Connecting with Nature
Melissa Franklin – Director
Pelican’s Nest Early Learning Centre
Early Learning Centre’s can often be driven by routine – group time, meal time, activity time, requiring a lot of adult ‘control’ and not a lot of child agency. This was the accepted ‘norm’ for a long time, and it is something that we have fought hard to move away from. We are so fortunate at Pelican’s Nest to be located in a school environment, with access to chickens, gardens and natural bushland. We also have a kangaroo family that live onsite! It seemed such a shame to have all of this at our finger tips and not include it in the program for the children. Visits to the garden and chickens were once a programmed, once per term activity with military level planning and control. It was on one of these scheduled visits that we decided to take what would be our first steps toward establishing a Bush Kindy program.
As an experienced Educator, I am always looking for opportunity to extend my own learning, and support team members to learn new skills. I was lucky enough, along with our centre ECT, to attend a Nature Play QLD Introduction to Forest School training day, which bought together some ideas we had been brainstorming for a few months around how to incorporate more Nature Play into our programs. We wanted our children to share in our love of nature, to learn the importance of caring for our environment, and to experience first-hand a connection to country. We had been increasing the regularity of our walks to the gardens and chickens with our groups (2-3’s and 4-5’s), bringing back interesting items we found along the way, talking with the children about where the Kangaroos might live, and what other animals might be in the bushland.
On this particular day, we bought our group to the edge of the tree line, to have a look and listen for other wildlife. We could hear some birds calling, but they sounded far away in the trees. On the spur of the moment, we decided to go a little further in to the bushland, as there was a reasonably clear path to follow. The majority of the group were excited, quickly following us and marveling at the sights. We had to do some quick lessons on how to safely climb over branches, what to do if you spot a snake and how to navigate uneven ground. Some of the group decided to stay on the edge of the bushland with another Educator, feeling a bit nervous and unsure of what lay ahead. We made it about 15m into the bushland that day before the children wanted to turn back and head back to their friends.
Over the next few months, we made these expeditions more frequently, travelling further each time. We discovered a nature trail at the back of the bushland, depicting local wildlife, and plants. We also discovered a lake, brimming with Tadpoles, and we dreamt of one day taking the children fishing there.
Fast forward two years, and we now have an operational 5 day a week Bush Kindy program for our Kindergarten aged children, and our other rooms venture out at least once per week. It hasn’t been an easy process, we have had many ups and downs along the way – many Educators found it difficult to incorporate regular walks into their program and relax the structure, we have had to educate our families on the many benefits of getting out of the centre regularly and we have learnt along the way that it takes constant reframing and recommitment to our goals to maintain continuity in our practice. I have now been fortunate to take on the leadership of the centre, extending our commitment to Nature Play and ensuring it is embedded throughout our service. We are now very intentional when hiring staff to find those who share our passions, and love of nature, I ensure that I fully explain our Nature Based philosophy to all prospective enrolments, and we revisit our goals and focus on an unhurried childhood at every staff meeting. Our greatest resource is our people and when our Educators are committed to getting out in nature, the program evolves in a very organic way.
So where to from here??? The possibilities are endless. Day by day we check off some of our larger goals, the children now regularly incorporate fishing into their Bush Kindy, our Kindy children assist other rooms to go out on walks – showing off their expertise, our days are mostly unhurried, and children have large blocks of time to play and explore. We are establishing more gardens in our grounds, the children love planting and caring for their environment, we are establishing more sustainable practices – composting, recycling and we are hoping to have some parents and other Educators join us on our adventures. Looking back on our journey, we have come so far, but our goals are only limited by our imaginations and the children’s interest and love of learning.