Experiential Learning


The week started well. I kept to the deadlines I’d set myself regarding my story: meeting with the editor, sending her the ‘almost ‘finished’ manuscript and continuing to write, write, write. I set my deadline for finishing the entire MS too, just eight weeks away from the day of meeting. After a week of writing I decided to work on my painting;  just for a day. I opened the ‘how to’ art book at the page which suggested ways to achieve tonal values. The best option for beginners was to use one colour, mixed with white.  I chose Sap Green, mixed it with white and thinned the paints with linseed oil. The addition of Phtalo Blue was a personal inspiration.

Green Ghoul

I have no idea why I didn’t trust my own instincts. Twenty years before, I’d painted through experimentation, and the work had turned out fine. I passed my art courses well, but never ever had I turned out a Green Ghoul, more suited to a life as a Halloween poster than the origins of a painted portrait of myself.

This got me thinking to that time, when I was at teachers’ training college and I  had put my name down for an Outdoor Education course being held for a week over summer. This was  where I first heard the phrase Experiential Learning. Defined in the dictionary as one might imagine – learning through experience and observation.

Now, I am someone who usually watches other people swim, or kayak, never keen on actually being in water, especially being out of my depth. So I ticked the boxes for the Tongariro crossing, and Abseiling, thinking I’d at least be near solid ground if not on it, and more than able to deal with that.


What the? I thought when on the Abseiling day, the van pulled up at some caves. A man wearing a helmet stepped up and began telling us what to expect when caving.  CAVING! That meant crawling all wet and filthy underground with the earth pressing in on you, squeezing through narrow tunnels, etc. I’d seen it; NEVER wished to do it. I looked around at the rest of the group; all smiles and laughter. Too many students had booked for abseiling apparently. “I’ll take the torch at the back,” I offered, now helmeted like the rest. I was sweating; remembering I was night blind into the bargain. I felt sick, but followed the human snake regardless, breathing in and almost forgetting to breathe out. But guess what? I came out the other end. I had survived!

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Tongariro crossing by Carsten Hennig,  CC BY-NC 4.0

The day we walked the Tongariro crossing was hot and it was quite a trek uphill along the loose grainy trail. We were told of the extreme changes in weather which occur in seconds and jackets were called for along the top. Having trekked in Nepal just a few years earlier, I was in my element being up a mountain, and walking on almost-firm terrain.

River crossing

And then, it was the compulsory water-skills part of the course,  but this was just a river crossing. I loved rivers. Had even swum in them as a kid. We linked arms and waded through to the other side of the river, which became deeper, and scarier as we went, avoiding the larger stones and boulders and ensuring we didn’t fall in. I didn’t!

And then, we went further down river where the current was running strong and told to change into our swimsuits. We ‘buddied’ up with a colleague and stood on a grassy mound of earth which acted as a launching spot and shivered, a lot. The idea was this: that each pair would wait on the mound, until a whistle blew, then swim down stream until the whistle blew again. At the signal we were to head into the bank where our tutor stood, and climb out. OMG. Never would I put myself through this again, I decided, as I struggled to swim closer in to the bank. I felt a hand grasp mine, and pull. I had made it.

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A river minus myself

So, I guess if I can survive these lessons in experiential learning out of doors, I can certainly survive my recent painting adventure inside my studio. I have a good idea of what I want to achieve with my painting, and when I return to the Green Ghoul, I shall paint over it and start again with colours of my own choosing. I mean, Halloween can’t last forever, can it?


4 thoughts on “Experiential Learning

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