Our Bush Inventors’ Club after school program started out as a place for invention, tinkering and building as a team. We were inspired by the work of Gever Tulley and the Institute of Applied Tinkering. As a result, our after school program provides space for children to build, create and invent. It has now turned into so much more. Bush Inventors’ Club is revealing a lot about child development. It also demonstrates the current state of play in our society and children’s inner passions.
After our training in California with the work of Jon Young and the 8 Shields Institute, we have been heavily focused on observing childhood behaviour, the development of play, the social interactions of children and their underlying drive to ‘do’ certain things. We have been working hard to be attuned to the ‘natural flow’ of human behaviour that is directly linked with our body’s energy throughout a day. Tapping into natural cycles of the day, and to the seasons. Following the training, we have been giving more attention to how these cycles manifest in children’s interactions. This has helped us to shape our events and our after school program.
Feedback from parents often indicates the predominate expectation when enrolling their child in Bush Inventors’ Club is centered around a product. That is, they would love to see their child working on a project. Something that follows a step-by-step instruction format to make a ‘thing’ or to work on developing particular skills. Generally, lower on the priority list, is an expectation for exploration of the Wild Space, time to interact with friends, to build cubbies and play. These are things they can do in their spare time, right? Their time when not involved in an organised program? Understandably, the question is, ‘Why does my child need to go to a club to hang out in nature?’
What we are observing is that the expectations of parents are very different to those of their children. Week after week, no matter where we are… kids seem to be crying out for more time to hang out with their friends. More time to ‘be’ in spaces where they can test their boundaries, explore natural spaces and play in nature. Each week we come to Bush Inventors’ Club prepared with a new project. A new ‘thing to build’, or skill to learn (tying knots, making cordage, learning about specific tools). We come prepared with activities that support the idea of ‘invisible school’. We prepare wilderness awareness games that teach nature connection, stillness and cooperation.
However, time and again what we observe and hear when we truly listen to what the children are saying (often without words) is that they are yearning and are desperate for space to explore, build, play and connect with each other, with nature and with themselves. They simply want time to be in their own world away from business, schedules and structure.
What is important to also hear is children seem to want all of this ‘freedom and time’ within a container. They respond well to supportive, but not pushy, mentors within arms reach. They want adults, and most importantly, younger mentors like our Junior Playworkers who are close by with skills, resources, tools and time, but most of all the ability to truly listen to what they need in that particular moment. The support to build a pick-axe with carpentry skills. Help that allows them to excavate from the mud pit. Assistance to tie a new knot when the cubby they have built has fallen down a few times already with their ‘lots of knots’. Perhaps extra strength or slightly more coordinated hands to hold the bits of wood they are trying to nail together to create a plane, car, lightsabre, sword, birdhouse. Guidance to reason and hear both sides of a disagreement when they have tried to sort out an issue, but can’t quite agree.
What we have found is the type of program children really want, and what their actions tell us they really need, is very different from the program adults (and society) generally think children want. This humble after school program has evolved through observation, and in support of the children’s needs and expectations.
We provide a space where children feel empowered. A space where children have time and freedom, balanced by boundaries and guidelines to push against to feel secure. A space where we come prepared with tools, equipment, resources and knowledge for ‘just-in-case’ opportunities. We come with the mind of a mentor – the sharp eyes, keen ears and sixth sense to anticipate the support a child may need by observing their behaviours, actions, words and all the other languages with which they communicate.
What we create with Bush Inventors’ Club is a space for fun. A space for play. As well as a space for connection – with nature, with other people but most importantly with self!
To book your child into one of the Bush Inventors’ Clubs or to find out more about other Educated by Nature programs please head to Bush Inventors’ Club Booking Page
By Daniel Burton