An all-weather, outdoor early childhood program is a unique experience (but fortunately one that is gaining popularity in Australia), and one that comes with many considerations regarding children’s safety. Here’s a list of questions we are most commonly asked about our programs – and with no surprise they are mostly about how we stay safe together when the weather in Australia (and the creatures!) can be extreme.
What do you do when it rains?
We put on our raincoats and keep playing! We have the best adventures on rainy days. Rain intensifies our visual world with new colours, smells, sounds, and creatures to observe. The environment looks different and the landscape can change dramatically when it rains: puddles, mud, flowing water and little waterfalls where there were no waterfalls before. There’s so much to discover. We have shelters to keep our things dry, and parents always pack several changes of clothes and shoes so we can get warm and dry when we come back from playing. For sleep time, we are snug as a bug in our tent, wrapped in cotton sheets and woolly blankets.
We keep track of weather warnings and check the radar often so if it storms, we’ll observe our environment and make decisions based on this information. Very occasionally we may need to cancel due to severe weather warnings, or we’ll wait it out in our storm shelter on site. We keep in communication with parents so you know how we are. Here’s a video of exactly how much fun we have in the rain.
What do you do about toilets and nappy changes?
Many of our children are still in nappies and we set up a change area in a comfy and shady spot at our Base Camp to tend to their needs. Parents supply nappies and wipes as required. For older children we have a camping toilet available, and basic handwashing facilities. We encourage bush wees and teach children how to do this safely and with privacy. If we are on an adventure too far away from the toilet, we carry a trowel to dig a hole, but this is rarely required.
What about the snakes and spiders?
We love to see snakes and spiders! They are very interesting creatures! We model safe play in the wild with conversations, movements, games and stories: teaching children to love nature and be cautious and aware of their safety at the same time. We respect the space of our wild creatures and watch them with awe. Some creatures are venomous, however we rarely see them because they will keep to themselves, and we don’t go where they are likely to be. We always carry a complete first aid kit, and are never complacent about venomous creatures. The more we know about our environment, the better we can make decisions about where and how to play. We have extensive risk assessments for our exploring.
How often do you eat?
Three times a day. The children bring their own healthy food and we have a bowl of shared fruit salad in the morning, which the children have helped to prepare. We eat picnic style on the mat, so finger food is best. Our policy requires nude food, so all food should be packed without any plastic wrappings, and healthy food closest to its natural state. We encourage children to try new tastes all the time, so variation in lunch food is encouraged. We encourage children to pack their own lunch boxes so they are practicing skills for independence, decision-making and having conversations with families about healthy foods. The children drink their water at each meal break and in hot weather we have extra drinks to keep little bodies hydrated and cool. More information can be found in our food policy. Here’s what our fruit chop time looks like:
Where do you sleep?
We sleep outside on our mat, under the shade of the trees. It’s absolutely delightful to lay there breathing fresh air, listening to the birds, the wind and the sweet lullabies that we sing softly to the children as they fall asleep. The children sleep about an hour and wake up hungry and ready for more play. We provide sheets, pillows and blankets, and in wet weather we use our tent to keep our slumbering friends warm and dry. This is what our sleep times look (and sound) like:
My child loves to play outside but we haven’t done much wild play yet. How will they go?
Our program is adaptable to all children at any age and level of experience with nature play. We teach children the skills they need to be independent and confident, however having said that, it can be a bit of an adjustment for someone who hasn’t had much wild play. Learning new skills can be challenging. Our mentors are ready to guide, reassure and model with patience, love and trust. We see the greatest development in children’s confidence and resilience when they enjoy regular time active outdoors in wild nature with their families and friends (bushwalking, riding, camping). Children will settle quickly into our fun playful adventures when they enjoy adventures with their families too.
My child has never been in care before. Maybe they aren’t ready yet?
Almost every child that has started kindy with us has never been in the care of someone else before. We build a beautiful and trusting rapport with children and parents from an early age. We have a wonderful and gentle process to help children transition into care, but we have found the most successful transitions happen when parents are 100% trusting that their children will be safe and happy with us. It is very much a partnership that we enter into, and we work closely with families to support children’s independence and exposure to wild nature play. Children feel secure when they know their parents have trust in their ability to adapt and grow in new environments. It may be a process, but we will support each other.
I think the day is very long, can we do just half a day?
Our day feels like it goes by so quickly! Our play is so fun that time moves differently, and there is plenty of time for rest and relaxation between our adventurous play periods. We are very in tune to children’s needs and adjust our day accordingly. Every day is different at Little Birdwings Forest Kindy, and that’s as it should be. Our program is like nothing else around. We have loads of fun together, and in the words of our friend Nina: “It’s a bit funny!”