Posted on Leave a comment

Confidence flows from Connection: helping children do hard things

All learning begins with a sense of trust and security. We cannot possibly ask children to learn something new if they do not feel safe or cared for. Connection must come first and through connection we learn about each other, and what we are ready to do. At Birdwings Forest School, we work closely with children through play, joyful moments, fun adventures and we genuinely enjoy each other’s company. We are walking with them, learning with them and have established a trusting relationship, so they know we won’t ask them to do something they aren’t capable of.

We love to mentor children – and we are SO excited by children’s own efforts – and they are too! This is why we encourage children to do all the things by themselves, and we are committed to the time it takes to learn. This is also why we ask our mentors, families and other adults to be aware that when we do things for children, or take over when children are struggling a bit (or reluctant to participate) – then we are actually giving children the message: “I don’t think you can do this, and it’s easier if I do it for you, so you don’t need to try.”

When things are done for children, we rob them of the opportunity to try it themselves, to act on their natural inclination to experiment and copy others so they can learn important things. Mentors hold space for learning and know that if we step in too soon, we also rob children of their opportunity to develop resilience to failure and disappointment.

In this way children become passengers rather than participants, believing that they cannot do anything about things that they feel challenged with. We then have passive children who have learned they don’t need to make an effort and have lost the inner drive to embrace new experiences. Worse, from a young age we may have children who become are used to having things done TO them as well as for them.

Sounds pretty drastic – and it is! It is called “Learned Helplessness” and it may contribute to other bigger problems down the track when it comes to mindsets for learning at school, and even mental health, self protection and healthy relationships as adults.

Schools are now working through the phenomenon of a noticeable increase of children presenting with anxiety and depression. New elements of wellbeing, mindfulness, growth mindset and habits of mind are being added to the curriculum to support all children with their self confidence and self esteem. These are life skills that must be experienced rather than taught – and they require a very secure relationship with trusted mentors to learn over a long period of time. SO much work can be saved at this point if only we can begin early, right from infancy, in helping children embrace themselves as confident and capable learners.

It feels mean to make children do hard things. Of course it does! Nobody likes to see people feel uncomfortable or challenged. It’s normal to feel like a meanie, but there is a bigger picture here. Its BECAUSE we care so much about children that we ask adults step back and trust children to find their way with their own abilities.

Let’s remember to separate our feelings from theirs. Children process experiences and emotions in the moment and are more likely to express big feelings freely in a safe relationship! All the joy and all the fear and all the big feelings. Attachment theory suggests that because they feel safe with us, children might give us all they’ve got! Isn’t that wonderful?

We are journeying together in their learning through a vision of trust and confidence. When our confidence in them falters, so too does their confidence in themselves – and so to does our relationship. You might feel like a meanie when you ask them to show what awesome humans they are, but it is meaner not to provide this opportunity, don’t you think?

Can we jump? Let’s do it together! Little Birdwings Forest Kindy

So, if we can’t do things for children, how do we help? We mentor them. We use humour and imagination. We do things WITH children. We work out which skills they need to get tricky things done, and support them through learning these skills. We model and allow children the chance to try, and also to feel disappointment or frustration. We share stories of our own experience.

It’s definitely the much harder road, but because we’ve worked on our connection, and they know we care, they do not feel abandoned. There still may be resistance, and possibly even tears, because learning is hard! We all cry when things are hard, no matter how old we are.

A good mentor will be a companion in this process, re-establishing trust, allowing feelings, separating their own feelings from the child’s experience. A good mentor will move through processes slowly, remind children they’ve got this, allow time to practice the skills they need, celebrating each little step forward until finally – YOU DID IT!

Trust children – small folk can do big things! There’s a general assumption that our small folk can’t do tricky things yet, because they are little, and maybe not ready. Any parent who has experienced the power and skill summoned by a toddler in a rage can be reassured they can definitely do hard (and incredible) things! But let’s not write off these skills as merely their a result of their random, Incredible-Hulk-like personalities. We can remind children (and ourselves) of their inner strength in the every day moments too.

Confidence flows from connection. We can work joyfully, positively and sensitively with our children in each moment: modelling, supporting, stepping back, repeat. It’s slow going, but worth it. Expecting children to do things for themselves is not simply a matter of saying “Do it”. It’s about working together to learn mastery in little ways. For example, putting on socks means learning how to use your thumbs and fingers to pull the sock up and over your heel (those tricky heels, always getting in the way!). That’s something we can talk about with children and do it together. Sitting close, their hands with with yours, talking quietly and positively and allowing time. It may sound something like this:

“You can do it, and I am here with you. I’ll show you again. Try it this way. Let’s do it together. Now you have a go. Look what you can do! That was tricky, wasn’t it? And you did it.”

We are helping without taking over. We are supporting while expecting them to make an effort for themselves. We are re-establishing trust by holding a safe space for fear and frustration. It’s such a thoroughly joyful and proud moment when a child has been practising something for so long (days, weeks, months!) and it finally comes together. Whether it’s learning to walk, putting on your own sock, opening your lunch box, packing your own lunch, or climbing up that steep hill, we see you!

Celebrate success! Children are excited when they can sense our pride in their efforts. All our actions and words express “We know you can do it, and we will help you by teaching you the skills you need to do it yourself. We know you worked hard to learn this and you should be so proud of yourself. We are proud of you too.” And when children realise they can teach others something they learned for themselves – well, our cup runs over.

What a team we make when we learn together.

Assessing risks together. Little Birdwings Forest Kindy.

To read more of our posts on risk-taking, resilience and learning for independence:

Posted on Leave a comment

Birdwings – QORF Outdoors Queensland Award Winners 2020!

Birdwings Forest School have been named winners in the Queensland Government Nature Play Community award for the 2020 Queensland Outdoor Recreation Federation Outdoors Queensland Awards. This award recognises our contribution to the provision of community nature play and green spaces of the Gold Coast, including our WildPlay Adventurers playgroups, our Community Spring Fair, Nature Connection Training and the ecological projects we continually work on as an integrated part of our Bush Club and Little Birdwings Forest Kindy programs.

While we are bursting with pride to receive this acknowledgement, we are most excited about recognition by the Queensland Government for the significance that access to wild nature has for children, families and neighbourhoods. As the Gold Coast’s first Forest School, this understanding is central to each of our programs as well as to our teacher training, and we will always advocate for children’s rights to access local wild nature places.

We want authentic, relaxed, creative and joyful play in wild nature for EVERY child.

Out Birdwings Forest School Community, Spring Fair 2020. Photography by Cam Neville, 2020.

This award celebrates the support and encouragement of our staff, children, families and neighbourhood, all of whom are an essential part of our Birdwings Forest School community. It is our joy to play with you outside in the Gold Coast’s breath-takingly beautiful wild places!

Our deepest gratitude we offer to Julie and Alan from Frost Farm and Justine from Ngarang-Wal Gold Coast Aboriginal Association Incorporated for the use of your magnificent wild spaces in Kombumerri Country. We are grateful for your vision, openness and the welcome you have extended to us for this essential work. We would also like to recognise our many colleagues in the nature play community. Our relationships are mutually inspiring and it is wonderful that we frequently connect, share and grow together to advocate for access to wild nature as a part of every childhood. We share a very clear vision for childhood and nature.

Together we create deep connections between children and their natural and cultural community.

Community nature play at Birdwings Forest School Spring Fair, 2020. Photography by Cam Neville, 2020.

Would you like to be involved with Birdwings Forest School?

There are a few ways you could support our business:

  • Donate to our Ecological Projects – this fund is used to purchase the resources required for our ongoing Birdwing Butterfly project and ecological restoration of our Forest School Site.
  • Become a volunteer – Our Adventure Club and Bush Club programs are an excellent opportunity to gain insight into the practice of adventure play and wild nature for supporting childhood wellbeing. Ideal for students studying education, psychology, counselling, nursing and outdoor ed. Conditions apply.
  • Attend our training – check our website and follow our blog or our facebook page to find out when we are offering our teacher training and nature connection training days.
2020 Outdoors Queensland Award video
Posted on 1 Comment

Community Spring Fair, 2020

Isn’t it wonderful that nature will always be there to restore a sense of joy and freedom? Despite the interesting events of 2020, we have flourished in our creek and bush play this year, and it was our pleasure to be able to share our joy with our community in our recent Spring Fair. COVID restrictions relaxed just in time for us to welcome our community into our Little Birdwings Forest Kindy site for a morning of Spring Celebration.

Jacob’s Shop. Photography by Cam Neville, 2020

It was an absolutely delightful morning! Our market stalls were run by local businesses and organisations but mostly set up by enterprising children, who put a great deal of energy and thought into their shops.

Pepper’s Play Area. Photography by Cam Neville, 2020.

Hand-made signs, hand-made products with a focus on creativity, fun, sustainability – and deliciousness. Their excitement was infectious and we loved to see all the happy customers come and visit.

Oscar’s Footy Game. Photography by Cam Neville, 2020.

Face painting, hand-made crafts, cookies, ice blocks and games put smiles on everyone’s faces, and some well-earned dollars for our Kids-In-Business.

Face-painting by Hunter. Photography by Cam Neville, 2020.

Locals families, businesses and organisations came to support our Fair. We love that our community value nature play as much as we do.

Delicious BBQ and home made treats. Photography by Cam Neville, 2020.

Families spread out across our site. They relaxed, enjoyed the sunshine, played with their children and explored the creek.

Families enjoying our forest school site. Photography by Cam Neville, 2020.

Children played, just as they should, with freedom and confidence in the water and in the trees.

Playing with freedom and joy. Photography by Cam Neville, 2020.

Simple play, nature play, every child’s right.

Experiencing this moment in nature. Photography by Cam Neville, 2020.

And our morning finished with stories pulled from a basket. Stories made of cloth and smiles and giggles. Stories for celebrating Spring and all the good things that come when happy people share space together.

Interactive, spontaneous and ecological storytelling. Photography by Cam Neville, 2020.

The entry tickets and donations from our Spring Fair contributed towards our Ecological Project Fund. Our current project includes planting Pararistolochia praevenosa, Richmond Birdwings Butterfly vines, to protect the habitat of this sensitive species. We are also planning to restore the riparian zone of our forest school site in 2021. This is important work for children to be a part of.

Our Spring Fair was also our Open Day – Big People in our play area! Photography by Cam Neville, 2020.

This is our Birdwings Forest School community. A space for families to relax in nature, to have adventures, to learn and grow together and to advocate for children’s access to wild nature, and the protection of local nature spaces. Because that’s where we are meant to be!

This wonderful community – together for nature. Photography by Cam Neville, 2020.

Posted on Leave a comment

Spring Fair and OPEN DAY!

Our annual SPRING FAIR and OPEN DAY is on again for Birdwings Forest School!

You are very welcome to come along to join us on our forest school site in Guanaba. If you are curious about forest school, or have always wanted to visit – this is the opportunity! This is a lovely old-fashioned community festival. We will have a tour of our forest kindy site, and market stalls with lots of yummy food, crafts, plants and some workshops. TICKETS to the Spring Fair are $2 per person. Buy your tickets here: https://www.trybooking.com/BFBBC

The funds raised from stall applications and ticket sales will be put towards two main projects: our Richmond Birdwing Butterfly habitat protection project, and our riparian zone restoration project for our Little Birdwings Forest Kindy site.

The funds raised will help us purchase plants and materials needed to maintain a healthy creek environment that will support native plants and animals – and play for the children.

If you are unable to attend on the day, please consider a donation towards our ecological work. Donations can be made here: https://www.trybooking.com/au/donate/birdwingsprojects

We encourage Kids in Business and many of our stalls are set up by enterprising children in our community. Come and support their efforts! You are welcome to apply for a stall at our Spring Fair (kids in business or local businesses with child-centered products that are sustainably produced and presented).

You can apply here: https://forms.gle/Wy526thfYtiZD8MK8

We will give you a guided tour of our forest school site, and answer your questions about how a full day of outdoor play works for toddlers and preschoolers – we see incredible benefits! Come and have a look.

BIRDWINGS FOREST SCHOOL SPRING FAIR

11 OCTOBER 2020, 10AM – 1PM

GUANABA, GOLD COAST

TICKETS HERE: https://www.trybooking.com/BFBBC

All images in this post credited to Cameron Neville, https://www.camneville.com/

Posted on Leave a comment

What do you do when it rains? (and other frequently asked questions)

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 Little Birdwings Forest Kindy program – and with no surprise they are mostly about how we stay safe together when the weather in Australia can be extreme.

What do you do when it rains? We 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 put on our raincoats and boots. We put up shelters to keep our things dry – and then out we go to explore and play. Our creeks may overflow in heavy rain, but there is always plenty for us to explore and discover a safe distance away. Parents always pack several changes of clothes and shoes so we can get warm and dry when we come back. For sleep time, we are snug as a bug in our tent, wrapped in cotton sheets and woolly blankets.

What about when it storms? Playing outside in the rain is wonderful fun, but it is silly to play outside in a storm. We keep track of weather warnings, check the radar often, observe our environment and make decisions based on this information. We are a mobile program and so we may notify parents that we are changing sites, or in the event of sudden and dangerous changes in weather we will follow our procedures and evacuate. Very occasionally we may need to cancel the day’s program due to severe weather warnings.

Here’s a video of exactly how much fun we have in the rain, and for more reading on all-weather play have a look at “There’s no such thing as bad weather “.

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 near 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. Snakes and spiders are present with us, and most of them are non-venomous and completely fascinating. We respect their space 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 we 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 packed in line with our nutrition and sustainability policy, 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 (and messy or drippy food such as yogurt, soups, stews and spaghetti are a challenge to eat without a table). We encourage nude food, so all food should be packed without any plastic wrapping, 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. 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 will put up a 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, because learning new skills can be challenging. 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.

Adventurous play is fun – here’s what it can look like for us! For more reading on the benefits of nature play, read “Balanced and Barefoot“, and our own blog post on risky play.

My child has never been in care before. Maybe they aren’t ready yet? Almost every child that has started at Little Birdwings Forest Kindy 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, in the words of Nina: “It’s a bit funny!”

Posted on 2 Comments

The Tree Grows Strong, A Story for Reconciliation.

At Birdwings Forest School we enjoy many types of storytelling, but mostly we use oral storytelling to share our knowledge and experiences. We tell stories of our own experience, Kombumerri and other Aboriginal dreaming stories, stories about seasonal learning and our own play. Sometimes we use props, sometimes we use actions, but for this kind of storytelling we don’t often use books. We sit together and call the story in with our story song and let the story come. 

It comes a little differently each time, so we like to tell our stories many times and to hear our stories from different storytellers of all ages in our group. This way we see how the story grows, and what new things we can learn from each other. At the moment we are using a special felted mat that we made to show children where they live on Kombumerri Country (Gold Coast). From the mountains, down the rivers, to the sea, we all live here together – and there are many stories to share about this land. 

Felted map of Kombumerri Country. Image by Birdwings Forest School.

The story we have been telling this week had called to us from a tree that we love to play in with our WildPlay Adventurers Playgroup. This is a HUGE fig tree!! We love to sit under it, to climb it and be cradled in its branches. We love to be brave and shimmy out as far as we can on the strong, thick limbs, and to throw ropes over those limbs to make swings. We look at it and wonder how old it is – surely it was here before there were houses and roads and parks and farms. Surely this old tree has seen a lot of life come and go over the years it has been standing there. Maybe it was a sapling when it was just the Kombumerri and Bullongin people coming past to meet and trade with each other on the Coomera River. This old tree has many stories to tell, and we listened and wondered while we played.

Connecting to Country with WIldPlay Adventurers Playgroups. Photo by Birdwings Forest School.

It’s National Reconciliation Week starting next Wednesday 27 May, and maybe you will like this story too, because Reconciliation Week is all about celebrating shared histories and having honest conversations with children and the community. We’ve had many thoughtful discussions with our Little Birdwings Forest Kindy friends about colonisation, and we’ve explored questions from the children such as: When the white people come, did they put the Aboriginal people on ships and send them away? What did Aboriginal people wear before white people brought clothes like ours? Why did some of the Aboriginal people go away when the white people came? Why did some die? Did white people die too? Who made the world before the Aboriginal people lived here? We’ve continued these conversions during our storytimes, while we walk in the bush, over our craft times, making some felt bag tags in the colours of the Aboriginal Flag. As we explored the significance of the flag colours, elements of the story came to mind for the children, and so we talked. 

Yarning about Country and Colonisation with our Little Birdwings. Photo by Birdwings Forest School

THE TREE GROWS STRONG

Written by Narell Neville and Jennifer McCormack, May 2019

Long long ago, a little seed floated down the Coomera River. It came from the rainforest and got wedged in the sand, the mud and the silt on a corner of the river. The little seed thought this was a good spot to stay, and so it grew. The wind and rain and sun made it grow, and grow strong. It grew so big that over time its branches stretched far along the river, up to sky and across the grass.

And the tree grew strong.

It saw many things, this tree. It saw the Kombumerri people go up and down the river: catching fish, eating, living, farming, playing. It saw the Kombumerri families meeting and trading with the Bullongin clan who lived north of the river. Together, they took care of the land. Children from both tribes played in the branches of this tree.

The tree watched and listened, and the tree grew strong.

One day the white people came. They walked differently on the land, and spoke a different language. They started to farm as well, but to do so, they cut down the trees to make pastures and fields. They brought some strange looking beasts called cattle and horses. The white people told the Kombumerri and the Bullogin people that they could not farm, or live, or pass through this area any more. This was confusing. What did they mean? The white people said they would live here now. There were some struggles between the Aboriginal people and the settlers. Some people died, some went away and some stayed. Now, only the children of the white people came to play in this tree.

The tree watched and listened, and the tree grew strong.

After the struggles there were no more Bullongin people, but many of the Kombumerri stayed. Kombumerri and other Aboriginal people began to live among the settlers, together. They did their best to keep their language and care for the land, but it was never the same again. The tree saw houses built upon the farmlands, and roads. New families came to live there. The land was still cared for, but differently now.

The tree watched and listened, and the tree grew strong.

Today, children from many different families and from many different places play in this tree together. And today, the tree is as big as you can see and always children will play here. They can hear the tree’s stories and the tree has told them how to look after the land carefully, as the Kombumerri people still do. The tree remembers everything that has happened since it was a tiny seed – and it shares its story with you. Do you hear it?

And the tree grows strong.

Under the big fig tree

You, and me

We are playing happily

Under the big fig tree

Birdwings Forest School offer training in Ecological Storytelling. We are very happy to come to your service and work with your educators, or you can come to us and learn on site at our Forest School. See our training page for details.

Photo by Birdwings Forest School