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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!”

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Position Available: Nature Mentor/Playworker

We are seeking a motivated, playful and engaged person to work casually as a Nature Mentor & Playworker  with our innovative and unique forest school on the Gold Coast. Birdwings Forest School have forged new ground in Australian early childhood nature play, and offers a variety of nature immersion programs for children and families. The position is a lead role in our Little Birdwings Forest School program, 1 day per week, and we require a very special person to join our team within this program. We are looking for a person with the following qualities and interests:

  • Playful disposition and a sense of adventure
  • Interest in a holistic connection to nature
  • Significant experience working in early childhood.
  • Significant experience working in wild nature with children.
  • Knowledge and/or experience of both Playworking and Forest school ethos.
  • Commitment to ongoing Reconciliation practices  and Anti-Bias principles in early childhood.
  • Comfortable with risky play and supporting children with learning for independence.
  • Moderate level of fitness to meet challenges of a full-day of immersion in wild nature.
  • Experience working in a service that supports an emergent curriculum approach to learning.

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This person will hold the following current qualifications:

  • Diploma in early childhood education and care
  • First aid certificate
  • Child protection certificate
  • Blue card
  • ABN

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This position will suit someone who has moderate fitness, enjoys being outdoors and is flexible with their time. We can confidently say that there is nothing like Birdwings, and our approach to early childhood education, and to forest school and nature play, is very unique. Please read through our blog posts, our facebook posts and listen to our podcast to get a sense of the type of adventures you’ll have if you work with us.

For full job description and details about the position please apply using the form below. 

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A healing story for children in the fire crisis

Christmas 2019 and New Year 2020 will forever be remembered in Australia for the impact wild bushfire has had on EVERY Australian’s lives. We want to share with you a simple but effective story we use as a base for storytelling to help children find some healing and understanding in this situation. We’ve used it a few times over the last 6 months. Here on the Gold Coast, our 2019 winter experience with bushfires saw the hills of the hinterland in flame with fires spotting all over the place throughout south-east queensland and smoke filling our sky. We shared how we supported our children during this time in our post “Storytelling and Trauma: supporting children in times of stress“. Our Gold Coast fires are under control now but others have swirled into a hungry beast that is currently stretched along the east coast of Australia, and in every other state. Now our Qld Rural Fire Brigades are supporting other states. As a nation, we are burning and hurting and it is all we can talk about.

Children will need to talk about the bushfire too. They will need to explore this topic in every playful way in order to make sense of the experience and their emotions attached to it. At Birdwings we use oral storytelling, drama and art to help children process the experience. Storytelling easily crosses over and carries on through play, and formal storytelling can also provide children with a stage to share their understandings. First, we model stories about fire by telling stories with simple props that children have access to in their place space: art materials, scarves and water. This way, the stories can easily  be played out by the children together, and we can observe and echo their play themes by reflecting them back with more storytelling. In this way we create new stories together, and also affirm our understanding of the experience and of each other.

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Storytelling at Little Birdwings Forest Kindy

The poem included in this post is a guide and a base from which our storytelling about fire begins. It is a simplistic retelling of a common bushfire experience and definitely does not reflect the devastation some children have witnessed. It does not need to. Use it as is, or us as a base for storytelling. We don’t retell it exactly but we tell and retell the story with props, with children acting, with art materials. We tell this story in a way that children are actively powerful in putting the fire out. They are masters of the fire.

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Storytelling at Little Birdwings Forest Kindy September 2019

We tell it with little props in a small landscape on a story table. We act it out. We use big shiny cloths of red and orange and gold to swirl around as flames, plenty of water in spray bottles to spray over everyone to make the flames go away, green cloths, flowers and branches with green leaves for the forest to re-grow. We retell it with art materials, and let the story wander and change as we hand it over to the children – for the therapeutic benefits come from providing children with the opportunity to explore the theme in their own way.  Provide open access to art materials and model how art can be used to express feelings and stories. Tell your own and then leave the children to engage if they wish.

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A spontaneous collaborative drawing between children aged 2 – 4 years. It ended up being a story about a snake who needed to flee the bush because of a fire. It left the trees and went straight to the green grass and to safety. Echoes of our conversations with children about our fire plan at Little Birdwings Forest Kindy have come through here.

Tell the story in your own way, take it and change it to retell what happened in your locality, making children the central characters, who observe what happens and take some decisive action. Set the scene: how did the children in the story know there was a fire coming? Did the animals flee? Did the children help care for animals? Put some animals in your story. Was it windy? Put some wind in your story. Did you pack the car and prepare the house? Make the children in the story do that too.  At this point you can ask your children what happens next, and let them explore it. Or you can guide them to safety and continue the story from the point of view of those who came to help.

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Birdwings Forest School 2019

When it is safe to do so, being playful with fire may be powerful here too. We use fire in our program, so the children we work with know about fire and how to be safe with it. In this situation though, it may be best to start small with tiny fires only.  Light candles and have children blow or snuff them out. Light bits of paper in a tin and drown it with water. When it is appropriate, try a kelly kettle, or a small fire in a colander or a fire bowl outside. Boil some water and make tea to re-establish a sense of purpose and joy in fire. Roast apple slices and marshmallows.

It will take much more than this to heal our nation, however young children need to play it out and make sense with it. We recommend any children severely affected by fires be able to access some professional therapeutic support, but in the meantime simple play is the greatest therapy. From Birdwings Forest School, we hope you are all safe and well and wish you the very best with your healing and recovery at this difficult time

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Photo credit Cameron Neville 2019

SUMMER BUSHFIRES, Written by Jennifer McCormack, 2004

The wind whips and roars, rushing by
The grasses and bushes are brown and dry
The trees wave crisp leaves at the sky
Bring us rain!

A spark of heat from rubbish on the ground
Is blown into life from the wind all around
Consumes all it finds with crackling sound
Bring us rain!

Quick as a flash the fire has grown
Animals flee from their burning homes
Fire fighters arrive with the water and foam
Bring us rain!

The fire fighters work hard, and do us proud
But now in the sky are big dark clouds
A thunder storm arrives, heavy and loud
Here’s the rain!

New little green shoots are given birth
Life starts again in the damp black earth
The fire was bad, but it could have been worse
Thanks to the rain!

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Photo credit Cameron Neville 2018

 

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The importance of handcrafts for brain development

Written by Jennifer McCormack and Narell McKenna, April 2019

We are sitting together at Little Birdwings Forest Kindy, perched on the rocks and logs in the dry creek bed, chatting and crafting together. We’ve had a full day of adventurous play outdoors, some food and a rest and now we settle into our afternoon, taking time to connect and create. We are working with one child at a time, lots of eye contact, quietly chatting about what we are doing. Another child sits nearby, watching our progress and listening to our conversation while they wait to have a go. The rest are sleepily waking up, or playing together in the background, or hunting for the natural materials they need until we sing out that it is their turn to make some craft. It the afternoon, but it could be any era, any time, any community – sitting and making together has always happened.We like to do this, to spend time together to make beautiful, purposeful things with our hands. Threading, tying, weaving, sewing, felting, wrapping, rolling, twisting,finger knitting, hammering, cutting, sawing, whittling – we use our hands in so many ways. It’s tricky, some of these skills, but the children try because they have an inner drive to make and learn, and its such a delight to play with something you have made yourself. The little ones watch the older ones with interest, and the older ones are confident and competent after their long time of trying and persisting, and now can be helpers and teachers too.These children are developing an inner awareness that good things often take time to create, and that the process of making is every bit enjoyable as the product once it is finished. The time spent in purposeful, often repetitive, activity is soothing. Women have known this since ancient times and still find solace, reflection and awakening in the process of crafting together. We know it too. We talk about our day’s adventures while we are making things together, recalling the highlights, the funny bits and the sad bits. We work and we chat and we reflect, deepening relationships with each other and our world, making connections. Hand crafting helps us return to the rhythm of our bodies with a natural grounding quality. It helps us tune in to ourselves, and who we are in our community. A beautiful thing to do when we arise sleepily from an afternoon snooze, after a day of adventurous nature play.Often it is tricky. We stop and discuss how to position our hands, how to sequence the movements, and we slow things down because our brains are processing so much: up, down, open, closed, left, right, over, under, though, around, back, front, inside, outside. Little songs help, so we chant them as we roll and stitch and tie and snip … 

over the log, off jumps the frog … open shut, them, open shut them … roly poly, very slowly, … around and around and around we go, where we stop, nobody knows ….

The finger rhymes we sing at morning circle, and the singing that helps us move through the day all come back to remind us how we can place our fingers and move our bodies. We focus on one new skill at a time but within that there’s so much to integrate: body awareness, directions, physical strength and dexterity, qualities of materials, language, problem-solving, emotional resilience, breathing. So much learning.

As we make these simple crafts together, we imagine these children walking confidently into their future, knowing they can use their bodies with practical purpose, being able to act on their ideas with confidence in their belief system of “I can do things”. They’ll know how to tie things, or fold things, to twist things and puzzle things out. They’ll know they can have patience for the process. They’ll know how to approach a series of steps, call on different skills or viewpoints, to fix mistakes, and work backwards to see where it went wrong. They’ll have an ability to picture things as they think about them because they’ll be makers and thinkers.

They’ll have a set of skills and strategies to use when they need to soothe their minds and bodies and to reflect. They’ll understand that mistakes can sometimes be unravelled, and sometimes can’t be fixed at all, and you just have to think about what happened and start again or let it go completely and learn from the experience.

Just as it is impossible for us to work without immersion in nature, handcrafting is one of our cornerstone practices at Birdwings. The process and the product of handcrafting and creativity are part of who we are and how we relate to our world. It is part of how we move through our seasonal shifts with the children and how we celebrate the gift of childhood. 

Birdwings Nature co-founders Narell and Jennifer are artists and educators. We offer handcraft mentoring to educators and parents. Learn with us the traditional skills of weaving, felt-making, hand stitching, and many other nature crafts. See our website for details of our nature mentor training

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Getting enough nature play?

We want our children to have a care-free childhood filled with special memories of family moments and playing with friends, just like our own was. We know it is a priority to make sure our children have free play time outside, but our lives as parents are so busy and childhood is increasingly scheduled, so that it is now difficult to ensure our children are getting enough nature play. Finding the balance between the pressures of modern living and our own values for freedom, creativity and play can be a real challenge families.

Children can experience the natural childhood you had – the joy and freedom of unstructured play with friends outside. We can help you! Come and play with us at Birdwings – relive your childhood with your own children at WildPlay Adventurers and Bush Kindy. Adults and children alike: we slide down hills, climb trees, splash in the creek, race billy carts, light fires and build cubbies. A couple of hours each week to be a kid again and enjoy playful moments with your little ones.

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If you can’t afford the time to play during the week, then let us support you. We can make sure your child has plenty of time and space to play, explore, dream and have adventures. Little Birdwings Forest Kindy will provide up to 7.5 hours in one day of wild nature connection for your children. There’s nothing else like it around – as the first Forest School on the Gold Coast providing 100% outdoor programs, we have families who drive from over an hour away to join us every week!

Attending once a week at Little Birdwings means your little one may have up to 90 hours of outdoor play time with us before Easter. Attending every week for the year means they will will very possibly have spent over 300 hours outside – through all seasons – playing, exploring, crafting, singing, snoozing, eating, discovering, sharing, communicating, imagining, creating, wondering and enjoying nature. Amazing growth and learning occurs when children have regular play outside, developing lifelong meaningful connections to wild nature.

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All this outdoor play builds up to being the BEST “school readiness” learning around. Through play with friends in nature, children become connected to their physical bodies, learn to embrace considered risks, become self confident and articulate. They are so caring and find ways to show it, both to each other and to nature. They can play without toys and tell the most marvelous stories. They can tell you about bush safety. They can sew, weave, paint and draw. They can tell you botanical names for things, and offer suggestions for how to overcome challenges. They can walk great distances over logs, rocks, through creeks and up hills.

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If you find it a challenge to offer enough outdoor play to your children, let us do it for you. We have options for every child.

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