When Nature Play QLD announced the Outdoor Classroom Day QLD pledge, I instantly signed up, thinking this was exactly what we needed to test out our new Forest School for more than a couple of hours. I completed the Forest School Level 3 Leader Training in June with Forest School Initiative UK and Nature Play QLD. Preparation was complete - the forest school handbook was done, permission was received from our local council to use the nature buffer zone, and the children had been practicing the rules for weeks. We kitted up and with enthusiasm, and slight trepidation, we set off with our cart piled high as we took our classroom with us.
Our Outdoor Classroom
For those who don’t know our Forest School, its down the bottom of a very hilly park inside a nature buffer zone that adjoins the Eubenangee Swamp, famous for its bird life and Gregory the Giant Crocodile, but lucky for us it’s dry our end of the swamp well away from Alice Creek.
At the sight of the forest the children ran joyously down the hill, leaving me to manoeuvre the cart down. Not having done it before I nearly ran myself over, which would not have been a good start to lose the Forest School Leader straight up, this was the first valuable lesson of the day.
Let The Magic Begin
I made it to the bottom and enlisted the children to help set up base camp. First experience for the day was a listening experience, which allowed us to become entranced in mindfulness. We closed our eyes and listened…. what a magical experience this was, all that could be heard were the birds whistling and tweeting and the leaves rustling in the breeze, one child even said he could hear his own heart beating.
We then headed into the forest and discovered many wonderful things. We took pictures of the flora and fauna to make into resource cards, and altogether found nearly forty different species of flora. I had no clue that there would be so many in such a small forest. We searched madly for fauna, mini beasts or trying to catch glimpses of the birds we could hear active in the trees. One child closed his eyes and held the tree like he was listening to its heart beating, another felt the moss ever so gently remembering to respect living things and the no picking, no licking rule.
"One child closed his eyes and held the tree like he was listening to its heart beating, another felt the moss ever so gently remembering to respect living things and the no picking, no licking rule."
We enjoyed lunch and morning tea at base camp. This time was filled with stories and conversations about what we had discovered so far. My favourite experience was sitting in the middle of the forest path amongst a corridor of trees painting pictures using the water colours, something I hadn’t done in years. The children were amazed at the many colours that the forest was made up of and this sparked creativity in our creations. The children’s favourite experience was finding a strong vine to swing from, climbing over broken branches and logs, and balancing themselves up on trees which they attempted to climb and swing from. It has become a goal of each and everyone of them to swing like Tarzan on a vine.
Time Stood Still
The children were tired after all the exploring and rested ever so quietly on a rug in the shade of the tree - something I had rarely seen before. The thing that amazed me most was I felt like we were lost in time and we were in another existence, the hours flew past as there wasn’t a schedule or routine to adhere to.
As an early childhood educator, we can create secure opportunities for children to learn by meeting their relationship needs. The ethos at Forest School nurtures children's empathy and awareness of both their own feelings and ideas, as well as those of others. This was obvious with our time outdoors, as the children worked together and the day was free of arguments or dobbing.
This was one of the most in-depth quality moments we'd spent with each other. There were none of the normal distractions like the phone, my computer, toys or visitors. One child said ‘when do we get to play?', and I thought he had meant with the toys at kindy. I asked him what he meant and he replied ‘you know with the sticks like when we came last time'. He had remembered previous visits where we had made a tepee using sticks, rode them like horses and taken the dead ones back to kindy... such precious memories.
Taking the Memories Home
It was time to make our trek back to Kindy, and to take more memories along with us. The children helped to load the cart and made sure we had left our base camp clean. Going home was not short of its challenges, as we couldn’t get the potty tent back into its magic circle bag so had to carry it back to kindy assembled. They say small achievable tasks build self-esteem and confidence. Well we had a huge task ahead of us getting the cart back up the hill and that took teamwork. Everyone worked together, three on the back pushing and two at the front pulling and lots of ‘PUSH PULL’ motivational chanting as we made the mountainous climb back up the grassy slope, but we made it.
Nature Play... It's Addictive!
When we arrived back at kindy the children didn’t go inside to play with the toys like I expected, instead they stayed outside and enjoyed more nature play time in the sandpit, and catching up with the chickens and our guinea pig Georgie. They had adventures to tell, many that they took home and shared with their families over the dinner table that night. Our Outdoor Classroom Day was such a success, we did it again the very next day. One thing I can say is the parents reported that the children all slept extremely well that night and I can surely guarantee that I did too.
"Our Outdoor Classroom Day was such a success, we did it again the very next day."
I believe that real learning begins outside and on this day, I was no longer the educator as I too became the learner. On this day nature took over and we all enjoyed its wisdom.
Country Kids Childcare is an award-winning Family Daycare service that has been operating for the past nine years. Georgina is the first to bring Qualified Forest School Learning in Early Childhood Education to the Cassowary Coast Region. Georgina hopes to inspire other educators and families in the community to follow Nature Play QLD and to get outside and enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings on offer in the region.
For more information on Outdoor Classroom Day QLD head here.
For more information on the upcoming Forest School Level 3 Leader Training head here.