Little Bunyas Early Education Centre of Excellence is a privately owned early learning centre located in the Logan region of South East Queensland. We cater for children aged from 0-5 years and are a busy service with nine rooms and thirty educators.
Where Our Nature Play Journey Began
We first became aware of Nature Play QLD a few years ago when the Nature Play QLD Passports were made available for services; we utilised these passports with our families and gave each family a passport to take home. At the time, there was very little training around nature play and we did our very best to encourage the families and other educators to get involved and head out into the great outdoors, but felt that there was quite a bit of educating to do with our team and community.
Fast forward to early 2017 when some of our educators had an opportunity to attend the Nature Play QLD Symposium on the Gold Coast, and our interest was spiked again and the passion that we knew was there came to the surface. We started the day on the land with the welcome to country, and throughout the day established our ideas on how we could involve our families in Nature Play QLD both in the service and in our own homes. It generated excitement and gave us inspiration that we could do it and do it well. Since that day, our attending educator’s have continued the conversations and journey together and have now inspired others in the workplace.
Putting It Into Practice
Our first real opportunity arrived in the form of Under 8’s week with the theme of Country to Coast – so what better way to celebrate our magnificent country than focusing on the natural beauty that we have around us every day and emerging ourselves in nature; our unique Australian textures, elements and surroundings.
Firstly as a service we developed a ‘nature play code of ethics’, where all invested parties had a say on what we wanted to see our children engaging in in our outdoor spaces, and also how we could bring these outdoor spaces inside. We discussed the importance of including a number of nature play elements each week in both our indoor and outdoor programming and made a firm commitment to value this and secure its place within our curriculum.
Nature Play became a direct focus of ours, and we ensured it was an essential element on our daily outdoor programming, with the educators made to think outside the box, to ensure the experiences we were giving our children were authentic as well as being challenging enough to keep their interest. We set up a specific nature play display in the hope of educating our families about the importance of the outdoors; natural play environments, loose parts and all things exciting in the world of nature play. This display evolved as our interests changed and it also held many pieces of information that the families could take home with them about Nature Play QLD and how they could incorporate it into their family lifestyle and traditions. We will keep this display in our foyer for the moment as it now holds samples of the children’s clay work, photos of the children enjoying the mud kitchen experience, images of our younger children ‘grounding themselves’ on our natural grass spaces and detailed drawings from our school aged children who enjoy a spot of cloud watching when we have our beautiful cumulus clouds that roll in from the west. Educator feedback across the course of the week focused solely on the fact that the children were much calmer, more engaged in their activities, and felt there was an emotional shift of inclusiveness and encouragement to give ‘everything a go’ - this warmed our hearts.
Making Changes For The Future
Our planning around under 8’s week involved getting the whole team on board, to extend themselves, their thinking, and share the knowledge that we gained from our time at the Nature Play QLD Symposium. This kick started a new approach to how we looked at our outdoor space, with future plans to take our program to a suitable outdoor environment off campus where the children can freely explore a more robust natural space (due to our location, this is still a work in progress as we have many large bodies of water attached to our natural spaces close by, so finding a safe space is still on our agenda).
Working With The Parents
Conversations were sparked between the educators and parents and we started the communications, as we knew this was something new for our families with regards to the mud kitchen and the less than perfectly clean child that they may discover at pick up time. We found many of our families were very time poor and had little down time to spend together in outdoor spaces, just freely exploring their local parks, taking bush walks or even allowing the children to play on the grass in their own backyards. So this was a mission for us to change their thinking and show them that their children absolutely loved the messy, muddy, dirt smeared play that we provided for them!
To support the many activities that were being organized in our services, we developed and sent home loose parts bags to our families to demonstrate to them that sometimes commercial toys are better to be left in the cupboard and that allowing the children time to explore the natural items in our community such as pine cones, lotus seeds, textured fabrics, rocks and bark can be more beneficial for their sensory and cognitive development. Fact sheets were also included with our loose parts take home bags along with the Nature Play QLD Passports and the age specific ‘Things To Do Playlists' to give them some family inspiration.
So Many Benefits!
Our children, families and educators absolutely loved their involvement in Nature Play during our Under 8’s week and this has reaffirmed our already strong relationships with them and opened up many new lines of communication and shared experiences. We are now looking forward to the weekend news of our families enjoying our beautiful outdoors and know that they will see the importance of increasing their adventures in nature and how this can intertwine with better mental health, increased fitness and improved quality of life.
We will continue along this nature play journey and look forward to nature being the catalyst to many new learning experiences, improved outcomes for children and a more cohesive and inspired nature play team.