Eurobodalla Shire Council’s children’s services’ 3Bs Playgroup has brought forward plans to introduce nature-based learning through its ‘forest school’.
While currently unable to operate due to COVID-19 restrictions, 3Bs offers virtual playgroups, with added activities and competitions through its Facebook page. Playgroups co-ordinator Lisa Heinze says physical playgroups will restart only when health and education authorities deem it safe, and that now is the ideal time to introduce nature-based learning.
“So many kids these days have high levels of anxiety,” she says. “Nature changes that. We can take a nature walk where we’ll sit for a few minutes and ask, ‘What does nature sound like? What does nature feel like? Look like? Smell like?’ This connection reduces anxiety and promotes wellbeing.”
Lisa ran a test of forest school in 2019, taking some children out to Broulee Island.
“Parents feel safer coming to our outdoor bush activities,” she says. “Now we’ve got mums meeting up to take their kids on adventures themselves. It’s free, it’s accessible and it’s a lovely way to be with your child.”
Lisa has been at the helm of 3Bs Playgroup since its inception. She also developed transition-to-school kits as part of the organisation’s five-year celebrations.
“Each kit has an information sheet with several activities which see parents and carers play alongside their children,” she says.
“While the activities may seem simple – such as making a chef’s hat – they are actually cleverly designed. Fun while developing the fine motor skills children need before they head into school.
“Playgroups work differently to kindie-start programs. At playgroups, parents are alongside, supporting their child and providing familiarity in the new school environment. The feedback I get is that children are more at ease as they transition to school.”
3Bs Playgroup has a fixed routine, with an hour of free play and an hour of structured play.
“It doesn’t matter which 3Bs group in the [Eurobodalla] shire to visit, the format is the same,” says Lisa. “It’s this structured environment that gets children prepared for the structure of school.
“While mostly outdoors, we include different areas of the school – the library, the hall, a classroom – getting them confident in the physical spaces.”
3Bs Playgroup is funded by the Department of Social Services for children aged up to five, and is held across the Eurobodalla Shire. The playgroups are free and delivered by professional educators.
Playgroup coordinator Lisa Heinze can be contacted by email.