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History of Outdoor Education

Historical Timeline of
Outdoor Education

James Neill
Last updated:
05 Feb 2005


This timeline emphasizes:

  • major "standard history" events in outdoor and adventure education programming

  • the development of Outward Bound, off-shoot organizations, and national and international associations

Other related timelines


Historical Timeline of Outdoor Education

2500 BC - Egyptians explored their surrounding world, making the first recorded traces of planned adventure.

1886 - Kurt Hahn is born in Germany.

1920 Salem Schule: First modern, Western school focusing on personal responsibility, equality, social justice, respect, community service, in Germany.  This was the first significant involvement of Kurt Hahn as an innovative educator in a school.

1930 - Beginning of short-term resident camping programs in the United States of America (Hammerman, 1980).

1941 –  The first Outward Bound program was conducted in Aberdovey, Wales.

1946 - The Outward Bound Trust is established, with an eye to expansion, to oversee fund-raising, publicity, and recruitment of staff and students.  Its long-time chairman is Sir Spencer Summers, a Conservative MP, whose energy, enthusiasm, and influence does a great deal to establish the Trust as an important and expanding force in British education. 

1950 - Outward Bound Eskdale opened, the second Outward Bound school, sparking the expansion of Outward Bound around the world.

1953 - HRH the Duke of Edinburgh becomes Patron to Outward Bound.

1958 - Outward Bound Malaysia opened, in Lumut, the first Outward Bound school outside of the UK.  Several other schools were soon to follow.

1962Outward Bound Colorado (now Outward Bound West) was The first Outward Bound school started in the USA, in Marble, Colorado.  The program spurred America’s interest in outdoor education. The rugged approach to personal growth appealed to a culture based on pioneering, individual freedom, and dealing with America's vast and challenging physical landscape.  Outward Bound Colorado was founded by Josh Miner, with the help of Paul Petzoldt, among others.  Go to more on the history of Outward Bound Colorado.

1965National Outdoor Leadership School: First dedicated school for teaching outdoor leadership skills, founded to the USA; later spreads to other countries.  Started by Paul Petzoldt who had worked for Outward Bound Colorado and noticed the need to train outdoor education leaders.  Go to more on the history of NOLS.

1971Project Adventure was started by Jerry Pieh in a Massachusetts high school.  Jerry Pieh was the son of Bob Pieh who had founded the Minnesota Outward Bound School (later to become the Voyageur Outward Bound School), so he had a good understanding of the principles of Outward Bound.  The challenge for Jerry was to bring those principles into a mainstream school.  Thus Project Adventure became the second major spin-off from Outward Bound (NOLS was the first).  In 1974, Project Adventure received federal funding through the National Diffusion Network, allowing Project Adventure to spread into 400 schools, itself spawning a variety of different experiments with adventure-based learning in schools.

1974 - Kurt Hahn dies (born 1886).

1976Association for Experiential Education (AEE) was created in the USA to help to foster and spread the word about outdoor and experiential education.  More on the history of AEE.

1977Wilderness Education Association (WEA): Paul Petzoldt left that National Outdoor Leadership School to create the Wilderness Educators Association.  Petzoldt aimed to bring the training of outdoor leadership into colleges and developed an extensive leader training curriculum.  WEA has had less impact on the outdoor education industry than NOLS.

1983 - Development of Outward Bound International.

1993 - Lyme Bay tragedy (4 teenagers die in canoeing accident) rocks outdoor education in the UK.  The Managing Director of St. Albans Centre was subsequently prosecuted, a first such occurrence, and the incident led to government crackdowns on safety of outdoor education programs throughout the UK (Adventure Activities Licensing Authority, 2000).

1997 - 1st International Adventure Therapy Conference - held every three years.

2003 - Outward Bound Colorado merged with Pacific Crest Outward Bound School to become Outward Bound West

2004 - UK lotteries fund a major summer camp program to provide every UK child with at least one week-long camp experience.

2005 - Outward Bound USA announces merger of 5 out of 8 of its chartered operations.