The program, which was introduced at the Victorian centre in June this year, ensures children have access to the best play-based program possible in a safe environment.
Every week, a group of up to 22 children jump on board a chartered bus and head for Number 7 Park at Crusoe Reservoir, an area that is an important part of Bendigo’s gold mining history.
No toys, tools or art supplies are taken to the bush kinder sessions and children use what nature has provided them, in the rain or sunshine. The programs are inspired by the Nature Kindergartens and Forest Schools of Europe, including one in London which holds all classes outside.
Golden Square centre director Emily Gerber said her team had visited the nearby Spring Gully Kindergarten which holds its classes outdoors for three hours every Monday.
“They were fantastic, sharing their policies and risk assessments with us and providing advice around the best way to make this work for us,” Ms Gerber said.
They chose the Crusoe Reservoir Park on the advice of Ms Gerber, who has lived in the area for many years and knew it was a safe family-friendly area, close to toilets, but not too close to water.
So far, the program has been a resounding success with the centre’s parents and children.
“The parents were 99 per cent enthusiastic because it’s something their children may not have been able to do otherwise,” Ms Gerber said.
“We don’t take any resources with us because for the moment, the environment is sufficient. We have problem-solved by buying raincoats and gumboots, and spare clothes for the children for when they get muddy.”
A highlight so far has been talking with a Greater Bendigo park ranger, who taught the children about nesting birds and the importance of revegetation. The children have also taken part in a dog awareness program and will soon undergo a snake information session as summer approaches.
“I think in this day and age, children’s access to completely natural resources is limited,” Ms Gerber said.
“Having this time to explore and encourage them to use their imagination is really good for their development. I also think it’s really important to teach children about sustainability and bring back our learnings to the centre. We’ve even planted a little fernery at the centre.”
Lesson plans at the bush kinder classes are fluid and educators aim to follow the children’s lead, focusing on what they show interest in.
“It’s such a wonderful selling point for our service, but to be able to provide such a fantastic opportunity to our children is the best part. It reminds us why we do what we do.”
“The beauty of bush kinder is that it really is an open book, the possibilities are endless. So while we can talk about where else we would like to take it, as with everything else in our service, the children will be the ultimate decision makers.”