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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:

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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
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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.

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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:

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:

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:

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.


11 OCTOBER 2020, 10AM – 1PM



All images in this post credited to Cameron Neville,

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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.


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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

Birdwings Bush Kindy. Photo credit Jennifer McCormack, 2019



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Fun with friends in forest school

We love our Birdwings Bush Club, Little Birdwings Forest Kindy and School Holiday Forest School programs for so many reasons:


Children are developing a deep connection to wild nature,

plenty of nature play and adventure,

engaging physically with our bodies with challenging and risky play,

trying new skills,

all the learning about safety, self-awareness and well-being,

but mostly we love to have fun with friends in the forest,

and that’s one of the best reasons of all.


Birdwings Bush Club for children 5-10 years and Little Birdwings for children 18 months – 6 years. Multi-age, child-led learning in nature on the Gold Coast.

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Birdwings Nature Retreat is forest school for grown ups.

“We wish you offered a day for grown-ups!”
“Can we play too?”
This has been a comment we have often heard from parents as they enrol their children into our Birdwings nature connection programs, or asked by colleagues when we discuss our work with nature pedagogy. Since opening our children’s nature connection programs in July this year, we received repeated requests for adults to be able to experience the joy, freedom and creative connectedness of the Little Birdwings and Birdwings Bush Club kids – so we listened. Birdwings hosted the inaugural intuitive nature connection retreat in our special spot in Guanaba deep in the Gold Coast Hinterland.

1 Retreat 2018
“Botanical Wisdom” was the theme of this retreat, with the aim of increasing our awareness and intuitive connection to nature, held in an environment is so breathtakingly beautiful that instant connection to nature is unavoidable. The moment we crossed the creek and continue through the rainforest canopy to our base camp, we took a sharp breath in – and instantly sighed out in an exclamation of wonder and beauty. This is a healing, ancient and protected place.
Our movements throughout the day echoed the rhythm of our Bush Club day, beginning with a ceremony of connection and Acknowledgement of Country, preparing ourselves to be present to the learning of the Earth given to us today. For each of us on this day, the learning would be different. We traced the steps of our Bush Club children, walking the path to the waterfall for a play in the pure running water. We paused first for a deeply restorative yoga session by the creek, offered by our yoga teacher Angie Topham. A quick cuppa boiled on the Kelly Kettle, and a bite to eat before continuing along the track, then we were guided by our botanical expert, ranger Victoria Bakker, who spoke about plants with the warmth and familiarity of long-time friends. She introduced us to the healing qualities of red ash and bracken, we tasted wild edibles such as native raspberries, watercress and lomandra and we swooned over little native lobelia blossoms. We admired the strength and the resilience of the endangered pararistolchia preavenosa (Richmond Birdwing Butterfly vines) and discussed ecological balances: everything has its place and its purpose in the bush. We could not help but move into a state of awe and wonder, drawing our own metaphors for our individual experiences.

2 Retreat 2018
The waterfall brought joy and play as we embraced the cold water, searched for water bugs and living things along the creek beds. We were even graced by the sighting of an endangered Richmond Birdwing Butterfly, after which Birdwings takes its name. It flapped slowly up high and soared on the breezes as high up as the treetops, signaling our return to camp – a challenging route over boulders strewn through the creek bed. This involved moving our bodies in new ways, breathing through the challenge and keeping sight of the end. We arrive and were rewarded with lunchtime and a relaxing afternoon of botanical watercolour painting with our Narell and weaving in the shade with Geira Jen, both artists loving being able to celebrate their creative connections to this place.

The day was an opportunity to embrace challenge and let ourselves move through it with grace and awe. There were moments of deep connection, playful joy, relaxed meanderings and thoughtful reflections. It was a wonderful opportunity to share the inner work that happens in our nature connection programs – this is the work we don’t discuss with children, and yet we see it unfolding within them week by week. For the adults who joined us on Sunday, this is a journey just begun and we hope that you create regular moments to reconnect in nature play for yourselves, to continue this deepening of spirit. Let nature do this work with you.

We are offering this retreat again this year – you can book your place here

We will also be offering training in our particular style of nature connection – perfect for educators beginning bush kinder programs or for experienced nature pedagogues wishing to deepen their practice with restorative, healing mentorship.

7 Retreat 2018