By Cam Lucadou-Wells
It might be a surprise to know that kids are still jumping in puddles, mucking around in bushland and building cubbies.
But Heritage Preschool and Rosewood Downs Primary School students are discovering natural play in what they call Bush Kinder.
The children and staff from the two campuses make monthly trips together to Tirhatuan Park’s wetlands.
In this free-range classroom, play is free-form.
The explorers find birds, turtles and frogs by the lakes, and are routinely welcomed two friendly local ducks Chloe and Clive.
Or they forage for insects and other creatures nestled in trees and logs, huddling around to share in their discoveries.
Inside the forest, bark and timber cubbies have been enthusiastically assembled.
Heritage Preschool educational leader Deb Maillard said at first the children were tentative about how to play in the local wilderness.
It was a matter of saying ‘be safe’, but not to stop them exploring.
“It probably took them three sessions where they actually took to it.
“We showed them that they could walk and jump in puddles – some had never owned gum boots before.”
Parents also turn up for Bush Kinder, many surprised by the 20-hectare park with its endangered and scenic habitat.
Now the families are starting to enjoy barbecues together on the weekends.
Along the way the children are taught awareness around dogs and snakes. They’re keen to pick up any litter they find in their wonderland.
“We don’t want to leave too much of a footprint,” Ms Maillard says.
Rosewood Downs principal Julian Growcott says much of this style of play came naturally to him and his childhood friends.
He says the outdoors classroom brings a relaxed, enjoyable way of learning.
“The park is a really under-utilised asset.
“Half the kids don’t realise how big this place is.”