All children should have the opportunity to engage with nature. Fortunately, it is not difficult to get out and about to learn outside with children - and nature provides us with the perfect learning and teaching environment! The idea of taking children out of their usual learning environment to play in wild nature has piqued the interest of early childhood educators across Australia. Bush kinder is an approach to learning that has been gaining momentum in Australia, particularly over the last 10 years or so. We firmly believe that bush kinder is the way forward for early childhood learning in Australia and we can help you make it happen.
Why Bush Kinder? A bush kinder provides children with a welcome change from familiar surroundings, a freedom to use imaginations and bodies in new and challenging ways and an opportunity to connect in meaningful ways to local natural ecology, indigenous culture and seasonal changes. To interact with wild nature is a very different experience than playing within a constructed learning environment, even one that offers diverse play equipment and resources to challenge children’s thinking, creativity and development. Wild nature offers children a sense of freedom and variety that cannot be found within a fenced area, so you will find the engagement of children’s play in nature is very different to the play you will typically see within your usual learning environments. With space to move and be loud, or to be still and quiet, children have the freedom to choose according to what they feel like doing. Nature has it all: uneven surfaces, places to climb and hang, dark places, light places, creatures to discover and observe, materials to build and create with, and opportunities to find expression for stories, art and handcrafts. Nature provides us with a place to just BE. Best of all - there’s minimal setting up to do. Just arrive - and play!
As adults working outside with children our role is to be a mentor. Beginning with the understanding that children are capable learners, we guide, support, help with resources, and keep an eye out for hazards. Every moment a child is engaging with nature they are learning something about themselves, each other, and their environment. Challenges appear which may be individual for each child: learning to navigate uneven surfaces, learning how to move their bodies for scrambling and climbing among branches, feeling courage to enter flowing water or to play in weather that cannot be controlled - only managed with clothing. This can be big learning for little people! It will never be learned within an air-conditioned room or a playground covered in AstroTurf with smooth and predictable play structures. When you go back to Kindy with the children you can relish the recounts and reflections of their adventures, challenges, and playful experiences, contribute to journals, and explore concepts the children were interested in with reference materials and artefacts.
Every early childhood service can run a bush kinder program. Nature reserves, parks and local creeks are accessible with a regular excursion notice and prepared risk assessments. For services that do not have access to nature immediately outside their learning environment, children can be transported by bus or walked there if local. Leaving the service with children has wonderful advantages for learning about neighbourhoods, street safety, and developing a sense of belonging within the community. Many educators feel a bit nervous about playing in wild nature. We encourage you to play outside yourself - get to know the area and learn how to explore through a child’s eyes. Our Beyond the Sandpit workshops can help you find this confidence, creativity and joy in playing outside. As for the dangers - some well-considered risk assessments, ongoing conversations with children, families, and the community will ensure that you are giving ongoing safety your serious attention. This excellent Bush Kinder document by the Victorian Government outlines all the major considerations for services to begin the journey out of doors - and of course our workshops will help you gain the confidence and skills to enjoy your time outside once you get there! The Beyond the Sandpit series of workshops with Phoenix Support for Educators are designed to help educators find creative connections with local nature and the practical skills to begin planning your bush kinder programs and exploring nature play with children.
It’s time to go out and play!
Gain some practical ideas and insight in Part 2 of this post