hate the term 'instructor'. It's a very embattled term which immediately draws on the fear of being forced to participate.

However, what if there was a different approach, one which encouraged participation in challenge, but respected that every individual is indeed just that, an individual? A person, with their own needs, thoughts and comfort zones who is capable with engaging with challenge on their own level.

Challenge by Choice is exactly that, and is a guiding principle of the work I undertake as part of the Children's Centre.

It is a principle that is divided into three zones; Comfort, Growth and Panic, with the idea being that our clients should be given regular opportunities to move themselves out of their comfort zone and into their growth area, as that's where the magic happens - The further you travel into your growth zone, the more challenge you face and concurrently, the more potential you discover. This process releases endorphins in your brain, which in turn are responsible for increased dopamine production. In short, challenging yourself feels good!

However, travel too far or push yourself too hard and you end up back at the image of misery – fear, concern and doubt will cause you to panic and, let's face it, panic doesn't help anyone – look at the recent example of Tesco at the start of our national lockdown if you don't believe me!

So, why this method? It's pretty simple - whenever you are forced to do or learn an unfamiliar activity or skill, you feel 'done to' and your brain is more likely to go into panic mode. The learning journey becomes more about the needs of the teacher, and less around that of the learner.

However, when you are given the opportunity to engage on your own terms in a non-judgemental environment, you are more likely to contribute; to overcome that initial barrier of participation. Once here, you have already made that first, ever so important step and with the right guidance and encouragement you will feel supported and able to continue to make further steps of development.

Our job therefore is to facilitate these experiences. I don't take someone gorge walking or mountain biking because I want them to be awesome at gorge walking or be a world class Mountain Biker. I do it to provide that opportunity to step outside the comfort of the day to day routine and venture into that unfamiliar place where endorphins are released and development occurs, but to do it in a manner in which participants are comfortable and feel supported enough to manage their own experience.

And, here's the beautiful part. You are significantly more likely to learn from challenge using this method, as it's your learning experience. You've set your own outcomes and worked to your abilities and stretch zone. Plus, because of that dopamine hit, you feel good! It's been a fun experience! Information gained through this process is more likely to be passed from short term to long term memory.

I have talked quite heavily around one area of provision here, Outdoor experiences, as that is where my main experience lies. However, this is a principle which can be applied to any session we run for our young people and families, whether it be Forging or growing chillis! Indeed, it can be applied to any new skill that you may be trying to teach, give it a try!

How can you help?

There are many ways you can support our work.

  • £3,000 per day to run our charitable programmes
  • £7 benefit for every £1 spent on Thriving families programme
  • 40% of local children and young people engaged in our services
  • 16 groups of all ages hosted at the Farm each week