On Friday mornings at the Forrest Early Learning Centre there is a magical atmosphere in a little bush nook within the school grounds. The Junior Room and the pre-school students are outfitted in matching school issue overalls and rain jackets ready for outdoor play!
A chorus of “Let’s go to Mud creek!”, “I want to find snails,” or “Let’s head back to the cubbies!” can be heard as the children find their way through the bush to their secret places, their ‘kitchens’ and ‘hotels’. This buzz of joy comes from the involvement of the staff and children in the Forrest Kids Go Bush program, part of the Forrest Early Learning Centre and Forrest Primary School.
There has been a pre-school at the Forrest Primary School site since 1995, and it was quite an innovation back then to have a primary school holding the licence for the Pre-school. Between 1972- 1995, it was located at the Infant Welfare Centre.
In 1995 due to overcrowding at this venue, a portable classroom from the Weerite School and a toilet block from the Barwon Downs School were moved to the Forrest Primary School to become part of the site. In 1996, the new pre-school facility was officially opened. According to the Forrest Pre-school historical records, it was a celebration of mammoth fundraising (many cakes were baked!) and building by families and community people over many years that were committed to having and improving a local pre-school facility for their children.
Jump to 2014 and in response to community needs, there was a change to the administrative structure and the result is the development of the Forrest Early Learning Centre (offering a 3 and 4 year pre-school program, Long Day Care Services), the continuation of the Out of School Hours Care (OHSC) program and the Maternal Health Service, all under the one roof.
“This contributes to a unique learning environment”, says Darryl Harty, the Principal of the Forrest Primary School and supervisor of the Forrest Early Learning Centre. The Forrest Early Learning Centre has just been freshly painted. Bold, bright colours have re-energised the learning space and the students, educators and families are delighted with new feel in the rooms.
The Forrest Early Learning Centre, the Forrest Primary School and families remain committed to being able to provide excellent Early Childhood services. In 2013, the Forrest Kids Go Bush program (FKGB) was established in 2013 by Kim Coulter (a volunteer parent) with support from both the Forrest Pre-school and the Forrest Primary School teachers. It has marked a transformation in the philosophy of the Forrest Early Learning Centre to focus more strongly on outdoor play.
Nestled within the stunning Otway Ranges, it is easy to be inspired to create outdoor learning spaces that immerse the children in nature -based play. The Forrest Early Learning Centre and Junior Room educators fully support the FKGB program and the parents believe the benefits are immeasurable! It provides a genuine opportunity for the children to be involved in natural outdoor education, an emergent curriculum and child centred learning.
Lena Collopy, the pre-school teacher since 2010 loves coming to work. She believes that Forrest Early Learning Centre is in a unique position to offer such a variety of activities under the one roof- vegie gardens, fruit orchard, chickens, Forrest Kids Go Bush, and even a couple for horses to pat!
Teresa Price, (a Long Day Care educator and OHSC co-ordinator) finds the learning environment to be a rewarding one.
“The students are involved in cooking, craft, dance and yoga as part of the program. The program remains flexible, allowing the children to pursue their particular interests and to express themselves in the most creative way possible. And of course there is a huge element of fun!”
Multi -age learning spaces are a feature of the Forrest Primary School and the Forrest Early Learning Centre. This approach encourages cross-age learning and naturally creates supportive and creative learning environments. The FKGB program has slotted beautifully in to the ethos of the School community.
The teaching staff involved with the Forest Kids Go Bush program are quick to highlight the value of the program. Kristin Mackinlay, the Junior Room classroom teacher loves to observe the children’s approach to problem solving, the negotiation required to overcome problems, the children pushing themselves to achieve a goal, often overcoming physical and emotional fears e.g. climbing along the rope bridge for the first time, and the inclusive nature of the primary school children including the pre-school students in play.
The research from the Bush Kinders and Forest Schools model in Northern Europe in 1950’s, which FKGB is based upon, confirms these observations. The benefits have ranged from children having increased confidence, motivation and concentration, improved social, physical and language skills; deeper conceptual understanding; and a greater respect for the natural environment.
The Forrest Early Learning Centre and the Forrest Primary School is a wonderful example of collaboration and commitment to learning from educators, families, children and the wider community. The development of the Forrest Kids Go Bush program is an example of what can be achieved when learning and development are considered equally important and interconnected.
By Kaz Standish