Out of the fire – a curriculum based response to environmental crisis

Ms Catherine Oehlman1
1The Nature School, Port Macquarie, Australia


The Nature School Primary opened its doors in 2018 to 22 students from Kindergarten to Year 2. In 2020, the school has 60 enrolments from Kindergarten to Year 4 and has a growing waitlist. Under Catherine’s leadership, teachers at The Nature School Primary follow NSW Syllabus documents for the Australian Curriculum, while meeting outcomes in less traditional ways. Fortnightly “Adventure Days” allow students to learn beyond the mudbrick school building, and the beach or the bush become the ultimate classroom.

Catherine has significant experience in Primary curriculum and design, and has particular expertise in English Curriculum. She has written for a range of publications online and off, presented at conferences, reviewed countless picture books, and built a strong social media following online (@naturesquiggle). Currently studying for her Masters in Children’s Literature, she advocates for the use of quality Australian literature in Australian classrooms, and inspires students to write creatively and confidently. She is also a published children’s poet, writing almost exclusively about Australian wildlife and environments.

Catherine is frequently in the media talking about The Nature School, including a recent feature article in Australian Geographic magazine which is quite possibly the highlight of her career to date.

The bushfire crisis that swept across NSW caused an unprecedented 650 schools to close on a single day. But can a catastrophic event such as a bushfire be used as a learning opportunity? Despite facing four days of closures and weeks of poor air quality due to smoke, The Nature School in Port Macquarie embedded the unfolding crisis in their learning across a range of Key Learning Areas. In this presentation, Catherine Oehlman (Head – The Nature School Primary) will share her experience of leading and learning through the crisis.

Using student work samples and programming ideas, Catherine will share a range of learning activities across K-6 to demonstrate a cross-curriculum response to crises such as bushfire. These learning activities will correlated with outcomes in English, Mathematics, Geography and History, Science and Technology, and Creative Arts. Catherine will share a range of relevant resources, including those that incorporate Indigenous perspectives and quality texts suitable for primary students. She will also explore how conceptual units allow for deeper and richer learning than a surface level thematic approach.

This presentation will be largely focused on primary curriculum and pedagogy, but will have application for secondary contexts and also for those working within the Early Years Learning Framework.

Catherine Oehlman is the founding Head of The Nature School Primary in Port Macquarie. She is a self confessed bird-nerd, passionate about connecting children with habitats in their local environment and the flora and fauna found there (particularly those with feathers).

About OEA and Outdoors NSW

Outdoor Education Australia (OEA)  was established in 2006 as a national network of outdoor education associations. The organisation facilitates communication between state and territory outdoor education associations about the practice and delivery of outdoor education; advocates for outdoor education across primary, secondary and tertiary education; and provides policy advice.

Outdoors NSW is the go-to place for all things outdoors in NSW.

The peak body for the outdoors in NSW, the organisation, (formerly known as ORIC), represents the outdoor community, advances outdoor standards, safety and practices, and fosters greater participation in the outdoors.

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