Taking young children into the bush:one preschool’s journey

Ms Marion Sturges1, Ms Margaret Gleeson2
1Western Sydney University, Bankstown, Australia; 2Kieraville Community Preschool, Kieraville, Australia


This presentation focuses on the outdoor educational practices of one Australian preschool. Decisions around the preschool’s philosophy, curriculum and pedagogical practices are carefully informed by the principles espoused in International and National policy, including the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989) and the Early Years Learning Framework (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2009). The preschool’s Strategic Plan states that educators develop, “a place of belonging, discovery and connectedness for children and our community” (2016, p. 1). Educators at the preschool are considered duty bearers and have a responsibility to respect, promote and realise children’s rights. A deliberate decision was made by educational team to enrich curriculum and prioritise children’s rights through their relationships with the outdoors through engagement with the preschool space, beyond the fence.
The educators found many benefits when children had meaningful opportunities to regularly engage in the outdoors, beyond their preschool gate. Meaningful time spent in the bush fosters a disposition for lifelong learning about the outdoors. Research on ecological attachment and stewardship infers that building a ‘sense of place’ and an ecological identity can support children’s growing ecological citizenship (Dowdell, Gray, & Malone, 2011; Gray, 2017). Educators conveyed trust in children’s abilities to make choices and to be competent decision makers and playmakers. This translates as developing awe and a sense of stewardship of their outdoor environment. Participation in the bush activities fosters a child’s capacity for curiosity and supports children’s emerging autonomy, citizenship, resilience and sense of agency.
Children had opportunities to learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and develop a perception of the Dharawal connection to country. Stories and memories are created as children’s understanding of the interconnectedness of people, the environment and nature grows. Accessing learning spaces into the bush enriches the curriculum.

Marion Sturges has worked in the Australian education system for close to three decades. Following on from 18 years of classroom and specialist teaching experience, she has 14 years’ experience working as an academic. Her current role includes working with preservice and post graduate educators in inclusive education.
Her research interests include; participation, place, inclusion and preservice education. She has published three authored refereed journal/conference papers with nineteen citations (Google scholar, 9/12/19). Marion has presented at a number of educational conferences, including four International venues and within Australia. In July 2018 Marion was the invited keynote presenter at the “Bilingual International Conference” in Ningbo, China.

Margaret Gleeson is the Managing Director of Keiraville Community Preschool. Margaret’s 34 years of teaching experience includes the primary years, long day care and preschool education. A successful leader in the field Margaret has published a booklet and run numerous workshops on a range of topics. Since 2010 she has presented papers at several conferences in NSW, interstate and internationally. In 2010 Margaret’s Preschool’s Transition to School Program was included as a case study at Columbia University. Since 2014 Margaret and the staff of Keiraville Community Preschool have contributed to and provided support for a key Early Childhood text book. In 2019 Margaret wrote the sung ‘Acknowledgment of Country’, which was included in the Play School, NAIDOC Week commemoration episode. Margaret has a strong commitment to promoting reconciliation and a shared understanding of the hidden histories of our country.

Over many years Margaret has been a vocal advocate for important Early Childhood issues. In 2019 Margaret gave evidence to the Fair Work Commission in support for pay parity for teachers.
Margaret is an active member of the Illawarra Escarpment Alliance, which has been established to protect the Illawarra Escarpment’s cultural and environmental heritage.

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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