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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Locals families, businesses and organisations came to support our Fair. We love that our community value nature play as much as we do.
Families spread out across our site. They relaxed, enjoyed the sunshine, played with their children and explored the creek.
Children played, just as they should, with freedom and confidence in the water and in the trees.
Simple play, nature play, every child’s right.
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.
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.
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!
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: https://www.trybooking.com/BFBBC
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!”
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.
This person will hold the following current qualifications:
Diploma in early childhood education and care
First aid certificate
Child protection certificate
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.
Challenges mostly come to us in our lives when we are ready for them. As infants we learn to walk after we have grown strong core muscles from rolling around on the floor, sitting and crawling. We are ready to move so the challenge is embraced. We learn to talk after listening to conversation and sounds around us, watching people interact socially and practicing the sounds for ourselves. When we need to communicate we are ready to try. Such challenges come to us naturally when we are in a place of comfort and ready shift into a new period of growth.
Sometimes in our growth we deliberately seek a new experience and at other times, moving around outside of the zone of familiarity is awkward, uncomfortable and requires a new skill set. New skill sets require practice. Practice means we need to navigate that space between what we know and don’t know, over and over again. One foot in the comfort zone, and another out, until we are ready to step out all together into a new space of learning. It sure does help when we have people to watch and learn from: mentors to guide and encourage us and help us reflect on our learning.
Challenge is meant to be a bit tricky. Challenge stretches us and asks us to find our more about ourselves. Challenge encourages us to reflect on our capabilities, our effort and our motivation. It hones our vision and it uplifts us when we finally realise that now we can do it, when we couldn’t before. Remember when that was hard?
Sometimes challenges come to us before we are ready. They take us by surprise and ask us to grow too quickly and learn too many new things at once. We might have to learn new skills as we go, and without a guide. We have to navigate a new environment that feels hostile and unfamiliar. These challenges will come to us in our lives – without a doubt! Children might greet such challenges when they are starting a new school, moving house or experiencing a family trauma. It can feel overwhelming, maybe traumatic. It doesn’t get easier as we get older, the challenges keep coming: learning to drive, moving out of home, starting new jobs, travelling, managing finances, being a parent, coping with grief and loss.
When those big challenges come, who will cope better? The person who has learned to embrace difficulty or the person who has had few opportunities to practice stepping confidently forward in their own learning? The person who understands that hurt, disappointment and confusion is temporary, and can shape us and teach us new skills – or the person who has never had the opportunity to feel such pain and grow through it?
As we cannot predict when major challenges will enter our lives, let’s encourage children to embrace the day-to-day ones first. Ask them to be responsible for their belongings, to pack their own bags, carry their things, do their own shoes laces up. Involve children in food preparation, tidying up and garden jobs because they are capable of doing this from an early age. Such responsibilities help children practice life skills and learn to apply effort to do a job well.
Let children have time to play outdoors with friends and without adults around. They’ll be ok! Allow time for children to address their disagreements before stepping in. Remember that we learn our social skills by being social – and this means experiencing arguments and disappointments from friends from time to time. It’s sad and frustrating at times. We are not responsible for our children’s happiness – but we can teach skills to reflect on empathy, emotional well-being, self-management and problem solving.
Let children feel a little pain. Let scratches bleed a little and watch the blood before it is covered up with a bandaid. Blood helps us heal. The pain of a bruise and the discomfort of a bump is our body’s way of saying “I got this! I’m healing!It’s going to take a little time so be patient!”, and we learn more about our bodies so that we don’t feel that again.
Children who are not provided with opportunities to discover their capabilities might experience every new difficulty as a major one because ALL the big challenges will come before they are ready! We, as parents and educators can be the mentors for children by providing a supportive challenge environment, and gently stretching the zone of comfort for children to learn that tricky things are not insurmountable: “We know its tricky and we know you can do it”.
“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.
“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.
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 beoffering 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.