Outdoor education is a priority for many early learning services. The rich experiences can make remarkable differences in the way children learn even after they are back under a ceiling.
This week we hear from a service that asked the children how to embed sustainability education into its program. CELA writer Margaret Paton spoke to Anmol Lohia of at Bambini of Lilyfield Childcare about how their exploration of sustainability with the children turned into highly practical and engaging participation in a formal local government bushcare scheme.
One day, perhaps when these children have bambini of their own, they will be able to take them to see how the tiny seedlings they planted and cared for have become a bush habitat that helps look after our environment.
An integrated, holistic approach to teaching and learning also focuses on connections to the natural world.
Educators foster children’s capacity to understand and respect the natural environment and the interdependence between people, plants, animals and the land.
Source: Early Years Learning Framework
Since June this year, the three-to-six-year old children from Bambini of Lilyfield Childcare, accompanied by three educators, have been helping to regenerate a tract of Australian bushland as part of a formal local government bushcare program.
With tools in hand, and a buddy system for the walking track, the children weed, plant and water-in seedling shrubs and grasses, and learn how their actions are building and protecting the habitat for native flora and fauna.
Based in Lilyfield in inner-west Sydney, the service caters for a highly urban community. Like most cities in Australia, many children live in apartments or small homes with minimal gardens. It makes the outdoor aspects of their early learning program even more valuable.
Each week the service takes a group of up to 12 children via foot and bus to a bush site in a local reserve. A rotation plan allows every child to ‘do bushcare’ at least once a month.
Brainstorm and sustainability audit
Centre Director Anmol Lohia says she and her educators brainstormed with children and the families about recycling and reusing waste before doing a sustainability audit.
‘Children conducted this audit while the room leader, Klaudia [Przybysz], led them. Our journey then lead us to discuss gardening and what this means for planet Earth,’ Anmol said
‘We asked how can we make Bambini more sustainable?’
See the slideshow for more information about how the program evolved.
Friends of the bush
This led to a connection with the local council’s bush care co-ordinator and ‘Friends of the Bush’ was born at Bambini. Anmol and Klaudia prepared for the outings by carrying out a detailed risk assessment, seeking parent feedback, creating an ‘opt in’ for the children to take part in the program, and securing weekly access to the council supervisor.
‘Among parents, the general consensus was what an amazing initiative for our children,’ Anmol says.
‘But one mum was a bit worried and I spoke on the phone and I explained what we were doing and she was fine, so signed the form.’
a vital role in awareness, understanding and engagement in the natural environment
What happens out there
The site they work on is about six square metres. It is close to public toilets, a tap, sheltered picnic area and barbecue.
“The bushcare supervisor tells us about why we’re planting ground cover that little animals need to hide under shrubs. She talks to the children about the whole ecosystem and the interdependence of each element such as the trees, birds, beetles, lizards, and so on,” Anmol says.
We did have a walking rope, but from our reflections found that a buddy system worked better.
Tooling up for bushcare
Each child wears gloves, they use tools such as spades, rakes and a watering can, which they all clean at the end of the session. They don’t work in the rain.
‘We walk through the park with a buddy and then through the bush in single file and teach the children there may be insects or plants that aren’t good to touch. We walk slowly to help them experience the bush,’ says Anmol.
‘We did have a walking rope, but from our reflections found that a buddy system worked better.
‘After we do the work, we clean our tools, eat apples, have crackers and cheese, collect our waste for our worm farms, the children run around a bit, then we walk and take the bus back.
‘It takes about three hours in total.’
Anmol says taking part in bushcare means the service is encouraging children to become active citizens of their community. It’s also playing a vital role in awareness, understanding and engagement in the natural environment, she says.
‘The excursions have been a huge success. It’s like we have our own little piece of Bambini Bushland to nurture and care for.’
Integrated and holistic
As a standalone activity, the Friends of the Bush program is a success, but it is also very much part of an integrated, holistic approach to sustainability education.
Back at the service, the children are exploring why animals are important to the planet. They’ve brought in animals such as dogs, ducks, rabbits and fish.
The mother of one of the Bambini children is a veterinarian and has spoken to the children about animal care, too.
View the slideshow above for more information about this program’s evolution.
Got a story to share from your service that could help others to expand their programs? Contact our editor Bec Lloyd.