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Inclusion on Country

17 October 2023

Nominated Supervisor Debbie Priest and Educational Leader Netty Lester share how their service has developed the art of teaching through nature, by creating natural environments where children can learn holistically and care for the land, plants animals and people.

Tell us a little about your service.
Clearview Early Learning and Kindergarten is an established centre nestled in a beautiful semi-rural environment. Our outdoor play space has lots of natural elements that include trees, plants, rocks, dirt, sand, water and fire. We encourage children to physically challenge themselves and participate in risky or challenging play. Our children can climb trees, move big boulders, play in the rain, get covered in dirt and regularly leave our gates to go and play in local bushlands through our Bush Kindy program.

How do your learning environments foster inclusion for all children?
We have created a daily program and natural environments that demonstrate our commitment to the importance of all children learning outdoors. The pedagogical practices of our educators focus on the passion for outdoors and unstructured opportunities to learn in nature, whilst still scaffolding and facilitating our children to develop holistically. Being able to play in the same environments as their friends boosts self-esteem. The children have big blocks of unhurried time to play and discover in their outdoor environment. We have made spaces where children have a choice of busier, more active areas and quieter spaces that allow children the option as they may need it.
Physically we have seen our children become fit, strong, healthy, and more coordinated. Emotionally, we see them develop higher resilience and a greater ability to self-regulate. Socially, we see them working cooperatively and showing respect and being more empathetic to their peers. The outdoors gives us opportunities to have meaningful conversations about things that the children are experiencing, feeling, and seeing. As we watch plants grow, count seed pods and learn about natural life cycles, become water wise, the science and mathematics opportunities present themselves abundantly. The educators feel calmer outside and also notice that the children are calmer and very engaged when learning outdoors.

When you are thinking about your programming and practices, what does your service do to ensure there is a connection to Country and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures?
Learning and connecting to Country is an ongoing journey for our service and we acknowledge that there is still much we do not know around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. As a service we started off by learning about the histories of the cultures, we learnt about the local Yugambeh language and began incorporating simple words from nature such as bush, river, food into our daily communications. We downloaded the Yugambeh language app for our reference and to extend our knowledge. We have made community connections with Uncle Allan Lena, and Uncle Boomerang. We updated and simplified our philosophy which now supports our strong belief of the benefits for children spending valuable time outdoors exploring, learning, and making connections to the land and local community.

We incorporate the practice of Dadirri in nature, at our service. Through this process all children are encouraged to find their own space, a bubble just for them. Educators participate and role model the expectations alongside the children, and with an awareness of each individual child’s learning or coping style, they are able to make adjustments and allowances that ensures all children are able to participate. Kinaesthetic learners are encouraged to hold something such as a small stick or rock to help them focus. Auditory learners are invited to close their eyes and just listen, and our visual learners are supported to look around and observe, for the designated 3 min time frame. We might do this process several times a day if we find children are unsettled. The opportunity to be silent, still and listening supports all children and educators to return to calm.

Our service is also part of the Mobo Jarjums network group, an educator group, supported by Inclusion Support QLD. The focus of the group has been for all educators to have a forum for shared learning around Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander cultures. It is a comfortable space where educators can meet regularly, share their journey, challenges, ask questions, reflect on practices, and gain ideas and knowledge around cultural practices and protocols, knowing that the information is authentic and has the backing of local Elders and community. Being part of this group has not only seen our service grow in our understanding of Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander cultures, but also continues to enrich our thinking and give us confidence to continue our ongoing journey to provide wholistic inclusion for all children on Country.

Is incorporating local Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander knowledge into your program a barrier for your service?
Talk to your Inclusion Professional and access helpful resources on the ISQ website.