Yarra Valley Grammar Early Learning Centre introduced its first Bush Education program in 2018. Influenced by the Forest School ethos and the development of Bush Kinder programs in Australia, the school now offers weekly three-hour sessions to those children attending the four-year-old program at the Early Learning Centre. Set on a site in a designated area of the school’s bush block, the Bush Education program at Yarra Valley Grammar is named ‘Cooinda’, meaning ‘Happy Place’ in Aboriginal language. The children refer to their site by name and quickly establish a connection with and ownership of this special place. The site used offers varying terrain. There is a large open grass area where base camp is established, slopes, trees for climbing, a range of native flora and fauna, fallen logs and different earth surfaces, as well as denser scrub and bushland. The ecological impact on the bushland is closely monitored and the children are taught about erosion, and ways to look after and protect the bush site.
The Forest School movement has been growing rapidly in Australia where it is sometimes referred to as Bush or Nature Kinder. Programs operate outside in all seasons and all types of weather. They are run in natural outdoor environments, on school premises, in parklands, at the beach and in forest or bushland settings. While still a relatively new concept in Victoria, the Bush Kinder movement is quickly developing and becoming an increasingly popular mode of learning in Early Childhood settings. This is in part due to concerns about the current state of children’s physical and mental health, about the rise of obesity, social and behaviour problems and the overriding issue that children are spending less and less time outdoors. Parental concerns about safety, coupled with the increase use of computers and screen time are contributing to a generation of nature deprived children.
The Early Learning Centre philosophy at Yarra Valley Grammar focuses very much on a child-led emergent curriculum and this fits exceptionally well with the ethos of Forest School. Children are provided time and space to explore and pursue their own interests and to learn in an uninterrupted way. Their sense of agency is promoted through lack of restriction and ownership over the direction of their play and learning. Limited equipment and resources are used and the children are encouraged to engage with what nature provides. They learn to initiate their own play, to climb trees and build shelters. They engage in risky play which builds resilience and confidence and they learnt to look after one another and to keep themselves safe. Scampering up and down slopes, using ropes, playing with sticks, digging in the mud and investigating and exploring are just some of the experiences children engage in. Indigenous teachings are embedded within the program as is learning about the flora and fauna, the changing seasons and weather patterns.
Educators follow the needs and interests of the children and observations taken each session assist to inform planning for the next. The educational program is designed based on the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework and the experiences often link with the learning topics children are exploring within their groups at the centre or very often, influence the direction learning might take.
The belief is that the natural environment provides the ideal setting for children to make connections with nature, which in turn enhances their general wellbeing. The emphasis is on developing the whole child so that they become resilient, confident, creative and independent learners, who can assess risk, try new skills, solve problems and build on previous learning.
Outdoor Educator | Yarra Valley Grammar Early Learning Centre
Established in the heart of Melbourne’s east in 1966 and set on a spacious 30-hectare campus, Yarra Valley Grammar overlooks […]