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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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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

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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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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:

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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.

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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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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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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.

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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

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Storytelling on the track: three ways to explore nature, culture and our relationships with both.

Oral storytelling is one of the foundations of children’s development of language and literacy. It’s also one of our foundation practices at Birdwings – plus everyone loves a story! Storytelling for us happens in so many different ways.

We share planned stories which often have props and scenery specially prepared. These stories we have written ourselves, or we retell from known stories and books that we love. They are chosen to celebrate seasonal change, to share cultural knowledge to acknowledge current interests of the children, explore relevant therapeutic themes or to purposefully share knowledge of local nature.

The children and Narell discovered prawns in the creek, so in this photo Narell is sharing the story of “Buding biba gawunga: Buding the deadly little prawn” by Sandra Delaney, a Quandamooka descendant. This story affirms and celebrates their discovery, adds new information about the behaviour and needs of freshwater prawns and shares their cultural signficance. The book is also written in Jandai language so we can have discussion about language too. Narell retold it with cloths for scenery and natural props for the characters. The children instantly began interacting with the props when the story was finished. Prop stories are a wonderful way to model the creative use of loose parts.

Jennifer often uses minimal props and just body gestures and facial expressions. This helps children develop listening skills, the ability to hold abstract pictures in their mind and to read body language. Here, Jennifer is sharing a Dreamtime story from northern NSW about the first fire. A scene set with fabric, and sticks were the only props. There were more cloths to represent flames, but these lay forgotten during the re-telling. As you can see from the engagement, this didn’t matter at all …

The stories come up again in conversations as we recall details in our daily work. Spontaneous storytelling frequently occurs along the track. These might be shared experiences told and retold while we walk, playful re-enactments when we stop to rest or eat. Very often, when we enter a familiar part of the track we will tell the story of what happened here last, or of what we saw, and then continue to share with each other what we learned, and what we’ve discovered since.

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And so stories become a part of our living relationships with each other and with our surroundings. This is the basis of Ecological Storytelling.

Birdwings offer training in Ecological Storytelling and nature mentoring. Check our schedule to see if there is training coming up or contact us to book a workshop for your centre or conference.

Ecological Storytelling Flyer - Birdwings

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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.