Educators need to think of bush kinder as part of the program
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Educators need to think about bush kinder as part of the whole preschool experience

by Dr Chris Speldewinde, Deakin’s School of Education

May 02, 2024

Bush kinders, nature kindys and forest playgroups are becoming more and more popular in Australia for children before they start school.


Teachers, families and even governments have come to realise the benefits of young children spending time in outdoor spaces like public reserves, national parks, beaches and even farmer’s paddocks! But bush kinder isn’t just about spending time outdoors, these natural environments are great places for teaching, learning and engaging young children in the world around them.


Despite their growing popularity, curriculum frameworks like Australia’s Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) have only recently come to terms with the value of these nature spaces. Providing clear guidelines for the current and the next generation of educators to follow when taking children to a bush kinder is becoming more and more important. This is particularly so when we consider that during a 15 hour preschool week, up to one third of a child’s time can be spent at a bush kinder session. 


The need for including educator training on bush kinder teaching and learning in tertiary programs has never been greater. Sometimes there is an inclination for early childhood educators to treat the sessions as a playgroup instead of an educational opportunity. This is an issue that needs urgent attention, particularly while bush kinder numbers rapidly increase around Australia and parents look for quality educational programs to enrol their children. 


Bush kinder growth is being driven by parent demand and government initiatives like the Victorian State Government’s Bush Kinder grants program. If this grant program fulfills its goal, there will be an additional 600 new or enhanced programs in Victoria alone by 2027. Therefore, we need to recognise how valuable educators and their approaches to teaching (their pedagogy) are in guiding children’s bush kinder learning.


Educators need to be armed with a good general knowledge to support the wide range of teaching opportunities in every bush kinder session. Science, engineering, maths, literacy, geography, art, music, and Indigenous knowledges can all be part of a single three-hour bush kinder session. As children go off in different directions at a bush kinder and explore the natural world of a park or a beach, they can become little scientists, cartographers, builders, engineers, writers, painters. So, the role of a bush kinder educator is one that comes with a skill set that means being attentive to a range of learning opportunities. 


This sounds like a lot for an educator to handle in just one bush kinder session. So, how can bush kinder educators be prepared? If we think about all the fun discoveries that occur, that often lead to teaching and learning opportunities, bush kinder needs to be more than a playgroup where children run around and play. 


Here are three ways early childhood educators can get the most out of their bush kindergarten sessions:


What’s the intention? A great starting place is for educators to think about their intention of taking children to a bush kinder. Great bush kinder teaching comes from knowing what children have available to discover in the environment. Children can do lots of literacy work for example, writing with sticks in sand or dirt. Educators can use the time to help children learn to draw letters or write out their classmates’ names in the dirt, mud or sand.  This is especially helpful if educators are focussing on children’s writing. 


Flexibility is key: Bush kinder educators can apply an emergent curriculum. An emergent curriculum is one that supports children’s discoveries. It is open-ended and allows the educator to shift in the moment what they are teaching to different activities that children happen to be engaging with. It is ideal for bush kinder teaching. For example, a group of children might see ants moving along a trail, carrying food. Educators can use an emergent curriculum to teach about ant habitats and behaviour or to count the number of ants or what ants look like. Flexibility in teaching approach is important for bush kinder sessions.   


Establish a teaching focus: Another approach to bush kinder teaching is that educators can adopt a specific teaching focus for each session. They can take what children have been learning at their regular kinder and build on that learning at bush kinder. It could be creating a weather chart in their classroom then spending time at a bush kinder talking to the children about clouds or rain or the wind. It becomes important for educators to think about how bush kinder time is linked to regular kindergarten sessions. Often educators can take what the children have learned and what they do in a bush kinder back to indoor or regular kinder sessions. For example, they can learn about fungi or animal lifecycles at bush kinder then look for examples in picture story books or paint fungi or animals during their regular kindergarten session. 


Educators need to think about bush kinder as part of the whole preschool experience. As more and more bush kinders are established, parents are looking for quality bush kinder sessions to enrol their children. Being able to move seamlessly between regular kindergarten and bush kinder spaces is important. Bush kinder needs to be part of holistic approach to children’s learning and we need to think about how, as part of a whole kinder experience, we can support educators to embed bush kinders into their programming.   

Learn more about Dr Speldewinde’s work here.

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