What’s the difference in behaviour?

I was talking to a dear friend the other day about how different the children are when they are outdoors.

I have a few children in care that have some additional rights as learners and I am constantly aware of these additional rights. It involves me being ‘on’ point the entire time the children are with me. Yet funnily enough when we are at Gudja Kindy these additional rights tend to almost disappear as by magic.
I was fortunate to have had a conversation with a wonderful Nature Pedagogist Erin Kenny from Cedarsong Nature School and Erin gave me  the following advice.

that “Nature is the therapy’

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The day it didn’t go to plan

3/12/18

We only lasted a few hours at River Kindy today. The children were flat and lethargic. Despite trying all the tricks I have in my River Kindy book they were disengaged. So we packed up and headed back to my place. I was rather disheartened heading back as I felt somehow I had failed the children. It wasn’t until a few hours later that I realised I had not failed them but had in fact understood their cues and know them well enough to know when something just isn’t going to work. I used my knowledge to know today it isn’t going to work but next time it may be different.

Cedarsong Nature School

Today was a bucket list day. I went to visit Erin Kenny Cedarsong.

Erin drove my belief and philosophy in outdoor Education.

It was a bittersweet moment. Sad I had missed seeing Erin in person at the place where her heart beat with love and joy. But with joy at walking the paths she had and meeting her Sister Molly and some of the community that was Cedarsong.

As I stepped from the bus my heart was beating so hard and I had tears in my eyes. I was finally there. The sights and sounds were amazing. It sounded like the sea was washing through the trees. It felt like the Forrest was holding its breath. We walked through the Forest led by Erin’s Sister Molly and one of the teachers (I’m sorry her name alludes me) they made us feel so welcome. We tasted berries and made crowns of fern. I saw evidence of play. I saw the dried pond, the bakery, the theatre and the Monkey tree. It just blew my mind.

As we were nearing the end of our tour I heard an owl hoot, a crow caw and little feet and giggling voices. The children and their families had arrived. The Forrest let out its breath. It’s community had arrived. We shared a simple smile and a welcome and talked of Erin and Cedarsong.

I’ll share more about what happened next down the track. When time has passed and farewells and returning to the earth has occurred

My Story

I sat watching the children. They were restless and destructive. I know the deconstruction schema is a ‘thing’ so that didn’t phase me.

We went for our weekly walk to the library. The children always gravitated towards the park. Why weren’t they as excited about ‘Story Time’ at the Library? I wasn’t allowed to take them to the park. It was too risky. Something just wasn’t making sense and I was so dissatisfied with my work. There had to be more. I really felt the need to break out of this safe mould I was in.

I did some research and realised nature based early childhood was where I wanted to go. It made sense and I was certain that it would make sense of the children too.

It took me 12 months of searching before I started to find a model that fit Family Day Care. It was scary but I knew this is where I needed to be both for the children and for myself too. It would take a change of practise and a change in what I was taught Early Childhood should be.

I had started to develop my nature based Pedagogy.

I believed that children should be free to climb trees if they felt capable.

Splash in the river if they wanted to.

There were so many untouched nature spots where we live.

It seemed a shame for the children not to be outside burning off energy and directing their own discovery.

And how better to have children care about the environment than them being emotionally invested?

During my research phase I heard the words risky/risky play, children’s work, child directed.

Risky play to me once I understood it wasn’t about danger but about trust in the children to know how to keep themselves safe. How show them how to be safe. It’s about the adults in their lives managing the danger and them managing the risk. Rarely have I seen or heard of a child that places themselves in a risky situation become injured seriously. Bumps, scapes and close calls are all extremely valuable learning experiences. Bumps and scrapes teach resilience. Close calls help us to understand consequence

‘Children’s work is play and play is children’s work is a phrase I hear often and they are one and the same.

The work/play a child does is so incredibly important for their development and is exciting to watch.

One day I was sitting by the river with a child who was so deeply into what he was doing. He was lugging massive branches from one part of the river to another. I mean these branches were probably 8 times his weight and easily 15 times his length. Some would say he was ‘just playing’’ It is more than just playing. It’s understanding how the brain, ideas, body and how they see themselves.

Can I make this happen?

How do I?

What happens if?

How does it work in relation to… and so many more powerful questions. It’s any wonder children are exhausted at the end of the day. They work so hard navigating their way through childhood!

Child directed has been a buzz word for as long as I can remember. With invitations to play so thoughtfully set out that Miss 2 had spoken about last week were knocked down in 2 seconds and not revisited again .

To me child directed is where you sit and listen and watch. I don’t mean supervise but really watch what the chikd/ren are doing. If you are really lucky you may even hear what they are talking about. I tend to follow up a serious interest as soon as possible if I can. I give them the tools to move on with their current fascination. Otherwise I’ll gather the resources and next time that line of development appears I’ll introduce it. Having said all that being out in nature more often than not offers the children the next path from their interest.

These aspects all are integral parts of nature play but not all parts. Nature play is a living, growing, evolving concept. Not even the children know where it may take them. This is the beauty of nature play. You never know what’s around the corner and nether did I as I stepped forward into nature play based Family Day Care.

I really hadn’t seen any Family Day Care based services when I first realised my path and I certainly had no one to ask. So as I always do I put it out into the world to see what came back. Within a few months I’d found out about a Scheme called Inspired Family Day Care (a tributary if I spired Early Childhood). They were new but from what I’d read about their philosophy it was the direction I wanted to take. I emailed them and followed up with a couple of phone calls. We talked for a long time. After years of feeling disillusioned I had found my new home. Within 6 months I was registered and had signed up.

Sunshine and Puddles Family Day Care was born on 14 July 2014

To day leaving what I’d known for 10 year was scary was an understatement. It was safe and predictable. And that kept the children safe. It took me time to find my feet and at first I felt like I was drowning. So many decisions to make. So much had to change in my thinking too. It’s not like all the answers are all laid out for you. It’s different for everyone. You have to find your own path. So for the first 6 months I started working on my service environment. Sold my softfall mats. Slowly got rid of my plastic resources (I still have a few but I could probably fit them in one box if I had to. I started gathering what I saw as authentic resources that were sustainable or of the very best quality. I wanted things that not only looked good but felt good and had many uses. Who know that these were open ended resources! It really wasn’t a big thing in country New South Wales then so I felt quite revolutionary. Later on I was also to discover loose parts! Well that was the real game changer! All the things I’d always been told were dangerous and risky for children to have access to. Not to mention tools. As I became more confident in offering these things the children became more confident in wanting to use them. It didn’t take long until there was nails in just about every surface available. As their confidence grew so did their need to discover more. It was about this time that a wonderful Nature Pedagog by the name of Niki Buchan came to Bega and took myself and the children down to the River one icy cold winter morning. Surely the children wouldn’t go in the water right which would mean I’d have to go in with them? It was freezing and I don’t mean cold. I actually remember there having been a frost that morning. But as you know children being children they were in the water in no time. Bright red noses and enthusiasm in tow they were in. And would you know it they had the best time. Exploring, climbing and experiencing. I was stunned. I’d never seen these children so engaged and happy. There was so much told about the waters movement, how big the sticks were and barely a mention about the cold water. Was almost like it was irrelevant! It was my epiphany. This was what I wanted for the children. This is what I wanted for me too. It felt right. It felt like we belonged here.

Our first full visit was a couple of months later when it was a bit warmer and the children had shown they were ready for an extended visit. I also had provisioned my back pack. And I was ready for the apocalypse I was so organised. The back pack was so incredibly heavy my back was sore for days afterwards. I can now travel to the river with my off road trolley or just the basics and we can still have an amazing time. I now take no ‘toys’ just some twine, a pocket knife anda few other bit n pieces. The children do the rest with their hands, minds and bodies. Their imagination and sometime ever a good dose of boredom sees some of the most intense play.

When the children are in the zone I stay well out of the way.its not my job to tell them what and how to do what they need to do. I can’t know what’s going on in their heads. I wouldn’t even hazard a guess. Each time an adult interferes in a child’s work/play session it changes it and probably not for the better. I try not to speak to the children. My job is to observe. If they choose to include me in their work then I’ll happily join in but I do try to make sure they are in charge of it. I’m happy to follow their direction. But mostly they are happy to periodically look and see where I am or come tell me something. I do listen attentively when they are talking to me, each other or themselves. I can gain an understanding of what’s happening at that moment in time. I consider myself honoured to witness the children doing what nature intended them to. Be in nature.

Gudja Kindy for Gudjagas

21/12/17 After a few rewrites my Benefit Risk Assessment (BRA) was approved for my Gudja (River) Kindy for Gudjagas (Children).

27/12/17 Off to the Gudja the Gudjagas and I went. We were ready to claim space and set in roots.

We also established a base in the middle of the Gudja as the Gudjagas decided this was the best place for it. (Close to where they were working and not making the animals sad by being on their home on the bank)

After a bit of trial and error we got our first shelter up and working.

The Gudjagas moved around working on solo and collaborative projects.Soon enough the Gudjagas found their rhythm and the work flowed. I stayed away and they knew I was there if they needed me. But they didn’t.

During one of the snack breaks (The Gudjagas determine when or I trigger a break by sitting to eat myself) Their discussion turned to their accomplishments and trials for the day. They weren’t looking for solutions just expressing their experiences.

 

© Linda Tandy 2017

Our first visit to the river. (Feb 2015)

I’ll admit I was a bit anxious.
Will they drown?
Will I lose a child?
What if they don’t listen to me?
Plus a thousand other worries. (I’d be well programmed to be scared of the what ifs!)

We were walking down to the river and the children raced ahead. “Stop I called out. Wait so we can all walk together!”
Niki said, “It’s ok to let them go just tell them where you want them to stop.”
So I called them together and said ” See that old dead tree? You can stop there ok? and when I catch up we can pick another spot for you to wait for me.” And off they went. So full of the joy of freedom and being trusted. And you know what they all did stop! Exactly where I’d asked. They were so excited to see where the next spot is. Together we chose another spot and off they went. seeing the joy on their faces filled my soul. This is what I wanted; this is how I want them to be. And again they waited at the spot we picked out. And so the routine was born. We’d talk and negotiate and they would live up to their agreement. Don’t get me wrong I’ve had the odd child who likes to push boundaries. I just make sure the distance that the children need to stop is well before any risky area to ensure we are all safe. (And let’s face it we all know children who like to push boundaries so we accommodate for this!)

We got to the edge of the river and we talked about safety and expectations. Only enough to keep them safe. Stay together until an Adult has checked the area is safe. Same for the water.
Over time I now involve the children in the dynamic risk assessment process but at this stage, I wasn’t quite ready to let go 🙂 (It’s a process for all of us!) The area was clear and I’d mapped out an area that was safe enough for us to be in in the river. The water was freezing It was February and I wasn’t sure if any of the children would last long in the water (I was hopeful.) I think we spent about 30 minutes walking and playing in the river. The children were overjoyed with their new found freedom. They explored tree branches in and around the river and experimented with cause and effect. It was a privilege to watch.
We got out of the water cold but excited. We got into dry warm clothes and as you would expect the conversation all the way home was about what they did. They slept like angels at naptime.

© Linda Tandy 2017

Nature Based Family Day Care – Bega River

As a child, one has that magical capacity to move among the many eras of the earth; to see the land as an animal does; to experience the sky from the perspective of a flower or a bee; to feel the earth quiver and breathe beneath us; to know a hundred different smells of mud and listen unselfconsciously to the soughing of the trees.”  -Valerie Andrews, A Passion for this Earth

I had a dream 5 or 6 years ago. I was so tired of four walls for my daycare charges.

I wanted them to flourish and be strong of mind and body. To me, it made sense that this should happen outdoors. I know how healing water is and the River pulled me there so it was logical that that’s where we should be.

To enable this to happen there had to be some big changes in my work situation and my views towards Early Childhood. I needed to challenge my thoughts and practices.

It took me a few more years for information gathering, personal and professional reflection and the support of some amazing people. I started to find my mojo. I got brave too and broke out of my mould. I began asking questions and seeking out those that were doing what I now dreamt of. I found Niki Buchan. She took me on my first river walk with the children. It was that day I was caught. Hook, line and sinker. This is what I wanted. This was my goal and dream.

© Linda Tandy 2017