Over the past few weeks we have had a lot of rain! Tassie put on its finest show for us and we encountered a weekend of constant downpours, unable to see the Sun for days. It was during this weekend that I received a message from a Gaia’s Nest parent.
‘She’s still at it’ were the only words in the message. This was followed by a segment of photos of her 5-year-old dancing in the downpour.
This is not the first time I have received a similar message from this family. The backstory behind these messages is simple. Mieke has been gone from Gaia’s Nest for nearly a year now, yet the lessons and rituals that are embedded in our daily practice live on well after she has left us. You see, every time it rains at Gaia’s Nest, we dance in it!
This practice was never something we purposefully initiated, but something that naturally developed over the past few years. As rain comes to Gaia’s Nest we do not see a rush of bodies indoors nor hear the calls from adults to quickly get out of the rain. Instead we see the children rush to get the speaker and hear the calls for ‘Rain dance! Rain dance!’ filling the air. Children and educators alike, gather together and dance to all songs about rain. Usually, this dance session runs until the rains stop or until we are too tired. We splash, we stomp, and we celebrate the rain for all the good it brings to us.
The concept of why we need rain and where all our water comes from is often foreign knowledge to children. Many children are unaware of the originating source of things that keep them alive. Whether this be clothes, food, water or shelter, to a child, it all just magically appears for them. Out of a pipe or from a shop, they don't know the origins of it and teaching them these origins and a sense of appreciation for it is a vital aspect of ensuring the future of our planet is left in knowledgeable hands. When we are deeply connected to the seasons, we begin to understand how interconnected each aspect of nature is. Wind helps the seeds to be transported, the Sun and rain support the plants to grow and Autumn creates compost into the soil, as plants die down for the Winter, only to begin the process all over again come Spring. Within this knowledge, our children begin to understand how interconnected and delicate our ecosystems are and how important each aspect of nature is in the fragile workings of the Earth.
In addition to the deeper understanding we can give children to help them appreciate the rain, there is also another reason we celebrate it. Initially when I saw those beautiful photos full of excitement, glee and timelessness, I recalled a quote I have often seen floated around on the net.
“Encouraging a child to go outside in all-weather builds resilience, but more importantly it saves them from spending their life merely tolerating the “bad” days in favour of a handful of “good” ones. – a life of endless expectations and conditions where happiness hinges on sunshine.” - Nicolette Sowder
I don't need a study to tell you how important rain is to our environment but these days there are several studies and research being undertaken on the increases of adverse health in children’s anxiety levels. A lot of this is to do with our fast-paced society where we have so much scheduled in our days, that the slightest change or interference in that schedule can feel like the end of the world. Many of these studies are finding that one of the main causes of children's declining mental health is that children are growing up in a world that is reliant on filling each day with productivity, instead of finding happiness and joy in the small things. Phycologist Peter Grey discusses the decline in children’s free time, stating that:
“Outside of school, children spend more time than ever in settings in which they are directed, protected, catered to, ranked, judged, and rewarded by adults. In all of these settings, adults are in control, not children.”
I wonder, what happens when that control is suddenly released to the child?
Children learn from what they see and hear. Wouldn’t we rather a child influenced from an adult’s ability to be flexible and see silver linings, rather than adults who struggle to cope with the smallest nuisances or changes to their day?
So, when everything goes a little bit wrong in your day, you miss the bus and forget your lunch or your car breaks down, find the time to dance in the moment anyway, because that's what our society needs. If we as adults can teach our children to roll with the bad days and to be resilient when things don't go the way we planned, they will grow up less anxious and more durable, ready to face any challenge. Which I beleive is so vital in a society that is often overscheduled and focused on productivity.
I can’t guarantee what these children’s lives will look like in 10 or 20 years or what might befall them, however, it is my hope that by engaging in small rituals, like the celebration of rain on a ‘bad’ day, they will be supported to build up a resilience to cope with the unexpected and deal with whatever comes their way. So instead of trying to control every aspect of our lives, at the end of the day, we have to just throw off our shoes, turn on the music and dance a little in the chaos.
Above: More photos of Meike through the years as she celebrates all weather.
A few months ago I found myself in a parent information evening, discussing our nature-based practice with new families and families transitioning from the younger room. Across my centre, I have the reputation for being the ‘bush lady' and drive much of our nature program, a fact which had not been lost on these parents.
“So why do you love the bush so much anyway?” an inquisitive parent questioned.
I began to explain, and I’m sure I did a good job. However later that night I continued to feel like I could have explained myself with more clarity and perhaps I could have shared more of my passion and knowledge with the group as when put on the spot I felt like I didn't do the question justice.
Months later, I was still thinking about that answer. So here I am, putting onto paper the reasons I love the bush so much….
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed,
And to have my senses put in tune once more.”
Nature is a natural anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medicine. Many studies have been undertaken on the use of nature as a natural cure for the increasing amounts of children diagnosed with psychological problems (Louv, 2015). In an over-medicated world, nature is one natural cure we can’t ignore. Not too long ago children were raised on the land, they grew up with an innate connection to nature, as their senses were deeply connected to the environment. These days as most children live in suburbia, they are more connected to the traffic in the city than they are to the changing seasons or to the life cycle of a butterfly.
Researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark have published yet another study about the effects nature has on the mental health of a person, even right through to becoming an adult. This study took data from 1985 until 2013, from one million Danish residents. The findings of this study were astronomical, showing that even after taking into account varying factors of social class, family history of mental illness, living location and many more factors; there was still a 55 per cent lower chance of someone developing mental health issues as an adult if they had grown up around green spaces.
I see the effects nature has on the senses each and every day. From the young babies who explore nature with every sense they have, to the eldest of our children whose ecological literacy now surpasses my own. I see the deep connection they have to the natural land by the way they treat the tiniest of bugs, to the way they explain the colours of a leaf. This connection supports them in regulating their emotions and developing resilience and confidence. When in the bush, each child can receive exactly what they need. A quiet space for pondering life, or the space to run, jump and play, the bush provides it all.
“Children cannot bounce off the walls,
If we take away the walls.”- Erin Kenny.
When working with many young children, often in enclosed spaces, it’s not hard to picture exactly how busy and crazy some of our days get. However, when we have days where the children are climbing the walls, and even the yard feels too small, the bush is always the answer.
In the bush, the busy children can be busy, without the overbearing adult following them around to ensure they aren't jumping on the furniture or destroying other children's games. Year after year, there is always going to be a group of children that are very physically busy and appear to “bounce off the walls”. These are the children whose names appear on the roll call and make you dread a rainy day. These are the children that, when placed in the wrong environment, end up with the bad reputations and the negative labels. Many of you would have seen this kind of child before, others may even have one in their own house.
The bush changes the way we see these busy children. By giving them an environment and the space that sets them up for success, these children’s play nearly always changes from destructive, pack like play, to imaginative, creative, collaborative play. The bush gives them the freedom to play games that are inappropriate within the fence line due to safety, such as stick fights and chasings. However, in the bush, children are provided with endless provocations for their play, leading them to be more creative and need less adult interaction or interference. Some studies undertaken in Denmark even showed that when observing children in static, man-made, playgrounds it was those who were physically bigger who took control of the play. However, when observing children who played in natural settings their play changed. It was more social, fantasy based and complex. Here, it was those who showed high language skills, creativity and inventiveness that emerged as the leaders.
In this day and age where every playground is static equipment and children spend so much of their time walking on concrete in over populated areas, nature provides what children need most in their physical development. Nature is ever changing, the ground uneven, tree branches curve up and down and change in strength and width. The physical challenges nature provides allows children to experience a world of change and learn to cope with the unexpected and the aspects of life that are uncontrollable and wild.
"Since about 1955 ... children's free play has been continually declining, at least partly because adults have exerted ever-increasing control over children's activities," Peter Gray
It is through children’s independent play that they first learn vital skills that they will use their entire lives. In play, children learn how to make decisions, solve problems, use higher order thinking, develop self-control, follow rules and take risks. So what happens if children don't learn these skills?
Well, these skills are what children use as a basis for learning. Particularly in the 21st century, as society moves away from rote learning and into an era of self-guided inquiry, children have to be able to take risks in their learning and solve their own problems. Without knowing how to take risks, children are too scared to put their hand up in fear of getting the answer wrong. They are too scared to try anything new and their ability to interact with others is diminished.
Nature gives children the opportunities to learn these skills at every turn. In fact, recently I was visiting a primary school with a very high ratio of children with additional needs or traumatic backgrounds. Within this school, they had begun not only taking the lower primary out into nature but the upper primary too. They had identified that particularly with the upper primary, something had gone wrong for these children along the way. Their love of learning was extinguished and the children's social skills and ability to cope with the unexpected were practically non-existent. These teachers had identified that for the class environment to improve and to instil a new passion for learning in their students, they first needed to go back and teach them how to play and how to take risks.
Nature has so many other benefits for children but for us as adults too. I know I certainly feel calmer and more switched on when teaching outdoors. Through witnessing so many children over the years develop a love for nature and a deep connection to all that comes with it has proved to me why nature pedagogy is so intrinsically important for all children to be a part of. Which is why I will continue to advocate for it each day and remember to share my passion with those who ask.
Louv, R. (2005). Last child in the woods. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.
Svenning, J., Tsirogiannis, C., Arge, L., Bøcker Pedersen, C., Engemann, K., & Bo Mortensen, P. (2019). Residential green space in childhood is associated with a lower risk of psychiatric disorders from adolescence into adulthood. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Retrieved from https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/02/26/1807504116
The month of October….
During the last month of Spring we have continued to notice new growth in our yard and bush. As the green leaves grow bigger, and the blossoms bloom so does our enjoyment of bush days. We feel the peaceful beginning of our days as we slowly filter in, allowing for in-depth exploration with our peers and educators.
Spiders and their webs are everywhere! This is reflected in our play, our journaling and our art. Their webs shimmer in the Spring sun as the rain droplets from sun showers attach themselves to each strand of the web. They are more visible in Spring than any other season and most children enjoy exploring everything about their species.
Many children engaged in layered canvas paintings this month in preparation for the fair. Before beginning educators spoke to them about how to make a layered painting, using new concepts and words of foreground and background. The children first watched a time-lapse video of a landscape painting before searching the internet for inspiration and examples. When it was time to begin, the children sat on the grassy hill in the bush and used their surroundings for inspiration to paint many different landscapes.
With a heat wave hitting us in mid-October we enjoyed a few days of constant water play, practically living in our bathers all day. The children enjoyed using pots and pans in the water to investigate and explore. But most importantly we saw such joy during these times. The smiles on each child face and they rolled through the water, splashed and played was simply priceless!
In Big Bears, we aim to provide the children with nutritional morning teas every day, ranging from porridge or rice pudding to fruit leather and bliss balls. This month we have been enjoying trying out new dips and new flavours of pancakes. The children participate in every aspect of the preparation and cleaning each day and are valued contributors to the menu. During this time, they develop new skills such as measurement, science concepts, life skills and physical development skills.
Lastly on the very last day of October we celebrated a Halloween morning tea at Austin’s request. He was very detailed in the resources needed and the educators supported his request by providing the right fruits and vegetables to create with. So many children enjoyed the experience of making apple monsters, scary mandarin pumpkins and banana ghosts.
The month of September…
As spring continues we look for blossoms on the trees, greener grass and new growth in our bush. We begin to notice baby caterpillars, the sound of new birds and the way that the sun lingers for just a little longer each day.
As we notice these changes we see the children’s language vocabulary extended upon, in a more natural way than any classroom could provide.
“This leaf is light green, not like the one I found the other day, that one was a deep green, similar, but different.”
“Wow that tree is gigantic”
“No way its humongous!”
We support this learning of vocabulary by slowing down the bush walks, stopping to look on the ground, up in the sky, engaged in descriptive conversation with the children about all that is around us.
This learning then transfers into our journals and day book books, as the children describe in detail all that they saw.
In September, we were very adventurous and embarked on three excursions. The first was to Molesworth Environment Centre. Here the children participated in pond studies, bush walking, cave explorations, and damper cooking. On this day, we encountered some not so ideal weather as a snow storm approached. This did not deter our Big Bears, as they marched through the rain to head back to camp Peter (our guide) commented on their resilience and competent nature. He told us stories of grade three students who gave up half way through the walk our 3-5 year olds had just done and how they were unstable on the tracks that were uneven, consistently falling down and not resilient enough to get back up. Peter was so impressed at how the Big Bears cared for each other, helping each other over obstacles and sharing the resources provided for activities.
These are all skills our children learn from our current environment, skills that will carry them through life, creating adults that are self-motivated, confident, and strong-minded.
Our second excursion was to Sam’s house, a day of brushing, patting and feeding the horses. Here Imogen and Alinta were in their element, as they are our resident horse experts. However for many of our newer Tuesday children this was a completely new experience and with the support of the educators they were able to get up close and personal with animals they may never have been exposed to before.
Lastly we held a weekend excursion to Waverly Flora Park, for a morning of scavenger hunting and campfire lunch. For those that came it was clear as to its success, with so many Big Bear families joining us we mingled, laughed, adventured and filled our bellies. It was wonderful for the children to show off their bush walking abilities to their families and share to wonderful delights of playing in the bush.
Whilst back at the centre we have still been engaged in many of our own adventures, one being that we have found a new game called the coo-wee game. Taking a walkie-talkie each, the room splits into two, one group bush walking one way and the other in the opposite direction. During this time, we communicate through the walkie-talkies’ to assess where the other group is, often finding each other across valleys and large open fields. During this game we see how comfortable and well know the bush is to our children. They have developed an acute sense of direction, as they can always point back towards Big Bears or many other specific landmarks.
Our game has sparked many new ideas and interests. One morning Peter arrived with a postcard sent form his grandparents. On the front was some pictures of cassowary birds, together with many of his friends Peter discussed these birds, wondering if any lived in our bush. Later on as we bush walked the hunt was on to find a cassowary. The children searched high and low. They listened intently on the sounds coming from the bracken ferns, and they scoured the ground for clues, tracks and poo. “It’s such a mystery.” Lochlan told his friends, upon closely following some tracks that lead into a hole.
On our way back the discovery was made, a true Cassowary skull! Peter carried it back to examine with all his friends, placing it high in our museum to keep for further investigations.
Also on our journey’s we have made the most wonderful discovery of a cave! Just big enough to let three of four children crawl in, we have enjoyed hiding away and exploring all the rocky formations that surround it.
Lastly we finally found the perfect space to set up our giant camping tent! Together children and educators from all rooms worked together to set it up, celebrating by the whole centre having their sleep and rest times in it. This tent has given us the room to accommodate everyone who wishes to sleep outdoors and in any weather. We couldn’t be happier with it!
This month has had such a tremendous amount of learning, we are seeing literacy and mathematics everywhere, as the children’s nature explorations transfer into their stories, their journals and their games.
The month of August…
The month of August has brought us so much joy, as the days get longer so does our time in nature.
We have enjoyed frosty mornings, and sunny afternoons. The frost tickles our senses, we taste it, touch it, scrape it. The sun warms our bodies, from the inside out. And as it lowers in the winter afternoons it changes the way our bush looks, as glowing shadows appear all around us.
We continue to enjoy our bush days, and whenever the weather is warm enough we enjoy a bush sleep. On a few sunny days recently even our Baby Bear friends have come to join us. As five or six babies settle down to sleep in-between our Big Bears we see such enjoyment from siblings and friends, so grateful for each other’s company. When the Baby Bears wake they are taken down to the campfire zone to play and our Big Bears do such a wonderful job of caring for them during this time.
Pallet play has continued, as Barclay’s family and Kirsty. J made a large delivery of them. The children all worked together to lift the pallets off the Utes, and carry them to their new location. Stacking them, cutting them, nailing them, the children have enjoyed creating many new items with these resources.
In the first week of August many Big Bears enjoyed working together to build a cubby house at the top of the hill. Equipped with a letterbox, bucket and pully, window and much more, the children really created something worth showing off. As the educators watched on and supported the children it was wonderful to see so many creative inputs into the design of the cubby. During this experience educators realised how extremely well the Big Bears now hammer, and it became apparent that the new challenge they are trying to concur is knot tying, as rope became a favourite building resource.
Last year Sarah found a totem tennis game at a garage sale for us. After sitting forgotten in the shed for nearly a year we have set this game up in the bush.
With the addition of the Totem Tennis set many children have found a connection to their home environment and will spend endless time playing Totem Tennis with each other.
Swinging a racket is a simple way for your dominant hand to spontaneously cross the midline. The ability to cross the midline is important on the physical level as well as on the brain level.
Just like last month we have been enjoying the muddiest part of the bush, slipping, sliding and simply immersing our senses in it. One very rainy day we saw the river running very heavily! Unable to contain ourselves we jumped right in, some children even lying down in the river!
On this particular day we have a group of international TAFE students join us, coming along to see what childcare in Australia looks like. Boy, oh boy did we ever show them. The students were simply amazed at how resilient, caring and capable our children were in this rainy, wet, environment. Always helping each other up, tackling whatever obstacle lay ahead of them, with such a can-do attitude.
Each year as the children’s skills progress, we begin to see more items produced that take up lots of fine motor and hand-eye skills. Sewing, weaving, painting etc. all fall into this category. Upon being inspired by other centers around the area many educators have banded together to prepare for the first ever Gaia’s Nest Fair. During circle time conversations the children were consulted as to how they might contribute, as their many, many ideas sprang forth. One of the top ideas was to sew love hearts, an activity many of the older children did last year with our educator April before she left for maternity leave.
Together, with educators help the children have been cutting two heart shapes out, then sewing and stuffing them. At first the children often need assistance, and an educator must hold the heart for them and direct them as to where they should put their next stitch. After some practice the children will end up taking control of the entire operation, no longer needing assistance at all!
We have been very busy for this fair, rolling felt balls, getting mucky, yucky hands for seed bombs, rolling in paint for a canvas and much more! As we work the children are beginning to take ownership over the fair, placing their special items into the office cupboard ready for selling, often pondering over who might buy it.
Next month we look forward to our excursions to Molesworth and Sam’s house, along with more fair preparations!
Its been a while since we've created a new blog - busy times have been had. We've finally completed the construction of our long awaited new baby room and whilst we are still awaiting some finishing touches our new space is as peaceful and nurturing as we could have hoped. New educators have complemented our existing team perfectly, bringing their own uniqueness and talents to our extended family as we share our days together. The year ahead feels positive and we are all excited with whatever our days may bring.
Our Autumn weather has been divine as the days begin and end with a coolness but bless us with the suns warmth during the middle of the day, allowing us to explore our outdoors in comfort.
Our Dwarf Peach tree fruited about 6 peaches for us. Our chickens are still laying and our vegetable garden is about to receive a new dose of love, getting ready for planting our Winter veggies.
We look forward to the year ahead. xx
Equipped with the right clothing and we can explore everywhere, even when its raining. Our bush changes colour, it smells different and sometimes we can even smell when it's going to rain. Puddles form everywhere and our creek begins to run. Our Season's definitely provide us with amazing diversity.
As we venture on our bush walks, we discovered a paddock full of Shetland Ponies We met their owner one day and her family drew us pictures of all the ponies and their names. We have since written letters back to them telling them about what our days have been filled with. We post our letters on the fence with pegs and eagerly await a reply.
What an amazing evening we've shared with children, families and educators. Delicious rustic fare, a roaring fire, sculpture trail Bush walk by candlelight and a stunning winter labyrinth with candles laid by children and adults. A truly magical night set with clear starry skies and the moving spotlights of Dark Mofo overhead to make it even more enchanting. Truly blessed. We are thankful to everyone who shared the evening with us.
What an experience. Being a part of 831 delegates representing 81 countries is such a privilege. I've listened to some amazing speakers from as far away as Peru, Kenya, Bhutan, Belize, Scotland, Jerusalem, just to name a few. A wide variety of topics and stories from developing and developed countries.
All of our educators will be contributors to our blog. We really enjoy our daily reflections as we revisit our days with the children and their achievements and successes. These blogs will share the stories of the children and the beauty in our days. We hope you enjoy them!