Encounters with nature: our Bush Kinder program

Much research is available today espousing the benefits of being outdoors, including the opportunities to be physically active, to breathe the fresh air and to slow down with the rhythms and patterns of nature. Being outdoors helps us all to get closer to the world around us and encourages our connection with it.

At Carey Donvale, we are fortunate to be surrounded by beautiful native bushland with fascinating flora and fauna to learn about. We also have access to Mullum Mullum Creek Linear Park, fondly referred to at Carey as The Flat. Being outdoors and learning about nature is part of the Carey Donvale experience, and this is especially true for our youngest members in the Early Learning Centre (ELC).

Bush Kinder at Carey Donvale began many years ago in response to the children’s curiosity about our environment. It was based on global research, educational philosophy and the passion of our dedicated educators. The program was developed under the leadership of ELC Director Anne Fahey, who travelled to Denmark to study the Forest School program, alongside her passionate and committed team in the ELC, especially with teacher Rachel Islip.

‘It was always clear to me that we needed to develop a sense of place with the children and encourage their curiosity of their surroundings,’ Anne explains. ‘We don’t just take the children outdoors – we would like them to learn to care for nature by building a relationship with it during their frequent visits.’

Bush Kinder allows the children to develop a sense of agency, build resilience and manage their own risk. ‘They have freedom of movement and they gain the ability to negotiate uneven ground and manage their own balance, stability and safety,’ Anne states. The environment meets children’s sensory needs that are difficult to reach when learning through a screen. ‘The children learn through touch, smell, sound and sight when they are outdoors.’

The Bush Kinder program continues even in the rain, wind or cold. The children dress appropriately and experience the fluctuations of weather, which helps them learn about how the environment changes with the seasons. This is an important aspect of the theory of Bush Kinder, according to Anne: ‘They build their resilience and are challenged by new and unfamiliar experiences. It is natural and healthy for children to be outside, regardless of the weather.’

Playing imaginatively with natural materials encourages the children to truly access their creativity. But while nature offers lots of opportunities for the children to learn about the natural world through play, we encourage them to be respectful and leave the environment in its natural state.

Anne also suggests that nature has a great calming effect on all children.’ Children’s social development is nurtured, but especially for those who have difficulty with social interactions, the natural environment provides huge play opportunities that can support their language and communication skills through teamwork. ‘Outdoors, it can be easier for all children to engage with group learning and problem solving.’

This extends to children who require extra assistance physically: ‘All children can participate. Everyone finds their own way of moving around and enjoying the sensory experience of being outside. All children are unique and there are multiple ways of doing things.’

The children also learn about how our First Nations people cared for the land. ‘The Wurundjeri people lived in this environment,’ Anne explains. ‘They relied on it for their food, shelter and medicine. They had a rich relationship with this land. We acknowledge our First People each morning with the children and before we begin each Bush Kinder visit.’

We hope to work closely with the Wurundjeri Cultural Heritage Council to learn more about the land, its cultural significance and our Indigenous people.

Bush Kinder is a prominent feature of the Carey Donvale ELC program. We are committed to this unique learning experience for children to encounter and engage with the natural environment, establish a meaningful relationship with it and develop their sustainable thinking.

The ELC Team
Carey Donvale

Originally published in Torch, Vol. 31, Issue 1