Favourite playground, favourite teacher – why sustainability means more than just worm farms
The team at Little Locals Early Learning, an early childhood education and care (ECEC) provider in Queensland, have a saying about the natural environment – “it’s one of our favourite playgrounds, and one of our favourite teachers”.
A big part of this focus is ensuring that children have authentic experiences in nature.
Children who attend Little Locals enjoy outdoor activities, excursions and child-led explorations of current environmental issues, as well as a variety of immersive sustainable experiences.
Activities like nurturing plants and gardens, growing vegetables, creating compost, caring for animals, interactive presentations from key community members, and exploring the local community in parks, gardens and forests are all integral features of the Little Locals program.
Educators are assessed and endorsed by Nature Play Queensland, meeting the necessary requirements to provide authentic, engaging outdoor experiences.
“Pursuing endorsement by Nature Play was a natural next step for us as we share their vision of promoting the importance of outdoor play and connecting children with nature,” said Senior Manager Sophie Jones.
“The endorsement process was simple, requiring us to demonstrate our Bush Kindy program and our commitment to providing nature-based experiences and opportunities for children to connect with the natural world around them.”
One especially popular way that Little Locals Auchenflower connects with nature is through weekly Bush Kindy sessions, which see the children travel seven minutes by private bus to J C Slaughter Falls, at Mt Coot-Tha.
When selecting the site for Bush Kindy, educators were mindful of not only choosing a safe and accessible site, but also choosing a space where the children could be active stewards.
“When we began Bush Kindy,” Ms Jones explained, “we also made a commitment to caring for, maintaining and protecting the land, working as a team to develop a three year sustainability plan.”
For children in Auchenflower, a suburb of Brisbane just 2.5 kilometres outside the CBD, access to nature is especially important, given the metropolitan context of many of their homes. When children attend Bush Kinder they are immersed in nature, engaging in unstructured outdoor play which allows them to use nature as a third teacher, and access running water, large trees to climb, and bridges and hills to run up and roll down.
“When we opened at Auchenflower, we knew Mt Coot-Tha was close by and that it would be an integral part of what made our service unique,” Ms Jones added.
“What started off as an excursion quickly became something much greater than we could have imagined.The concept really took off with our children, families and staff and soon we were heading out multiple times a week!”
Looking to the future
As Little Locals grows, and as the team delves more deeply into meaningful options for sustainability, there are plans for continual improvement.
“We have plans to expand internal and external training programs throughout the company to enhance the skills and knowledge of our educators,” Ms Jones explained.
“Our aim is to continuously improve and embed our Bush Kindy program across all centers, ensuring that we provide the best possible learning experiences for the children in our care.”
Building on the success of the Bush Kindy initiative some of the Auchenflower educators are exploring training opportunities in Bush Kindy through inhouse professional development opportunities.
“Maintaining a commitment to sustainable thinking is part of the DNA at Little Locals,” Ms Jones said. “It’s as natural to us as any other part of the learning day. We’re always thinking about how we can innovate, and what more we can do to improve our practices and support the children in our care to be the thinkers and problem solvers the world will need in the future.”
To learn more about Little Locals Early Learning, please see here.
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