Australian Reflection on the Course

This 'Reflective Diary' is from one of our students on the Victoria, Australia Course.

"With thanks to Chris and the Team at Forest School Learning Initiative for the knowledge, inspiration and facilitation along this journey."

Here are some of my highlights: With an outdoor and Scouting back ground I have always felt comfortable and am personally well prepared in a “bush” environment. Through volunteering with Scouts and working with various ages (5-18 years) in outdoor learning spaces I have experienced many anecdotal learning opportunities and have been witness to many learning outcomes and personal development as shown and shared by the young people. Nature based learning opportunities across ages is something I am passionate about with a basic hope that all young people have positive outdoor experiences, feel connected to the outdoor environment, and be prepared in both knowledge and equipment. With these basics, I know the learning opportunities magnify and social skills deepen as young people experience the benefits of the outdoor environment being an equalising space for learning opportunity across ability, physicality, gender and age.

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Often the young people are unaware of the developmental outcomes both physically and with reference to STEM topics. Discoveries and connections are made by “learning through doing and experimentation” and personal growth and confidence in an outdoor environments are also enhanced to the Adult observer. The value in outdoor learning is visible and indisputable. Formal forest school training has enabled me the tools to promote these values and belief in outdoor learning which supports these anecdotal experiences. The theory base of a Forrest School framework enables a strong link to be made with curriculum and outcomes to a more tangible value that is recognised by the wider community.

Forest School training has allowed me confidence to link educational outcomes of Nature Play to curriculum across age groups. I have been able to plan and prepare to expand the program from a facilitated parent supported playgroup into other pre-school age programs. Our next step was to investigate a pilot program for our SOAK (Surfcoast Outdoor Adventure Kids), this is our school holiday program for primary school age groups with ideas developed by a local Play worker. The program runs from 9am – 3:30pm, from our Outdoor Nature Play Space. The program is now an established program in the community known for nature based and outdoor activities, as we often include a camp activity in our child led day. ​Of particular note, the training has given me physical skills, systems and procedures, as well as the confidence to advocate for tool use in Early Childhood age groups. In presenting a facilitated, hence paid, playgroup we have found it’s important to market to parents and provide value for money. Some of the best outcomes for children are often developed through the totally unstructured free play part of the session, which the parents support. However, although our parents value this they also respond, and hence rebook, to the points of difference we are able to provide operating on privately managed land.

We provide adventures around camp during the term including visiting our low ropes course, wildflower walk and map geocaching activity. We utilise our fire pit several times during the summer fire restriction period for cooking and more often in winter for fellowship. The ability to add tool use to our program and extend our Nature Play based programs with a solid understanding of Forest school framework will be advantageous to promoting further play and learning opportunities. Looking to the future, some of our goals include embedding Waddarung culture. We currently walk along our indigenous trail and provide some grinding tools for chalk and charcoal however I know a deeper link to our local people would provide greater value and understanding. To extend our YMCA Kids Go Bush program, I hope to establish a forest school sessions for 4 year olds, and extend our Bush Kinder sessions, which are excursion based at the moment, to offering permanent term based sessions for 3 year old young people. I feel this will allow progression from the parent supported playgroup to developing age appropriate independence and real life skill development. I hope to continue to embed Nature Play into our School Group Programs.

Most school groups who camp with us are tied into one and a half hour sessions which has limitations however spending time at camp immersed in our Nature Play and Forrest School themes will have value, especially for urban schools. With passion for an outdoor learning environment across all ages and abilities, I reflect on my ongoing Forest School, Bush Kinder and Nature Play journey fondly. I can picture the confidence, physical emotional and social development in the children who have visited YMCA Kids GO Bush Playgroup and the interest that has been sparked even by our Bush Kinder single visits. Although single visits the length of time our school holiday program allows for joy and development outdoors. We have had a high level of repeat bookings both within the same school holiday and from one term to the next, the increased comfort in our bush settling is immediately obvious along with all the other benefits. I know I will continue to advocate for these opportunities and the incredible benefits they provide our young people of all ages in my community.

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