Bush kinder programs, despite being in a developmental phase in Australian early childhood education, are allowing early years learners to re-engage with nature and build STEM understandings. Bush kinder programs often take place in urban spaces such as open paddocks (fields), wooded parklands, public reserves and beaches.
A relationship exists between a child’s STEM experiences in nature and their pro-environmental beliefs and lifestyle in later life which reinforces the importance of interacting with nature. Research into bush kinders has found that a range of pedagogical approaches guiding teachers’ STEM practice exists. Bush kinders’ application of the growing field of nature pedagogy or nature-based learning provide opportunities to observe the nature and work with nature.
Our research illustrates that teacher-child relationships are central and crucial to the formation of children’s interactions and discovery in nature, leading to children’s STEM noticing. Knowledge and understanding of nature and being in nature allows teachers to draw children’s attention to STEM events happening in nature and to make meaning of those events. Family member relationships, such as those between parent and child, facilitate noticing and allow children understand STEM in the natural world.
Bush kinders are playing a role in developing children’s confidence and engagement with, and understanding, of STEM in nature. Bush kinders allow children to participate in mixing activities, rolling, balancing, counting and constructing cubby houses. These STEM activities often occur using only what nature provides. Therefore, bush kinder programs provide opportunities for early years learners to build a connection with nature, to develop environmental awareness and learn skills such as risk-taking, persistence, predicting and, social and emotional awareness all the while learning about STEM.
Through interacting with STEM in nature at bush kinders, children develop abilities to classify or categorise elements in their world by similar attributes. Therefore, children’s noticing plays a fundamental role in setting the foundations for future STEM learning. We advocate that the skill of ‘noticing’, through children’s involvement in bush kinder, is valuable to their learning and understandings of the world around them.
Bush kinders provide opportunities for children to learn and develop a range of skills to strategise about, interpret, and understand the world around them. There are a number of active facets to bush kinders making them a rich experience for young children. Most notably, we found that children can build fundamental skills, such as noticing, that they can take into future learning, allowing for more nuanced noticing to occur.
Through bush kinder involvement during a school year, children can transition from nature novices to become nature experts, being able to apply their nature learning across contexts. It is these young nature experts that can play a role in a sustainable future. As a teacher remarked to us that ‘if they [the children] don’t love it [nature], how will they look after it [nature] and be aware of it for their own children?’
Article by Chris Speldewinde, Coral Campbell and Anna Kilderry