Payne Road OSHC Centre Coordinator Susie Berhkut has built on the philosophy that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Susie believes children should have the same opportunities for development at OSHC as they would in the home environment, with her main objective to establish a service that for children, is a home away from home.
Her work with Nature Play QLD and fellow staff at Payne Road OSHC, has helped change the culture and opportunities available to the children in her care. Susie was also the catalyst for the development of some of the Nature Play QLD resources.
Nature Play QLD is thrilled to have Susie Berkut on board as a Workshop Faciliator at the Nature Play Symposium - 'Just For The Fun Of It!' - on the Gold Coast March 11th 2017.
You can read more about Susie and the other fabulous Workshop Facilitators and Key Speakers for the Symposium here.
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CASE STUDY: Transitioning from Structured Play to Unstructured Nature Play
Payne Road Outside School Hours Care (OSHC) meets National best practice for outside school hours care, and Nature Play QLD has helped them do this.
Centre Coordinator Susie Berkhut says "being aligned with Nature Play QLD and having access to the evidence and resources they have produced has made my job so much easier. It has also given me a wider understanding for explaining our purpose for how we operate at our service. "
Ms Berkhut says that Payne Road OSHC used to be "quite prescriptive about what children were allowed to do when they were in care, and we were very much in line with long daycare."
Over the years Ms. Berkhut and fellow staff have worked hard to change this culture, and have utilised - and even helped develop - some of the Nature Play QLD resources.
Nature Play Resource: Licence to Play Outdoors
"We started using the passports right at the beginning and we did that for the first couple of years, and we re-introduce it every now and again over holidays. It was really a great way to introduce the children to finding things to do outside" says Ms. Berkhut.
"The children were a bit lost in the beginning, because it hadn't been allowed here before" she says, "but it widened our knowledge base around what we could do and how it could look".
"The kids got very excited, they decorated their own pages, and would go and do one mission after another after another which meant they spent lots of time outside, and it was a big turn around for how play looked here" she adds.
Nature Play Resource: License
The Nature Play QLD Licenses to Play were developed in consultation with Ms. Berkhut, as a way to better integrate the Passports into a learning facility. Ms. Berkhut says this resource has helped evolve their practice into what it is today.
"It made children a lot more creative in their thinking" says Ms. Berkhut, adding that "the passport were good because it gave us some clear things the children could do, but the licenses were the next step which allowed children to think for themselves".
Benefits for the Children
The shift to a more unstructured nature play setting at Payne Road OSHC, has brought with it many benefits for the children, including improved behaviour, increased independence and self-awareness, and a shift in service’s cultures.
- Improved Behaviour
"Some of the really clear outcomes that have come from Nature Play for me, have been a very big reduction in behavioural issues" says Ms. Berkhut.
"I can't remember the last time we put a child in time out as such, we use lots of redirection, and I don't hear 'I'm bored' much anymore, and if we do hear that, we've also be given the tools to deal with that through Nature Play. All those articles about how being bored is really good – we use all of those things" she says.
- Self Awareness
Whilst Ms. Berkhut rarely hears children say they are bored anymore, when they do, she uses it as an opportunity to teach them that "it's okay to sit and do nothing, and be bored".
"I love when a child comes to me and he's bored, and I say 'That's great! There's a really nice shady tree over there, sit down, take some deep breaths, be bored, and I'm sure you'll come up with some good ideas of what you want to do next'" she says.
- Breeding Independence
The staff at Payne Road OSHC have worked on building trust with the kids, even allowing them into play spaces where they could not be seen by the staff.
"Kids are allowed to be kids without someone hovering over them all the time" says Ms. Berkhut.
"Over time we found areas that are close by, where we can see them, and allow children into those areas where there wasn't a staff member standing on top of them continuously, and our staff were very much upskilled in what active supervision looked like" she says.
- Changing Family Culture
"I'd have to say that the confidence building Nature Play has given parents, is one of the biggest assets that Nature Play has had within our community. It's talked about constantly, they talk about letting their children do that, they use that language, the whole Nature Play language and they understand all of that" says Ms. Berkhut.
"They really have the best intentions for their children, and I just think that they need to be given that confidence again. Nature Play gives parents that evidence and that backing for why they're letting their kids run wild, and not do structured things" she says.
Benefits for Ms. Berkhut
"Having Nature Play behind me – and I'd be really sad if it wasn't there – has given me a lot more confidence. It's a really important thing for us to be able to say that we are behind this issue, and for good reason, and this is the research that they've found, this is what they're doing, and look at the results" says Ms. Berkhut.
"Now I'm very confident in getting up and saying in front of parents, don't expect your kids to come home with any art projects, they purely come to us to be part of the village that raises your child, and to have access to fun activities" she says.
"I think within three years the message has got out there really well, but I think some of it needs to be more shock material. I think they're really powerful messages that people need to hear" says Ms. Berkhut.
"I think parents need to hear harsh realities of what helicopter parenting does - we really tiptoe around a lot" she says.
"The number of kids that are having to see Occupational Therapists, and early onset of Osteoporosis because they're not doing any outdoor hanging stuff anymore. We need parents to ask themselves what sort of things are their kids going to be allowed to do in their life, and how are they going to be able to risk adverse if we don't allow them to mitigate risk now".