AFSA Approved Provider: Earthside Explorers
Earthside Explorers was created in 2021 to advocate for and facilitate children and families’ connections with each other, with themselves and with the natural world. Our two main programs – Play Village and Natural Journeys – run weekly during school terms in three separate locations on the NSW South Coast, allowing participants to develop ongoing connection to place across the seasons.
Our vision is to facilitate opportunities for children and adults, so they feel supported in community as they deeply reconnect with the natural world through play. Our programs are intentionally unstructured, following a seasonal plan that links indigenous seasonal knowledge, the 4 elements of Water, Fire, Earth and Air, and Jon Young’s 8-shields cycles.
While participating in our programs, children are engaging and exploring within a natural space where experiences are, for the most part, self-directed and self-chosen. It is a space where they are able to become deeply involved in their play but are also required to maintain a degree of alert attentiveness to the activity and the space around them. They are engaging with others, negotiating and determining rules and sharing ideas in a way that is not pressured or stressed.
Our programs allow many opportunities for the various types of play, either singularly or in different combinations.
Children often engage in dramatic play, recreating characters of superheros as they jump from rocks and ‘fly’ through the air. They use communicative play when they explore animal calls, create and tell stories and rhymes and share their ideas and observations.
Exploratory play, object play, and creative play are key features of the sessions as children develop understanding about materials through touch, sight, sound and smell. As they transform elements within the space they engage in creative play, making new connections and deepening their understanding.
Physical play, particularly locomotor play and mastery play, are embedded into the programme as children naturally run, climb, explore movement and tools through play.
We follow the interests and curiosities of the children, making decisions about the day democratically. Our mentors support and facilitate the children’s development by using open questions, intentionally guiding participants to deepen their observations and explore their own theories, providing resources for further investigation where requested.
We share a deep respect for the kinship that indigenous peoples around the world have with the land, acknowledging our local First Nations people as the knowledge keepers of this land during our greeting circles each week. We have connected with Uncle Matt Sims, a local Wandi Wandean man who runs Djiriba Waagura. He has shared traditional stories, dance and Welcome to Country ceremonies with us over the past year and we hope to continue this relationship and deepen our collaboration with our local First Nations people.
Observing the impact of our own presence, weather events and seasonal changes allows us the opportunity to discuss conservation and sustainable practices on a regular basis. We encourage children to be aware of the impact they have on the environment daily through discussions about the rubbish we create, the compaction of soil and the way we can take care of the plants and animals within our play areas.
We hold a vision of a world in which ALL children are afforded the opportunity to connect deeply with the natural world and where possible, we offer reduced fees to enable inclusion. We also have families with limited mobility who are able to access our programs through the support of our mentors, whether it is meeting them in the carpark for assistance or adjusting our activities to support them. Each participants needs, whether physical, financial or otherwise, are met on an individual basis through collaboration and discussion.
By embedding the foundational values of regular, ongoing connection with a natural space over an extended period of time, play-based and learner-led experiences, and a holistic approach to learning and development, the programs offered by Earthside Explorers reflect clearly the guiding principles of the Australian Forest School Association.