The damage to our natural environment from recent bushfires has demonstrated how vital it is to help the next generation grow into caring, compassionate individuals who love and wish to protect their natural environment.
Bush kinder, inspired by the ‘forest schools’ of Denmark and Scandinavia has been doing just that. Doug Fargher, founder of Bush Kinder in Victoria, highlights that children who spend time outdoors and connect with the natural environment tend to be healthier, happier, stronger and have a greater respect for the environment.
What are the benefits of beach and bush kinder?
1. Outdoor play gets children moving
There’s only so much movement you can manage indoors, but heading outside often means wide open space for running, jumping and running some more. Physical movement is vital to maintain good health, particularly with obesity a concern for children of today.
2. Being outside makes children feel happy
Research continually shows that playing outside makes children feel happier. And the benefit of improved mood can be achieved in as little as five minutes of outdoors time! With one in seven children experiencing a mental health condition by the age of 12, encouraging children to do things in childcare that will make them feel good is vital.
3. Boost immunity
Fresh air, vitamin D and physical movement: heading outside for bush kinder or a beach visit can reduce illness and its spread in childcare settings.
4. Promotes creativity
With less structure than inside spaces, taking your childcare setting outside can promote creativity in children. Get children out and about in nature to encourage them to think outside the box and explore.
5. Fosters respect and connection to the environment
From trees and flowers to birds, animals, sticks, leaves and shells, nature has plenty of stimuli for children to explore, admire and have educational experiences with. Instilling this love and appreciation of nature from a young age can help create a generation who respect the planet and feel connected to the world around them.
How to get started with nature play and bush kinder
Most childcare services who are adding a nature element into their programs for children are doing so by delivering education and care from a local bush kinder site during a designated time period. The site you choose could be a beach, parkland or similar natural environment that is within reasonable distance from the childcare service.
The Victorian Department of Education and Training recommends considering factors such as:
- distance from the service to the bush kinder site as it may impact on methods of transportation (such as whether children can walk)
- adequate pick up and drop off areas (if parents are required to do so)
- range of natural elements which can be integrated into the educational program and practice
- distance from large bodies of water
- any hazards at the site and ways of mitigating/addressing these hazards
- adequate surveillance points and lines of sight for educators
- access for children with disabilities or mobility issues
- adequate mobile phone coverage and access for emergency services
- nearby facilities that may offer shelter in extreme weather conditions if the site is some distance from the service.
Your childcare service should also give thorough information to parents, including during the enrolment process, so that they can make an informed decision to give their child permission to be involved.
The benefits for children of being in nature are undeniable. Learning and development can be improved, as well physical and mental health and wellbeing. From the beach to the bush and everywhere in between, incorporating nature play into your childcare program is well worth considering.
With good planning, adding bush kinder or nature play into the program at your childcare centre can enhance the early learning and development of the children in your care and enable you a point of difference, as well as further promoting children’s development and creating a more nature-savvy future generation.