Building Community: the rich tapestry of Educated by Nature

Today was a milestone day for our humble social enterprise. It was a day that highlighted the growth we have experienced over the last seven years and offered a glimpse into the future of the sustainable, team-driven, collaborative and community-minded organisation that we strive to be. 

The milestone came in something very ordinary: a Zoom meeting. The meeting of 7 members of the newly titled, ‘Educated by Nature Core Team’ highlighted the beginning of a new phase. Simply speaking, it was Educated by Nature’s first ever ‘staff meeting’. To date, the organisation has been managed by Daniel Burton and Trudi Bennett and supported by a team of casual staff. Over the past 12 months we have been restructuring the way Educated by Nature operates to support the growth of the organisation, to meet the needs of our community of families and schools and to honour and support the individual skill sets of our incredibly diverse team of passionate staff. 

From humble beginnings

In 2014, Educated by Nature was born out of the passion of co-founders, Trudi Bennett and Daniel Burton – two innovative primary teachers working in a school whose driving philosophies included inspiration from Reggio Emilia and Nature Pedagogy (Nature Based Education). They sought to develop an offering for the Perth community that highlighted the importance of nature connection, opportunities for authentic, unadulterated play and identified children as strong contributors to their community; capable citizens. Educated by Nature’s entry into the Perth community included the delivery of Nature Playgroups (Mud Pies Nature Playgroup) and weekend sessions (KIN Village Junior) in local nature spaces for families with young children. These programs quickly developed and aimed to fill a niche of providing school holiday programs and after school clubs for 6 to 12 year olds, based around philosophies of Deep Nature Connection, Mentoring, Risk (the importance of risk taking), Tinkering and Toolwork, Fire education and appreciation, Play Theories and Playwork, Child Development and Brain Science. The programs got children outside, connected them to the natural world, supported skill development and valued freedom, creativity, community and PLAY! The overarching aim…to develop ‘Resilience through Connection.’

As the years went on, the team at Educated by Nature grew. Additional staff joined the team in various capacities; primarily Nature Playworkers, who delivered family programs and supported Daniel and Trudi to develop new offerings as well as an administrative team member to help with day-to-day communication. The team began a series of pilot school incursion programs, taking equipment and resources into primary school settings and supporting teachers to see the importance of taking learning outdoors and exploring a range of nature-focussed experiences. At the same time, opportunities to share their passion and knowledge with other educators arose and Educated by Nature’s Professional Learning workshops were born. During this time, the team (apart from Daniel and Trudi) were made up of casual staff members. These enthusiastic individuals were university students, parents and teachers who had a passion for combining a love for nature and working with children. They made it possible to keep student to facilitator ratios low at our programs, allowing for the most rich mentoring experience possible, and diversifying the skill set of our team. Our team also consisted of Junior Nature Playworkers, initially a bunch of students who Daniel and Trudi had previously taught throughout primary school years. These students were now between 15 and 18 years of age and were looking for casual employment opportunities and the chance to develop their own skills in the realm of nature connection.

It was around this time that Daniel and Trudi embarked upon a study tour to the US to visit some colleagues and introduce themselves to some of their long-time pedagogical heroes. They visited The Institute of Applied Tinkering and Brightworks Tinkering School in San Francisco, Island Wood on Bainbridge Island in Seattle (a world leader in outdoor learning and nature pedagogy), Adventure Playgrounds in San Francisco and New York, and several other nature-connected organisations. Their most treasured experience though, was attending a 7 day Art of Mentoring camp delivered by Weaving Earth and the 8 Shields Institute. This camp was the experiential introduction and inspiration for the use of the 8 Shields Deep Nature Connection model that underpins all programming, decision making, philosophy and training in Educated by Nature Programs – by far the biggest contributor to the direction of the organisation from its inception. 

The years since this initial milestone experience have seen the organisation grow, refine its strategic goals and philosophical direction and expand its team of staff. Numerous professional learning engagements, keynote presentations, school incursions, school holiday programs, camps and after school clubs later, Educated by Nature is feeling solid in its foundation and identity as a contributor to the nature education and nature play experience in the Perth Community and beyond. Being recognised as a Telstra Business Awards finalist (in the Social Changemakers Category) in 2019 was another milestone that helped fuel the passion of the team and set goals for future development. 

Moving forward

Today, Educated by Nature has gathered a team of exceptional facilitators and mentors and has moved into a new phase of organisational structure. 2020 saw the creation of 5 new roles within the team: 

  • A part-time Incursions Officer (Fay Baudains) who supports the development, coordination and delivery of our suite of external programs – incursion and community engagement programs that offer schools and local communities the chance to experience some of our core philosophical concepts. 
  • A part-time Family Programs Officer (Katie Bennett) who coordinates our inhouse programs – our KIN Village school holiday program and after-school and home-school Bush Inventors’ Clubs.
  • We feel fortunate to still be working with our part-time Executive Assistant (Aimee Ingram) who is our trusty gatekeeper and supports our community through booking into programs, customer enquiries, stakeholder communication and a raft of other jobs that we couldn’t do without her. 
  • We have also just recently brought on an Accounts Manager (Fiona Bow) who provides support with bookkeeping, financial planning and accounts management.

Two of our Junior staff (who are not so junior anymore) have also come on board in a more permanent capacity in the last 18 months and are living into their gifts and passions but also extending themselves by taking on new challenges and rising to the occasion. 

  • Isaac Wetherley, our Logistics Officer, supports the team with equipment and resource management; and 
  • Tui Dougiamas, our Marketing and Support Officer, provides crucial behind the scenes support with our social media management and technical support. 

This ‘core team’ is still supported by a diverse group of casual Nature Playworkers and Junior Playworkers – 14 additional team members who continue to provide incredible experiences for the children at our programs.

It’s humbling to reflect on the last 7 years and to see the incredible journey that has led to where Educated by Nature is right now. It’s like watching a garden grow and mature – seeing how the plants and wildlife in that garden develop and change, adapting to their environment, blooming and blossoming when the conditions are just right to then stand proud in their glory. Trudi and Daniel took a leap of faith from their solid foundation in their teaching roles at Bold Park Community School to embark on journey guided by an idea and passion. Their path was lit by their vision to provide a service to the community, a resource for families and children to engage with the natural world in authentic and deeply connected ways. To provide a space for children to find themselves and connect with their innate passion for life through play and inquisitive focus. To be a voice for children and educators and contribute to the conversation on the needs of the child and the needs of the environment. However, along the way, in addition to these things, Educated by Nature has become a family; a village of its very own. A community of educators, playworkers, parents, teenagers, children and families who have a common goal – to build resilience through connection.

BIG thumbs up and rave reviews from us to you! My son has always had a passion for nature and the great outdoors but isn’t a competitive, sporty kid. I felt like I had struck gold when we discovered your after school and school holiday programs. He absolutely LOVES it! Your entire team actually connect on their level, let their personalities shine through and make everything FUN! Thanks from one very grateful Mum