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The radical idea that will freak out all Helicopter Parents.

Image: Yarrawarra Pre school
Image: Yarrawarra Pre school

By MIA FREEDMAN

When I first heard about Bush Kinder – where kids are dropped off to be supervised in a park or bushland –  I assumed it was in rural areas where there had been funding cuts and indoor shelter was not available.

Wrong.

Bush Kinders are more of an urban trend and it’s city parents like me who are sending their kids into nature to play.

I love this idea.  While about 70 per cent of adults played outdoors more than indoors when they were young, this compared to only 13 per cent of their children. This was the research from Planet Ark that will surprise no parent of a child who is still at school.

“Go and play outside why don’t you!” is something you will hear me holler most weekends. I reckon I say it more than “Tidy your room”. We are lucky enough to have a garden and yet my children never want to play in it for reasons that have never been clear to me.

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Even my eldest son, when he was younger, would barricade himself in his bedroom with his best friend to play “mini cricket” with a tiny bat and ball, despite me pointing out REPEATEDLY that they could JUST GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY REAL SIZED CRICKET IN THE REAL SIZED GARDEN.

They didn’t want to. And now my youngest children are impossible to coax outdoors either.

Why is this?

Apparently this is quite normal. For a variety of reasons (fewer kids having gardens, more parents freaking out about children being out of their sight, more public liability issues prohibiting outdoor play) kids are overwhelmingly become inside creatures.

Which is where Bush Kinder comes in. Here’s how the website of Victoria’s Westgarth Bush Kinder  – who pioneered the concept three years ago – explains the concept:

Westgarth Kindergarten’s bush kinder provides a valuable forest kindergarten experience for 4-year-old kinder children enrolled at Westgarth Kindergarten.

Yarrawarra pre-school’s Bush Kinder program

A forest kindergarten is a type of preschool education for children held almost exclusively outdoors. Whatever the weather, children are encouraged to take the lead in playing, exploring and learning in a forest or natural environment.

Forest schools have been operating successfully in Northern Europe for over 50 years. Bush Kinder is the first of its kind in Australia.

Bush Kinder is a special part of a Westgarth child’s total kinder experience. A model to suit our community’s and children’s specific needs. It recognises the place the bush has in Australian folklore and the significance of the land in aboriginal culture.

It draws upon and extends the existing philosophy and pedagogy of Westgarth Kindergarten to offer a unique educational program.

No toys, No tools, No art supplies. The children and adults benefit from using only what nature has provided.

Outdoor spaces with plants, trees, rocks, mud and water invite open ended interactions, spontaneity, risk taking and a connection with nature.

How great does that sound? Bush Kinder goes ahead no matter the weather and while there is a portable toilet on most sites, there is no other form of equipment involved. Just. Nature.

Call me a crusty old codger but I have been known to bark this at my children when they complain of being bored, “Did you know there are some children who don’t even have any toys? Kids that have to play with sticks? Go outside and play with some sticks if you’re bored!”

Naturally, this always gets a fantastic reaction. They immediately look contrite and say, “Sorry Mum, you’re totally right. We are fortunate and privileged to have such an abundance of material possessions which we truly appreciate. But we would also benefit greatly from more time spent outdoors frolicking in nature. We will go and do some nature frolicking right away. If you’re looking for us, we’ll be in the garden, exploring our natural environment and learning to place a greater value on imaginative outdoor play.”

Ha.

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