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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 importance of handcrafts for brain development

Written by Jennifer McCormack and Narell McKenna, April 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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

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Acknowledgement of Country

Birdwings borrows a name from the Richmond Birdwing Butterflies the children saw, counted, and now work to protect. This butterfly is native to the area and belongs here and we use its name as promise we have made to the land.

Richmond Birdwing male adult Todd Burrows
Richmond Birdwing male adult. Photo credit Todd Burrows.

We acknowledge this is Kombumerri land and offer our deep gratitude to the Ngarang-Wal Gold Coast Aboriginal Association Incorporated for their generosity in sharing this special, beautiful and significant place.

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We celebrate this land, this culture. We acknowledge the wisdom and experience of the elders of the past, present and emerging and promise to respectfully take care of the land, to constantly learn as much as we can about local indigenous knowledge, both cultural and environmental, and to share what we have learned.

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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.