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The Benefits of Outdoor Play for Babies

Written by Narell Neville, September 2019

Outdoor experiences are an important part of children’s healthy development. Babies love being outdoors: a whole wide world of sensory discovery awaits! So much to see, hear, touch and experience. So much to learn. These experiences are enhanced when adults are on hand to ensure safe environments, communicate and interpret their experiences and scaffold their learning.

We particularly love playing with babies outside in wild nature.  Infants have opportunities to move freely outdoors, to grasp objects, kick legs and crawl. Uneven surfaces mean children quickly gain benefits in their balance and proprioceptive development – their sense of self in space and foundations of learning to be a confident mover and thinker in the world.

Textures of grass, bark, crackly leaves and soft foliage can be explored along with building concepts of the wateryness of water, the difference between sunny places and shady places, a whole variety of natural sounds, and the directions they come from. Sticks and natural found objects become early familiar playmates, setting the groundwork for imaginative play in later years. Contact with microbes in soil and plant matter are known to help stimulate immune systems, and spending time in fresh air also encourages healthy sleep patterns for babies as they begin to understand the difference between night and day, and experience deeper and more peaceful rest.

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How do we care for and educate babies at Little Birdwings Forest Kindy? 

Nature provides a peaceful and settled space for babies to learn and play. When babies have the opportunity to explore the natural world with their caregivers, they begin to associate being outdoors with secure, joyful relationships, curiosity, exploration and appreciation. Such experiences create long-lasting sense of belonging to their world and their community. 

In our Little Birdwings Forest Kindy  and our Babies WildPlay  we have designed an approach and created a space to protect and celebrate childhood. Nobody likes to be hurried along, so we take our time, especially with babies. We slow down and make things gentle. We know it is important to take time and care in all that we do with our babies, to help them process all the information in the world around them. The world is a big place, and wild nature can be harsh. We experience it in little parts, together. 

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Little Birdwings Forest Kindy. Photo credit Narell Neville, 2019

A slow and predictable daily rhythm, small groups and high adult/child ratio means babies and caregivers can both afford the time to watch, listen and respond, cultivating opportunities for social exchange, relationship building and language development. We are not in the business of entertainment or structured learning. As educators and playworkers with years of practice behind us, we know when to act (or not act) upon a child’s response, depending upon the context and what we know the child needs at the time. When educators engage in outdoor learning experiences alongside children, this time and space of experiencing together ensures that children feel safe, and feel heard. 

Infants and toddlers are supported with a strong daily rhythm, flowing from one thing to another with repetition and ease. There should be no harsh adults bursting the play bubble, interrupting playful moments before they are finished, clapping their hands and calling out, “Come over here everybody, we need to do …………!” No, instead we allow play to come to a natural close and sing and tell stories to our babies all day: songs for play, work and transitions. Songs for sleepy times. Songs for joy and giggles. Nursery rhymes, made up rhymes, stories and conversation.

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Photo credit Cameron Neville, 2019

Communicating with babies

Communicating with babies is so important. In the absence of their caregiver, we need to be their number one and infants and toddlers must know we are there for them. If a new child sticks like glue to us for the first few weeks, that is absolutely fine, we’ve got time to wait until they are ready.

We build rapport with children through our body language. When our eyes are at the same level, we use them expressively to communicate, giving our full attention and matching their speed, volume and tone. We delight in their delights, we share the moments with them and they with us.

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Photo credit, Cameron Neville, 2019

 

Playing with Babies

We are funny and joyful and silly and playful with babies. Yes we play! We model play but we really like to play too!. Play is fun no matter what age you are. If a child plays in a space less than a metre from us, that is fine too. We can do so much playwork in a small amount of space! Play with children requires establishing a sense of safety first, and from this space children can feel secure to begin taking risks with their learning.

For babies, risk-taking might mean feeling the water for the first time or examining the texture of the objects around them. We can pick up something nearby and play with it. Or we can sit with them and dangle our fingers in the water. We can find a leaf boat or we can just leave them be.

An example of a simple play scenario is sitting near an infant with a stick on which I am threading leaves. I pass it to the baby and she mimics me, but the leaf won’t go on. I acknowledge this, verbalise what happened and encourage her to continue. She passes it back to me, so I return it for her to try again, and the leaf goes on. I acknowledge her achievement, she smiles and she keeps trying. She is enjoying herself. She is learning to associate outdoor play with safety, fun and autonomy.

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Little Birdwings Forest Kindy. Photo credit Donna Thurtell, 2019

Connection with Babies

We believe in babies and their abilities. Mostly we love the connection that comes by being with that child wholeheartedly. These babies and children are living their best life, the type of childhood you wish you had or in some cases the childhood you did have, one that you remember, the one you have such fond nostalgic memories of.

All children deserve the time and space to move freely, to play with abandon, to run and jump and laugh and sing. The younger they are in nature the better.

Birdwings offers a number of nature play programs for infants, toddlers and families. Babies WildPlay for infants from birth to 12 months, WildPlay Adventurers for toddlers from 12 months and Little Birdwings Forest Kindy for children from 18 months.

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Birdwings Bush Kindy. Photo credit Jennifer McCormack, 2019

 

 

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A Butterfly, a Vine and a Wish

Writen by Narell Neville, 2017

In a Bush Kindy deep in the rainforest at the base of Mt Tamborine. A place where the endangered Richmond Birdwing Butterfly (Ornithoptera richmondia) is known to live. The butterfly lays its eggs on the vines (Pararistolochia praevenosa) and the caterpillars eat this vine. However both the vine and the butterfly are endangered due to habitat destruction and a mimicking toxic weed. Here is their story.

At Bush Club one day in November 2017, we were relaxing at our base camp when we spotted a beautiful butterfly. It was very noticeable as it was so big. It had lots of colours on it too and appeared to be flying slowly. Could it be? Could it really be? I started to get excited, the children were wondering what is going on. Yes, from my knowledge this just had to be a Richmond Birdwing Butterfly. They are endangered, I knew that. They are only found in and around Mt Tamborine.

Richmond Birdwing male adult Todd Burrows
Richmond Birdwing male adult. Photo credit Todd Burrows.

Oh, I squealed for joy and tried desperately to film it. I missed iti but filmed the children and I discussing why the butterfly was endangered, why was the vine endangered too. What can we do about it? They came up with some great suggestions. From making pretend vines so the housing developers would destroy those and not the real ones, we would hide them in secret places that they couldn’t find. To making a contraption to catch all the butterflies to keep them safe.

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Photo credit Cam Neville

I told the children I would look into how we could get some vines to plant here. We then went walking as we did every day, way up high, halfway up the mountain where we spotted 5 butterflies. Wow, what an incredible day we had.

I then spoke to several different organisations which led me to Healthy Land and Water, who agreed to give us a grant of $500 to purchase the vines to plant for the butterflies. Finding vines to purchase was difficult, they are slow growing, don’t like to me moved or their roots disturbed and of course are endangered. Eventually I secured some vines from Mr Richard Bull who is the Richmond Birdwing Conservation Network Committee & Gold Coast Area Representative.

Spotting butterflies

We invited Mr Todd Burrows from Land for Wildlife and Mr Richard Bull to come along and talk to us further about the butterflies and the vines. We showed them all the cool spots where the established vines are growing, where we see the butterflies and where we think would be some good spots to plant. We were so lucky to see some butterflies too.

We then organised a big planting day where we invited the families to come along and plant the vines with us. Every week we check our vines and water them. They are growing so well. We even found a caterpillar on one of them. We will soon invite interested people to come and look at what we have done. We are so proud. We hope the butterflies thrive and live forever.

Now that the vines are growing so well and we have seen caterpillars and butterflies on them we know the vine planting has been successful. In fact it has been so successful that the Queensland Wildlife Preservation Society recently wrote about us. “The GIPA team work with an Early Childhood Educator who takes kindergarten children to the site to plant vines and learn about conserving the birdwings. These grassroots efforts are making a difference to the population and sightings of the birdwings.”

Phase 2 is about seed collection and propagation of the seeds into seedlings for future planting.

Planting

This project is continuing into 2020 and beyond. We have planted and nurtured many healthy vines in the rainforests of Guanaba, and are delighted to see a healthy population of Richmond Birdwings returning to the Gold Coast. In 2019 we were interviewed by Nature Pacific in an episode from their Back From the Brink series, specifically about the progress of Richmond Birdwing Butterfly conservation in SE QLD. We are very proud of our work, and of the children for continuing the project with care for the future.