Unwrapping the cotton wool through nature play
A unique vision at Goodstart Red Hill has been brought to life through the centre’s Nature Walk Program, where children have been embarking on weekly nature walks to a local forest space.
As part of these nature excursions to the magical forest, children have been encouraged to explore nature and participate in risky play to build their social competence and confidence while learning how to be safe.
Goodstart Red Hill centre director Renee Mitchell said their centre aspired to create a safe, peaceful and natural environment which engaged a young child’s five senses, provoking wonder, curiosity and intellectual engagement.
“Our nature play program was born from a simple desire to encourage children to develop a love for nature and the world in which they live. The planning process was extensive, spanning many months and involved a high degree of collaboration with Goodstart’s national health and safety team and an educational consultant who specialises in bush schools and wild nature play,” Ms Mitchell said.
Starting with small mixed-age focus groups, educators led children to the forest where they were able to explore and connect with the natural environment while educators observed how they engaged in the space, identifying what additional support would be needed to take larger groups of children.
Families were also introduced to the space in a dedicated Clean Up Australia Day event, where the centre had displayed risk and benefits assessments throughout the wild space, and engaged families in conversations about how they played as children, and how it is different for their children today.
Before long, Goodstart Red Hill began taking whole class groups out to the wild space, from the toddler group through to the kindergarten class, with their little red wagon loaded with first aid essentials, water bottles and baskets for collection.
“Children and educators alike have loved letting the natural environment seize our imaginations and guide our play. Since beginning our nature play program the children at Red Hill are noticeably more confident and resilient learners, with an adventurous enquiry-based approach to learning,” Ms Mitchell said.
“Our track record with regards to safety on our nature walks is impeccable. Now in our third year, we have used one icepack and gone through less than a packet of band aids. Our children are capable and competent risk assessors and on their walks it is wonderful to hear them remind each other how to be safe.”
Goodstart’s Red Hill nature program was recently recognised through the organisation’s annual awards program, where they won a major award in the Safety and Wellbeing
category for embedding a culture of healthy risk.
On winning the award, Ms Mitchell said the centre was delighted to be recognised for their journey of ‘unwrapping the cotton wool’ and was grateful to Goodstart for allowing them to explore the concept of risky play to support better outcomes for children.
“We will continue to be advocates for children to have the opportunity to engage in real life risky play, through offering risk rich environments with the support of skilled and supportive educators in play-based programs.”
Goodstart Red Hill is currently working closely with Nature Play QLD, a collaborative organisation working with partner groups to encourage the Queensland community to value nature play, and support families to prioritise it in children’s lives.
Benefits of risk taking* and adventurous play
- Enjoyment of the activity
- Development of self-confidence and wellbeing
- Engagement with the natural environment and natural elements
- Learning through experience
*Source: Kidsafe NSW Inc.