Why the great outdoors is a top teacher

'Bush' programs nurture curiosity and healthy risk taking, writes Megan Breen.

In The Age (Saturday 23 July 2022), our Director of Kindergarten, Fiona Ireland, shares why she believes Lauriston’s Bush Kindergarten program prepares its young students for life.  

The Geelong College promotes outdoor learning in the bush kinder program and the immersive year-4 Enviro Year. There has long been an understanding that being in nature is good for children’s educational development, and the concept of ‘‘bush kinders’’ or ‘‘forest schools’’ has existed for decades in some European countries.

While Indigenous communities in Australia have long used the bush to teach children life skills, many schools are now incorporating outdoor learning opportunities into their lesson plans.

The Bush Kinder program at Lauriston Girls’ School runs every Friday, with fierce competition among students for places.

“The children love it,” says Fiona Ireland, director of kindergarten at Lauriston. “They develop quantitative skills by counting insects and flowers; gain materials knowledge from playing in grass and mud; intuit physics from how creek water responds to obstacles and opportunities.”

She notes children learn to cope and problem-solve by adapting to the unpredictable natural world. As well as giving kids the opportunity to understand risk taking, there are some big topics to cover, including life and death.

“There are some confronting issues that come up. For example, the children observed a fox decomposing in real time, which was very interesting for them. But it happened around the same time a fox got into the chicken coop and killed some chickens.


‘‘They made up all kinds of stories and decided the fox had died happy, with a full belly of chickens. They wanted to give it a funeral. It was very interesting to see how they reacted to it.”

Pine cones are the currency in The Geelong College’s Nature Play area, says principal Dr Peter Miller, and they are a critical resource when it comes to making a cubby house.


“The Nature Play area is geared towards our early learning students to year 3 and it provides an opportunity for unstructured play. It has them playing outdoors with some pretty rustic materials; they use pine cones to trade materials to build cubbies, which is sometimes very funny to watch.

“It complements the approach of the classroom and there’s a lot of opportunity for self-expression for children being immersed in nature.” Children start in the Bush Kinder program, learning about local Indigenous culture and exploring the bush. At year 4, they enter the ‘‘Enviro Year’’, an immersive educational experience centred on a large rustic garden and growing vegetables and native grasses.


At Eltham College, bush adventuring has been a part of the onsite outdoor learning program for more than a decade, says Leanne Sunarya, head of the school’s Early Learning Centre.

“Children are encouraged to follow their curiosity and interests and are introduced to local ecosystems and investigate the reserve with binoculars, microscopes and testing kits. ‘‘We also explore other College environments as learning spaces, including the vineyard, and vegetable and fruit tree garden.

“Through these experiences, we hope children can connect deeply with nature and see its incredible benefits.”

With children often busy with many extracurricular activities and carefully monitored by their parents, Sunarya says it is important for them to take risks, noting that bush adventuring also encourages creativity, innovation, and respect.


“We hope to connect children with their natural surroundings – to teach them about the Traditional Owners of the land, to develop an understanding of Indigenous perspectives and the importance of our cultural heritage.

‘‘Our Bush Play program nurtures sensibility and responsibility, respect and care for the land, and develops a mindful approach in the child towards caring for the environment.”