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Bush Kinder: Learning by nature

Jessica Schumann

It’s where wildlife warriors come to life and little imaginations run free with big ideas; and all against a backdrop we to take for granted everyday — the Australian bush.

For a few hours once a week, come cloud or sunshine, the pre-schoolers of Canberra Early Learning Centres leave the toys behind and head outdoors into nature’s very own classroom.

Last Friday, I left my own electronic “toys” behind and joined Bush Kinder to discover the classroom for myself.

Each with a backpack and outdoor shoes, one by one we file onto the bus and venture out to a nearby nature reserve. Toys, books and anything else are left behind in the classroom with sticks, grass and feathers to replace it all once we’ve disembarked.

Yerrabi Centre Director, Marcus Honeyman describes it as “a dedicated nature program that offers children so much more” while Donna Bush (the Centre’s General Manager) adds it’s “an opportunity to think outside the norm…and to just have some thinking time and time to be in the environment”.

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From turning over rocks and logs to making discoveries and exploring Mother Nature and observing its inhabitant with curious eyes, Bush Kinder gives little minds time to connect with the environment and learn about the world around them, through their own experiences.

“Progressive education theorists of the past 150 years from Froebel to Steiner, Vygotsky to Montessori, Dewey to Gardener – all of them put the child at the centre of their own learning,” says Donna.

“All [of them] talk of the importance of children being allowed to explore the world with appropriate support and interestingly, many themselves were significantly influenced by the great outdoors.”

Just as Bush Kinder does.

It’s where sticks replace building blocks, and the sounds and sights of birds and kangaroos entertain the minds of three, four and five year olds. This time spent outdoors weekly emphasises the need for children to learn from their natural surroundings and to experience the seasons too while connecting with it too.

“Bush Kinder provides quiet time for children to observe the plant life, the animals and the seasons,” says Donna. 

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With an absence of constructed man-made materials and resources, children are encouraged to engage in open-ended interactions, spontaneity, active imaginations, risk taking, exploration and discovery – all of which aren’t always possible in the classroom.

The Centres’ Managing Director, Fiona O’Donnell, shares that some of her happiest childhood memories are of her experience with nature. 

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“We would climb all over Mount Mugga Mugga…we hung on monkey bars upside down for hours. We climbed the small plum trees all around Red Hill too and all the while building our muscles, building our core strength,” she says.

“Taking risks is a vital part of development and it how kids build resilience. It improves confidence, focus and development into a healthy responsible being in the world. We want to offer this to children who perhaps don’t have the opportunity to participate in bush walks at home.”

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But adds Donna, it’s also about respectful relationships and setting boundaries when it comes to interacting with others in the Reserve.

“The children establish the rules,” she says. “They know that if they want to stick fight, they must ask the other child first whether they want to be involved. They must also ensure they’re not hitting each other but hitting sticks.”

Whether it’s clambering over tree branches or exploring fallen logs, the activities embarked on Bush Kinder are robust as the children can become quite physical. However, nothing is beyond the decision of the child.

“Children are encouraged to undertake a self assessment of the tree they may want to climb or interactions with others, but know that the educator is there to help and support,” says Donna.

So whether it’s hunting down hares, spotting the cockatoos above or making mud pies from grass, twigs and leaves, Bush Kinder leaves everything to the imagination and more…  

Canberra Early Learning Services Crace, Yerrabi Ponds, Springbank Rise and soon to be Oxley Early Learning offer early education and care for children 6 weeks to 5 years. CEL also offer a dedicated Pre School Program (4 year olds) run by an experienced early childhood teacher. For more information visit the Canberra Early Learning Centre website.

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Jessica Schumann

A 'rambling ranga' at heart, Jessica Schumann is a bubbly, creative social thinker who thrives on words, social media and an innate knack for sharing stories. When she finds the time to write, Jessica seeks out the beauty in change and the essence of human condition. Varied and diverse in nature, her writing delves into the enviable world of people, travel, food and culture. When you can't find her in a nook writing, just follow your nose and you’ll soon find Jessica indulging in her other passion – cooking – or curled up on the couch with a good book in hand. You can find her over at ramblingranga.com.au. More about the Author

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