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
Posted on Leave a comment

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:

img_20190322_1124304130485148538267838.jpg

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.

66196298_2142929779340071_1160632001695318016_o

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.

Posted on 2 Comments

What does risk-taking really look like in early childhood?

One of the biggest hurdles to outdoor play is understanding the nature of risk-taking. We have found that the most challenging daily risk-taking children will experience in our nature immersion programs has little to do with wild nature play at all. Snakes, fire-work, water-play and tree-climbing are not as challenging for children as putting on their own clothes, trying new foods or saying farewell in the morning.

In moving beyond the security of our comfort zones where everything within is known and safe, the children have learned that each person’s zone of comfort is different, and that we take a risk when we step out of it. We learn about fear … safely. And together.

received_3102725796167792179959492357041861.jpeg

Children are very often much more courageous and resourceful than we adults imagine they will be. In our distress at noticing children’s discomfort, we can do them a disservice by not trusting them to learn and grow in this moment. We might even find that in our attempts to provide comfort that we are teaching children that they cannot do it themselves.

It’s hard for adults to see the strength in children when it gratifies us to help them. It’s even harder when children are expressing frustration, sadness, fear or anger because they are out of their comfort zone and learning how to be present with that. We don’t want them to feel sad or fearful and we want to solve their problem.

But should we solve their problems?

img_20190118_1011052298732492925661985.jpg

Offering bandaids for tiny scratches, carrying children’s belongings for them, carrying children when they can walk, packing their bags, opening lunch boxes, doing things that they can do themselves (or are capable of learning to do themselves) teaches children to rely upon others for the comfort, strength, courage and resourcefulness that we know is within them.

Do we make children learn tricky things before they are ready? No, of course not. We understand that risk-taking looks different for everyone, and is different again at various ages. But we will hold the vision for them that we believe they can learn, and we will provide lots of opportunities for practice and we will encourage a child to try even if it’s a bit frustrating. Learning how to try something new is often the biggest risk-taking lesson of all..

We encourage our other children at Birdwings to model courageousness for their new friends in these situations. When one of our friends is feeling uncertain, missing home, or a little scared of trying something new, the others know just what to say:

“Are you feeling worried? I miss my mum sometimes too. This is what I do to feel braver…”

“Do you want some help to pump up your courage? Here, I’ve got your hands”

“I never liked mango before but I kept trying it”

“Why don’t you watch us? Or try it this way instead?”

“We can sit together when you feel sad.”

“I’ll give you a clue. Watch out for this bit, it’s tricky”

img_20190117_105226_hdr2310072041283096101.jpg

In this way the children are acknowledging risk that they’ve already overcome and helping each other to greet challenges. They know it’s hard to try new things when you don’t feel confident in your skills yet. They know that these feelings are real – whether it is concern about leaving your mum, not liking the look of that spider, the feel of mud on your toes, not wanting to eat that fruit, or uncertainty of walking through tall grass. They all know the feeling of risk – and they know it passes because we are learning together in a safe space. They have felt it, and we encouraged them to step forward and try anyway, and they realised they could.  We can be present, and we can be kind. We know we are all capable of great things.

I wonder, if we never ventured out into the world and just stayed in our comfort zones, might we have had the experiences and opportunities to build relationships, confidence, resilience, trust and sensible decision-making? I reflect on these children, and myself, and realise how wide our comfort zones have now grown, and how happy we are in them.

Children can do it, and so can the big-people. It takes vision, effort, courage, community support and a lot of empathy.  Stepping outside is a challenge for both children (and many adults too), however by the very nature of outdoor play we are embracing the possibility of risk in children’s play. As we go forward together we learn more about our world and how to be in it – and children are learning for themselves about the magnificent things they are capable of doing!

Birdwings offers a variety of nature immersion programs for children,  nature connection and forest school training for educators and parents, and incursions and excursions for kindergartens and schools. Birdwings are available for conferences and special events.

IMG_20190208_111922.jpg

Posted on Leave a comment

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.

68965863_2170406869925695_948758649348554752_o

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.

61156788_2116744298625286_2464621954372468736_o (1)

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.

65611768_2135347496764966_7812408583571636224_o

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.

58711577_2099171003715949_6141483447195009024_o

Posted on Leave a comment

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

https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=450362

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

Posted on 1 Comment

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.

gfnp_summerfestival_sm-0003
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.