Nature Play, Bush Kindy, Forest School -  what is the difference?

There is no real difference, they are just different names for essentially the same thing. Some centres feel that bush is more Australian and therefore call their programs Bush Kindy or Bush Kinder. We are surrounded by rainforest and it seemed more appropriate to call ours Forest School. There is however a difference in the sessions we offer. Our Nature Playgroups are 2 hour sessions with a heavy focus on free play, nature based craft, songs and storytelling. Our other programs including our Forest School sessions encourage children to use real tools, creating and cooking over a camp fire and other riskier activities. There is still lots of free play and child-led exploration.

What do children do at Forest School?

The activities that happen in a Forest School vary depending on the season, climate, landscape, the children are attend and most importantly, their interests. Some activities are usually provided, but rather than being adult-led, each child chooses and tailors the activity to suit them, while the leaders observe their preferences and development. Sometimes children will work independently other times will work as a team in order to create something, support one another, or solve a problem. What all Forest Schools have in common is an approach to early childhood education that focuses on outdoor play and fosters environmental stewardship. The activities are child-led and play-based. Children learn through direct experience, through their five senses and by using their innate curiosity and sense of wonder.

Are you an actual school?

No, we are not a school in the traditional sense, nor a daycare or kindy provider. We are a nature activity provider and offer both parent/child and drop off programs.

Is it dangerous?

Forest School educators are trained to risk assess both the environment and the activity. We constantly look for possible hazards and put control measures in place to keep the children in our care as safe as possible. Our job is to make the environment as safe as possible for children to benefit from risky play and experience nature in it's truest form. Some activities may seem ‘risky’ - such as climbing trees, or using tools - but they are in fact managed so well that the risk benefits far outweigh the risk.

Does forest kindy continue in all weathers?

Forest School is an all outdoor experience that takes place in all weather, including cool, rainy days. Layered clothing and good waterproofs and footwear will protect us from the worst of the weather.

Mentors are responsive to the weather conditions and how the children are managing. If it is raining, we can put up tarps for shelter and encourage active activities such as running games, building shelter or digging and sawing. We can also light a campfire and serve some warming hot chocolate.

We keep a close eye on the weather forecast and in line with our weather risk assessments. We only cancel if very heavy persistent rain is forecast for most of the day or if very strong wind is forecast, where there would be a danger of falling branches. Very rarely have we recommended individual children be collected as, despite our best efforts, they have become cold and unhappy, but by and large, most children cope well with adverse weather, providing they are dressed appropriately they often get the relish the conditions.

Can parents come with their child to forest kindy?

Forest school is just for kids we're afraid!

We find that children can behave differently when their parents are present and can rely on them for support rather than making new friends and using their own initiative, therefore missing out on the benefits such as independence, self-reliance and confidence. If you are concerned about how your child will settle into forest school, please discuss it with us as our practitioners are skilled in helping children integrate, overcome issues and find their feet.

We have often seen shy children or those lacking in confidence transform through forest school. We occasionally have special Family Days where we invite families to join us. Keep an eye on our private Facebook group page for more details.

If you are looking to engage in play with your child you are welcome to book in to our Little Explorer Nature Playgroup where parents and children from 18 months - 6 years are welcome.

Why can’t I book individual days?

The reason we offer full term for our forest kindy program to begin with is because of the nature of a forest school. Children gain from experiencing the full program and the repeated visits to the woods as part of a community of children, with child-led planning and reflection a key feature of the forest school approach.

Children who miss days miss some of that development and it undermines the dynamic to have different children attending on different days. As mentors we notice children may have to catch up if they miss the establishment of the groups and the ground rules on the first day.

We only offer individual casual days if spaces open up (for example when families are on holidays or need days off due to special circumstances).

What rules do you have at forest kindy?

The rules of forest school can be broken down into 3 main areas - these are to look after yourself, look after each other and look after the environment.

In addition, there are specific rules particularly relating to fires, tool use and tree climbing.

The boundaries within which children are allowed to play are also specified to keep children safe.

Why can children eat lunch when they like at forest kindy?

As activities are child-led, we allow children to decide when they would like to eat. This enables us not to interrupt their play if they are busy being creative or engaged in an activity.

If they begin eating at 10am we do remind them to save some for later. We also offer an afternoon snack that consists of a fruit salad, rice cakes with toppings and remind the children that haven’t stopped their play to eat their lunch.

Where do children go to the toilet?

Although we have a composting toilet at our basecamp, there are generally no toilet facilities in the forest. If your child is young or not used to the outdoor method of going to the toilet, it is a good idea for them to have a practice beforehand – especially if they will be dressed in an all-in-one waterproof!

We can deal with accidents and offer discreet support if children request it. (Please pack a change of clothes if this may be an issue for your child). For hygiene purposes we carry water and hand washing equipment for children to use after toileting and before eating.

What qualifications do your forest kindy mentors have?

All of our forest kindy mentors are qualified to Forest School Programme Leadership and have an up to date First Aid certificate and many years facilitating hands-on and transformational experiences for children and youth.

The lead mentors may be qualified to level 2 or 3, have rural or wilderness first aid certificate. A forest school day is usually staffed by 1 lead mentor, 2 qualified leaders and at times 1 volunteer. All mentors and volunteers are WWCH.

What if I need to swap days or I can’t make it?

If you know that your child will be absent, please let us know – preferably via text or through our private WhatsApp chat. Please note that we are unable to reimburse you for missed days.

If you know you will be away for an extended period of time, and will be missing more than one session, please let us know. We might be able to offer that spot to another family on a casual basis, and reimburse you for those weeks if another family can take your spot.

If we cancel due to extreme weather, a make up day option will be offered.

How do you minimise the risks and keep children safe?

At forest kindy, children are encouraged to develop their awareness of safety by taking managed risks in a controlled environment. We carry out risk assessments for all our activities and sites and have a range of policies and procedures for specific activities e.g. location, tool use and fire.

Our qualified and experienced forest school mentors carry out on-going risk assessments, assessing changing conditions and situations to enable all participants to take part safely.

Practicing these protocols with the children is an integral part of our curriculum, which cultivates important lifelong skills and the tools necessary for resiliency, self-sufficiency, and confidence — not only in the wilderness but in everyday life.

Risks are minimised, but they can’t be eliminated. The occasional cut, bruise or bump are part of forest school and need to be balanced against the many benefits including learning through exploration, gaining independence, self-confidence and enjoyment. We keep a record of accidents and near misses to inform parents and help us with our future risk assessments.