The Outdoor Classroom: What Kids Can Learn From the Bush

The Outdoor Classroom - What kids can learn from being in the bushAs the weather cools here in Queensland our family day trips will move from the beach to the bush. We will swap surfing for nature walks and waves for waterholes. I find that when the temperature drops the hinterlands beckon. There is something about walking in the rainforest; damp humidity, the low hum of insects and fleeting colour as birds flit at the edges of our peripheral vision. I love the playgrounds created by strangler figs and the shelves of fungi that might just shelter fairy folk. I want to share all of it with my kids.

My mum, an avid bush walker, would always tell me to look up. Not to miss the canopy. I tell my boys the same thing. Don’t look to your feet — look to the sky. Don’t miss a thing. In summer the beach teaches my kids about tides, the ocean and creatures in rockpools. The rainforest becomes our winter outdoor classroom. I didn’t realise quite how much there was to learn until I accompanied my eldest on a school trip to our local Aboriginal cultural centre – Ngutana-Lui

During that excursion one of the teachers took us on a nature walk. He picked the leaves of plants I’d passed a thousand times and told us how they could be used. The rough leaf of the sandpaper fig tree can be used to sand the edges of boomerangs and spears. The cocky apple tree’s bark can be placed in a creek where it absorbs oxygen, making it easier to catch fish.  He told of the Bunya Mountains Ceremony. A place where culture groups would meet and exchange not only their local flora but their stories. Stories that were given the same trading value as food and tools. And he gave us that gift. He told us the stories of the plants we had previously taken for granted.

The Outdoor Classroom - What kids can learn from being in the bush

I want my children to appreciate Aboriginal history and culture. I want them to understand and respect the traditional custodians of their country. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out how to do that. How to be respectful without cultural appropriation. How to explain that a culture at least 40,000 years old has been devastatingly damaged in the past 200. Learning about the traditional uses for native plants, and having my boys appreciate the things found in the wild have value and utility, seems like a good place to start.

As winter approaches we will definitely be headed on a few rainforest rambles, with a new interest in what our native plants can do.

Here are some of the things on our ramble list:

1. Bark Rubbings. We just need some crayons and paper and we can take the texture of the rainforest home with us.

2. Sketching. Yes, we could take photographs, but there is something so gentle about the art of sketching. Taking the extra time to really observe the detail and textures in the things we find.

3. Scavenger Hunts. My son and I want to learn more about native plants and their uses. I’d love to explore this with my boys with a native scavenger hunt. I’ll find out more about my local bush area and jot down the things they can find if they look hard enough.

4. Stick races. Is there anything quite like racing sticks or leaves down the creek? Some childhood pleasures never age, just ask Winnie the Pooh.

5. Take it home. We won’t leave our litter but we will make a commitment to take three pieces of other people’s rubbish away from the areas which we visit.

Do you love rainforest or bush walks in winter?

More activities for family fun:

Top image: Getty / Other image: Robyna May