RAIN or shine, keen children from Goodstart Early Learning Bathurst leave behind toys, books and buildings for their Bush Kindy session in Mount Panorama-Wahluu’s bushland.
The local daycare centre is one of the first to offer this innovative program in NSW, after seeing its popularity in Victoria, and similar programs overseas.
For up to six hours every Monday, the preschool-aged children have only the bush to entertain themselves.
Painted steel climbing equipment gives way to old gum trees, smartboards are replaced by scenes of grazing kangaroos, and sticks take the place of crayons.
The Bush Kindy program aims to boost children’s physical, mental and social development with unstructured play in a natural environment.
Even the most cautious children are thriving since starting the program in February, according to centre director Emma Kentwell.
“The children have discovered that paint can be made out of mud and water,” she said.
“Some have never climbed to the top of a tree or gone on a bushwalk.
“They’ve learnt different ways to cook food as we use a campfire.”
The perception of risk was one of the biggest obstacles to getting the program running, and the centre had to do thorough risk assessments.
“We were lucky that we have educators who were really keen to get the kids outside and saw Bush Kindy as an extension to what we’re already doing,” Ms Kentwell said.
Goodstart Bathurst has a large outdoor area at the centre, with a vegetable garden, chooks and an adventure space, but educators believe that the natural environment offers opportunities for children to take calculated risks.
“We see them as competent, capable learners able to make their own decisions about their play,” Ms Kentwell said.
“Being outdoors is about the unknown. Walking across a fallen log is so different from a balance beam because it’s not flat and they don’t know if their next step will be on a slippery or rough bit.”
When Ms Kentwell first heard about the Bush Kindy program last year, she and a group of senior educators flew to Melbourne to learn how to bring the program to Bathurst.
Since then, Goodstart Bathurst’s success prompted them to bring educator and Bush Kindy trainer Doug Fargher to Bathurst to train others in the region.
At a professional development day held in Bathurst recently, childcare teams from Bathurst, Dubbo, Orange, Forbes and Cowra, as well as a TAFE representative and a learning support officer from Bathurst South Primary School, learned how to implement the program.
Trainer Doug Fargher founded the Bush Kinder movement in Australia, starting with one daycare centre in 2011 and becoming very popular in Victoria.
“Parents are busy these days; children are busy. They have no free time, so it makes sense to build in time [to get outdoors] in an educational setting,” Mr Fargher said.
A good relationship with Bathurst Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) means Goodstart Bathurst can access LALC-managed land on Wahluu, between McPhillamy Park and the waste management centre, for the program.
The children still come home clean after their day of adventure in the bush because Goodstart provides coveralls for the children to keep clothes clean underneath, and will even do a load of washing if things get out of hand.
“The children have been waiting all year for a rainy Monday to see puddles and to see how the environment was different in different weather,” Ms Kentwell said.
“The kids’ highlight that day was sliding down a muddy embankment like a slippery dip. And the teachers did it too! I will forever laugh about that.”