Consulting with Kwoorabup Nature School

When Kwoorabup Nature School in Denmark, on the south west coast of Western Australia, invited us to consult with them for just over a week, we were both excited and daunted. Each class in this amazing school already spends a whole day outside every week, known as Walkabout Day. They have a magnificent karri forest across the road, a nearby river and, a little further away, the Wilson Inlet. This school has acknowledged the importance of both nature connection and children’s right to play and learn through play-based learning. These are important core values of their school, demonstrated by their commitment to spend 20% of the week outdoors.

The Kwoorabup Nature School has a comprehensive program that follows the Nyoongar seasons and explores different elements of nature with seasonal celebrations. Their program is rich in rituals that include opening a session with music, space to be and play, activities that foster care for nature, and with Sit Spot meditations that help with boodjar ninicht (listening to Ccountry). 

The aim of our consultation was to enrich the ways in which inquiry-based learning principles could be brought from the outdoors during Walkabout Day into the classroom. Our initial approach was to spend time with the classes in their outdoor space and to firstly encourage educators to view their approach to Walkabout Day as a place for inquiry learning. 

At the professional learning workshop Educated by Nature subsequently facilitated, we were discussing the role of the educators with Kwoorabup staff. Two important roles of the educator emerged. These were: 

  • educators as Question Collectors and Custodians of Stories, and 
  • the importance of educators being ready to listen. 

The group discussed having a device or notepad available to support recording and remembering the questions, theories, and wonderings of children during the session.

Define the intention

The importance of setting an intention for a session and collaboration among the teaching team was discussed. This means that rather than collectingall the questions and theories that may arise, the educator in their role as Question Collector is selective in recording and collecting questions that align with the intention of the session.

Custodians of Stories

Selectivity also applies to the other role of the educator, being Custodian of Stories. This role involves holding emerging stories as well as stories that have been significant in developing culture within the school.

At  Kwoorabup Nature School, one such story that has shaped the culture of the school is that of currency within cubby play. This story emerged from play that involved the Watsonia corms or bulbs children dug from under the grant. These corms are then processed by removing the outer fibres to reveal a shiny round ‘coin’.

This story is significant because it has been developed over many years by many children, essentially becoming folklore. Younger children who are yet to enter the Karri forest space, named as Sparksville by the children, are looking forward with anticipation to having their part in a story about which they’ve heard so much. The story is held by the children and continues to flow and develop through them.  Educators also hold the responsibility of custodians of the story and to highlight links to amazing learning opportunities. For example, educators can draw attention to how the children’s play has positively changed the landscape of the forest – there has been a huge reduction in the amount of weeds growing in that part of the forest due to their harvesting.

Linking to learning

It is important to be able to use the adventures that children have or turn their adventures into stories to engage children and highlight learning that is taking place. In the following week of consultation, we focused on the elements of being a Custodian of Stories and a Question Collector. The educators were reminded to look for these opportunities throughout Walkabout Day. This meant being open to inquiry being applicable to curriculum areas other than science – a great opportunity presented that linked to maths! 

Allowing space and time

We facilitated discussion about allowingallow time for settling and natural inquiry. Children’s need for feeling safe was recognised, especially very young children who are leaving their parents to come to school. Providing areas of safety and rest on the school grounds as they adjust to new spaces and social dynamics should be considered. 

There needs to be space in a day. When we as teachers plan a day and pack it to the brim with content, there is little to no space for natural inquiry to occur. Allowing space and not overplanning was considered, working with a 50/50 rule, with 50% planned and 50% open. As teachers we also need to self reflect on how much ‘teacher talk’ we engage in! We encouraged the teaching team to set an intention for the day, meaning a goal is set for ‘teacher talk’ that aligns with the intention of the day. 

It is important to be reminded that children’s play is rich with learning. Curriculum areas can be brought to that play. As educators’, we can step back, observe play, have an intent with a curriculum area in mind, and then use that play to bring in additional learning.

Finding the flow

Finally, we looked at finding the flow. Starting with tracking as an adventure to find mysteries, while being prepared with equipment to take on the role of Question Collector. From the adventure and question collection, turn your attention to the role of Custodian of Stories; what stories have emerged? Then take hold of the story and questions and bring them back to the classroom. This is the flow of inquiry-based learning! 

Kwoorabup Nature School is a small independent school in Denmark, Western Australia. It started out as the school, Spirit of Play, which developed its culture around play-based and child-led learning. Surrounding the school is magnificent Karri forest, river and the Wilson Inlet. The school values the nature that surrounds them and commits time for each class to spend a whole day per week outdoors in these surrounds, with the guidance of a specialised educator. The outdoor spaces around their classrooms are also inviting and educators use outdoor spaces at other times of the week for learning in addition to the Walka About Day. Nyoongar language and culture is integrated throughout the school, the six Nyoongar seasons are acknowledged in the programming of the Walkabout sessions and Caring for Boodjar is an important aspect of everything they do. This school is unique in its commitment to the amount of time learning outdoors as well as the time to follow the needs of the children which, in our opinion, creates a peaceful and joyful school experience.

Discover more about Educated by Nature’s Consultancy Service and Nature Connection Series on our website.