What’s working well in other centres?

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We will be showcasing services from across the country and present best practice for working with the NQS to deliver great practice for their unique location, their community, families and children.

Old Bar Early Learning Centre

Annabelle Rodgers, Educational Leader

Our bush program and outdoor experiences.

Our service is on 4 acres of land in a rural setting. Part of the land is bush and orchard. It has always been part of the vision of the owners to include the bush as an integral part of the program.

This stems from their belief in the importance of giving children time outdoors and an opportunity to play with natural materials. This fits in with the EYLF ideals that educators will “find ways of enabling the children to care for and learn from the land.” (EYLF 2.4) Being in a rural beach community a bush program also fits with the beliefs of the parents many of whom moved from busier more built up places for a better lifestyle.

For a time, educators were reluctant to use the bush extensively for fear of its risks but more recently the educators have a better understanding of risk management.

A year ago, the entire 4 acres was completely fenced with 2 metre school fencing. This facilitated the use of, not only the bush but the car park as a bike track. Most days our gates are shut at 10am and re -opened at 2.30 ready for the afternoon pick up. Parents who come between those hours are happy to park outside the gates and walk into the centre. They often walk around a group of very happy, speeding bike riders.

What do we do in the bush and who uses it?

All age groups visit the bush daily. It is not uncommon to see the toddlers going on a bush walk, some walking, some in prams. They stop to play with sticks and leaves to look at the birds and watch the bees. They really do live in the moment and take it all in. It is best after rain when they all wear gum boots (we have a large collection) then they play in the mud and splash in puddles. They have had picnics in the secret garden and once went on a bear hunt to find a previously hidden bear. When these children see the box of gum boots they get excited.

What I have also noticed is the excitement in the educators. It has given them enthusiasm for their program. It is a place they want to be, and they all agree that the children are happy and relaxed in the bush. This age group has their own outdoor yard, adjacent to the bush and a panel of fence was replaced with see-through fencing because the younger children wanted to watch the older children when the preschoolers were in the bush.

The preschoolers are of course more adventurous. There is space for their energy and running. They love to use their imagination and the cut logs become the pirate ship, the palm fronds become the boats that they use to slide down the huge pile of bark chip. They play games with sticks and stones and educators are more relaxed. Whereas in the main centre playground educators would discourage games with sticks, in the bush they would just remind the children about safety and there have been no accidents.

All educators have reflected that the children are relaxed and co-operative. The same group of children that while inside were irritable and not getting on, in the bush are friendly and helpful to each other. There appears to be something for everyone. Children use their imagination and do not miss the “toys” inside.

What the educators have noticed is what the research is telling us, that is that an outdoor program builds the children’s resilience and that with the support of educators the children respond positively to the challenges and risk-taking opportunities that arise.

Last year the pre-schoolers progressed to a bush day on Tuesday. Here the children spend most of the day in the bush. They still had the opportunity to go bike riding and to our gym but most of the day is in the bush. Lunch comes to the bush in lunch boxes. Often paints and drawing materials are taken but not the usual inside toys. There was an emphasis on bush craft.

Some of the experiences were making boats and filling a dry creek bed with a small tarp and water to make a dam, weaving, making a maze to find hidden objects (just like Bago Maze near here) and lots of games.

They love mud cooking and a mud kitchen is planned and so is cooking on a real fire one day. Of course a risk assessment will be done and ratios considered but we are sure that we can do it.

The children are creative and make up their own games. When you visit, the children seem to naturally form their own smaller groups.

All the groups visit the orchard when fruits are in season. Recently everyone has been grape picking and before that it was mulberries. There is citrus in the winter. We also have pets – 2 dogs, 2 cats, a rabbit and a guinea pig and the chooks are coming soon.

We also have our own gym and all children can attend gym sessions as 2 of our educators are qualified gym instructors.

We have always had a good relationship with our local PCYC. For years the PCYC visited us 1 day a week to hold kindy gym session with all our children. They brought their own equipment and would use one of our rooms. While this provided many great learning opportunities, we now have our own gym and can now offer gym to all our children. Two years ago, a gym was built in a huge shed. It has a soft fall base, climbing walls, mini trampolines, bars, balance beam and so much more. Children from each room can attend the gym session each day. Each group has 20 mins.  There is a small charge that allows us to buy more equipment and all parents want their child to participate.

And then there is the excursion program that has just gone from strength to strength.
Wednesday is excursion day in the older preschool group. It is the most popular day of the week and the first day to fill with enrolments. Parents often ask “what day do they go on excursions?” We go out every week and the parents are now used to the routine and ask me “Have I signed this week’s permission note.” I have been amazed at the wonders of our local community and how well received we are. You would think that finding somewhere each week would be difficult, but I keep finding new treasures.

Some of my favourites for 2018 were

  • The Men’s shed and watching the men work the wood
  • Burrell Creek Christmas Tree Farm and choosing our own tree and watching it get cut
  • Having an individual tee shirt made at Fab Art
  • Chinese New Year at the local Chinese restaurant and our children dancing with their dragon costume around the customers, then eating spring rolls at the table set up just for us
  • Watching the butcher make sausages and seeing a pig’s bum hang in the cool room
  • Visiting the local nursing home to sing at Christmas and Easter
  • Doing the shopping at the local Coles (and meeting the mums and dads who work there).

Old Bar is a small beach community and on many of the excursions we meet people we know, mums, dads, friends and that makes the excursions special. Sometimes we go on excursions to places that parents have never been (the Christmas tree farm) It was suggested that we have a “mum’s excursion” one time.

The children learn about the local community and they learn how to behave when in the community. They show respect for the people around them and extra respect for the elderly. And they learn so many unexpected things that I as an educator would never think, or know how to teach them eg how to make sausages (I am a vegetarian).

Yes, we have a very busy day, but the educators each know their own routine and as a team we co-ordinate to make sure we all share all the learning spaces.

On reflection, our service and the program offered has embraced the outdoors. The children have responded to the change and look forward to all the different aspects of our program. The educators also look forward to the outdoor

experiences and look to ways to include the outdoors in many ways. The vision continues with a fire pit, camping in a tent, open fires with parents and even an indoor swimming pool.

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