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Bush playgroup brings city children back to nature

ALEXANDRIA: Young children are venturing to the bush and learning to take beneficial risks, thanks to Bush Balance that meets at Sydney Park.

Bush Balance is an outdoors, all weather playgroup for young children aged between 0 and 8, and their carers.

Founder Deborah Wood said that outdoor play provides children with natural learning.

“As our playgrounds become safer … children just aren’t getting an opportunity to learn that if they stand on a rock it’s going to wobble and they’re going to have to keep their balance,” she said.

“The outdoors gives you natural learning. Your eyes are drawn upwards when you hear a bird, so your eyes look further than if you were indoors and that’s good to develop your eyesight.”

Ms Wood, who is an early childhood teacher with 15 years of experience working with children, also believes it’s important for children to take risks that are beneficial.

“Risky play allows children to develop skills … if we give children too many rules, they don’t get to develop that thinking process of ‘what will happen if I walk onto this [tree] limb, will I fall down?’,” she said.

“It’s taking a risk that’s beneficial to help them learn how to problem solve and learn how to keep themselves safe without risking major injury.”

Each playgroup session begins with storytime, Acknowledgement of Country and a short safety briefing, followed by an unstructured play session.

There is no set activity, so each child will gravitate towards an activity that appeals to them. They have the option to paint, hammer with tools, use a magnifying glass to search for bugs or play with a bucket of water.

“One little boy, who comes along each week, will greet me each time with, ‘I’m looking for clues’,” Ms Wood said.

“What he means is he’s going to pick up his magnifying glass and he’s going to search for bugs but because of the magnifying glass’ association he says he’s looking for clues.”

There is also a lot of teamwork that happens. One session had children hammering garden stakes from Bunnings into the ground.

“They hammered one in so far that we couldn’t get it out, so then we had to use the ropes to pull it out,” Ms Wood said.

“At one stage we had about 10 people, adults and children included, all pulling together.”

To ensure the safety of children, Ms Wood relies a lot on carer supervision.

“It’s not a drop off and I’ll look after everyone. It’s very much a hands-on for parents, so they need to be engaged with what their child is doing,” she said.

The children are also taught how to hold and use the tools in a safe way and told how far they can roam.

“We’ll say to them ‘Look, if you’ve gone so far that you can’t see an adult then you need to turn around and come back’,” Ms Wood said.

She also challenges the children to think for themselves by asking questions.

“If one child starts to climb a tree that’s very small and bendy, instead of saying ‘Get down from there,’ we’ll say, ‘Can you feel the tree moving when you put your foot on it, that looks very bendy to me,’” Ms Wood said.

Bush Balance began in August last year. Ms Wood, who also works as a private nanny, found herself stuck in lockdown with nowhere to take the children she was caring for.

With playgrounds closed down, she began looking for patches of bush. This proved to be a hit with the children and she began exploring ways to do this more often.

Ms Wood is currently looking to expand her playgroup out to more areas in Sydney.

Term 3 begins on July 20. Book at www.bushbalance.com.au.

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Bush Balance’s weekday sessions are open to all children aged 0-5. Saturday sessions are available to children aged 0-8 to allow families to attend together. Also see https://www.facebook.com/Bush-Balance-109640610811351/

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