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Our undeniable link to the outside world

“It is time to head home for lunch,” one Mum says as bush playgroup winds up for the week.

“Come on,” says another, gently pulling at her daughter’s muddy hand.

This is a normal part of pack up time at bush playgroup and it is wonderfully healthy. The children are immersed in play. They are absorbing many diverse variables and practicing a multitude of skills. Their senses are stimulated, and their brains are adapting. This here, like the trees beside them, forms the cycles of life. It is growth.

Over the years, many new studies have been conducted about the inner workings of trees. They often look quite still, yet within is a complex structure of change and growth. Trees, like children, are in a constant state of transformation.

Australian ecologist Tim Flannery wrote the foreword for Peter Wohllenben’s intriguing book, The Hidden Life of Trees. Flannery wrote: “Much like human families, tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, and support them as they grow, sharing nutrients with those who are sick or struggling and creating an ecosystem that mitigates the impact of extremes of heat and cold for the whole group. As a result of such interactions, trees in a family or community are protected and can live to be very old. In contrast, solitary trees, like street kids, have a tough time of it and in most cases die much earlier than those in a group.”[1]   

This is all very interesting and demonstrates how very interwoven humans are with the natural flora and fauna in our surrounds. There is an undeniable link between human kind and the outside world. For a multitude of reasons, we do not always give these natural phenomena much merit as we pass through. To work. To the gym. To the shops. To the computer. To the TV. To the laundry.    

Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” in his book Last Child in the Woods. He writes: “As the young spend less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow, physiologically and psychologically and this reduces the richness of human experience… we need contact with nature.”[2]

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He notes how children are having a very different childhood to the ones that have come before, and often the result is that children are spending less time in nature. Less time exploring. Less time playing, sinking into play- imaginative play, role play.

We are all time poor. We all have less energy to give as we flop into bed of a night after a day of being consumed by the modern pace of life. Do we choose this, or is it part of the world we live in? Is it encircling us? It is a bit of both.

The Merri Creek Bush Playgroup in Northcote acts as a remedy to the fast pace of life. Each week, parents, carers and children slow down at bush playgroup. They tinker. They explore. They enjoy the fresh air and relax. All the while, they are learning as they observe and play.

Zoë Metherell is one of the playgroup leaders at bush playgroup. Over the years she has experienced the many benefits for the families who attend.

“Attending playgroup outdoors, in natural environments, is wonderful for children of all ages and suits different abilities and interests. For example, a baby will enjoy watching the trees swaying above in the wind, a child learning to walk can practice on hills and all different surfaces (pebbles, leaves, grasses and rocks), and as the children grow older they learn to climb bigger rocks and trees. But this all happens, almost in the background, as children play and develop their own games.”

“As parents, we also enjoy socialising with other families, just like at any playgroup. But we find that meeting outdoors, it is more relaxed (there are not toys to fight over) and we are mentally recharged. Lot’s of research shows the benefits of spending time in nature but going out there each week, you realise its true!”

Much like the families attending bush playgroup in Melbourne, Sharron, from North East Victoria, wanted to reconnect with the outside world. She wanted her children to build a relationship with their surrounds. She accessed the Wild Things Bush Play Set-Up Guide to help her get started.

Held locally in Baranduda, six families and kids came along to the bush play session.

“We spotted possum boxes and they marked, on a very rough mud map, the location of these boxes. It was exciting for the kids to have an interactive tool to use.”   

Jarrod Paine, author of the Wild Things Guide, explains that it “takes you through the ins and outs of setting up your own group from scratch or adding some bush sessions to your existing groups.”

Meredith Dunnell from Baranduda Playgroup accessed the guide and found that “it gave clear instructions on what was required prior to starting a group and what was required of the group leader. It’s a good reference guide.”  

The guide contains helpful advice about the planning, safety and administration side of “going bush”. It is also full of ideas about nature activities. It encourages participants to find a “trophy landmark” or point of interest to visit each session; like a waterfall, a big puddle or a tree with a hollow. Jarrod said that, “Adding themes and focuses is another way of engaging families.”

Autumn is a wonderful time to explore and observe in Victoria. Download your copy of the Wild Things Bush Set-up Guide and enjoy the great outdoors.

When your kids are begging for five more minutes to play, it might be a bit of a hassle, you might have to wait and their clothes may be dirty- but they will be sure to remember the happiness of how they felt on that day.

In years to come, they may stop beside a lemon scented gum, or a hydrangea in full bloom. They will remember. They will notice the world around them once more.

References:

1. Wohlleben, Peter. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate―Discoveries from A Secret World. Black Inc: Schwartz Publishing Pty Ltd, 2016.

2. Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005.

Time to get your playgroup outdoors!

Playgroup Victoria has a fantastic resource to assist and guide you and your playgroup outdoors. This resource is designed to help families and playgroups explore the outside world, without fear for what might be out there, what might happen, or what barriers might stop families from venturing outdoors. It is a motivator and a friendly helper. Jarrod Paine from North East Victoria authored the guide in a bid to encourage bush play as part of the ’BushPlay Project’. Learn more here

This resource is available to Playgroup Victoria members. Login to your member portal to view and download

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The ‘Wild Things Bush Playgroup Set-Up Guide’ is your trusty companion in the great outdoors. Adventures await you. Discover what’s out there, enjoy the benefits of outdoor exercise and create wonderful memories as you go.