Surrounded by peaceful rainforest and tropical gardens, Flinders Early Learning Centre is educating kids in nature through a range of outdoor programs.
You would be forgiven for missing the turn-off to Flinders Early Learning Centre, located in Buderim in the heart of the Sunshine Coast.
The Centre (FELC) is surrounded by tropical gardens and borders a wetland forest corridor, which makes it difficult to spot at first glance on the drive past.
The rainforest is part of the neighbouring 22-hectare campus of leading Queensland Prep to Year 12 school, Matthew Flinders Anglican College. Many parents choose to continue their FELC experience by applying for a place in the Preparatory Year at Flinders, enabling their children to enjoy the smooth transition next door to ‘big school’ through the College’s extensive orientation program, which involves parent information sessions, orientation mornings for play visits and a staggered start to the Prep school day.
FELC Director Jo Osborne explains the Centre’s natural setting is one of the major drawcards for parents.
“We are blessed to have this beautiful rainforest on our doorstep and strongly believe our role at FELC is to guide children to explore their natural environment,” Jo says.
“Our whole philosophy values play and enquiry for stimulating and shaping child development and early learning at this crucial young stage of life,” she said.
“We know that playing in nature gives children the opportunity to build confidence and resilience, boost their physicality and wellbeing, be creative and curious, and explore responsibility and problem-solving.
“Parents are extremely supportive of our Centre’s values of enabling nature play through a Reggio Emilio experience because they want their children to experience the joy of connecting with nature as often as possible in their early years.”
Kids in nature at Flinders Bush Kindy
One of the Centre’s most popular offerings with the 120 families in its pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs is its quality bush kindy. The program enables every child at FELC to connect with the forest space, explore its wonders and consider their place in the natural world.
“We give children the opportunity to venture into the forest on a regular basis. In the forest, the children have different opportunities to play, learn and to build courage.
“They may try climbing the rope tree, balancing on fallen trees, climbing vines or walking over the rickety bridge; they collect natural resources and learn how to safely play with big, long sticks.
“The children learn about the forest as they map the natural space, consider the natural landmarks, identify the flora and fauna, and get muddy!
“Some days, we set up an activity in the forest, such as clay, playdough or drawing.
“It’s so peaceful amongst the trees, and it’s wonderful to feel the children relax into it and find their own pace and rhythm as they go.
“It is also very special to observe how the children develop a sense of ownership of and responsibility for the forest space.”
Children at FELC also regularly visit the Flinders Farm, which is just a short walk through the neighbouring College campus and operates as a vibrant learning hub for Flinders students from Prep to Year 12.
On the farm, children learn from the College’s farm manager, Jeff Maclennan – a.k.a Farmer Jeff – about animals, veggies, food scraps, compost, seedlings and irrigation. Farmer Jeff enjoys engaging the FELC children in the farm and observing their excitement and wonder in the little things.
“Over time, the children learn how to hold chickens without hurting them and collect eggs without breakages,” Jeff said.
“They soon know which veggie leaves Erol the Emu enjoys most and which ones he isn’t too fussed about!” he said.
“From one visit to the next, they marvel at the rate the seedlings they planted have grown.
“As an educator, it is wonderful to see the kids in nature and witness their fascination with our natural world.”
Earlier in the year, the FELC children visited the farm almost daily. There, Farmer Jeff taught them how honey is extracted from the farm’s beehives.
“They were enthralled in the process as I showed them the cells that the bees make for the Queen Bee to lay her eggs and told them how the eggs then ‘grow into bees’,” Jeff said.
“There are always plenty of questions, in this instance, ‘how are they born?’, ‘what do they eat?’, and ‘where is the Queen Bee?’”
Jo says that one of the best outcomes of the Flinders Farm visits is the play it inspires upon the children’s return to the Centre.
The children will gravitate to the space in the Centre that best suits their imaginative play, whether it is the light-filled classrooms, outdoor learning areas, rainforest gardens, veggie plots, mud kitchen, art studios, writing stations, discovery areas or reading nooks.
“During the honey extraction project, the friends decided to return to FELC and make honey in the sandpit outside,” Jo said.
“And very soon a team was formed as they helped one another use the water pump in the garden and took turns adding it to the mixture,” she said.
“It is wonderful to see the children lead their own play and experience the joy of working together towards a common goal.”
Another project at FELC is the new community garden, which the children and families are helping to design from the ground up with Farmer Jeff’s guidance.
Last year, the children hosted a morning tea event at FELC for their parents and grandparents. They served the fruit, veggies and herbs they had grown in their veggie plots within the Centre’s gardens.
The morning tea was a chance to involve their families in the new community garden project and to proudly show their drawings of the food they would like to grow.
“We invite our FELC families to contribute their design ideas about the project. From seasonal planting recommendations to plans for water collection tanks,” Jo said.
“The walls and shelves in our FELC foyer are decorated with beautiful drawings, collages and clay models that the children have been inspired to create through this project.
“During the home-learning phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, we gave families seed packs and invited them to plant and grow the seeds, and then make observations of the growing process through drawings and written stories.
“We had such a lovely response to this simple project and many parents observed how their children felt proud to initiate a family activity in their homes for their older siblings and parents to enjoy.”
Jo says the children are at the heart of the learning at FELC, which makes every day a fascinating adventure.
“At FELC, we are mindful to engage a child’s five senses to provoke wonder, curiosity and intellectual engagement. And what better place to explore this than with the kids in nature.”