Committee Spotlight: Birdwings Forest School
BIRDWINGS FOREST SCHOOL
Birdwings is an innovative, unique and award-winning place for children. Established in 2018, we are the Gold Coast’s first Forest School to operate a full day drop-off kindergarten program 100% outdoors with no building. We practice traditional play out of doors without toys or screens. We believe that the foundational development essential for children’s learning is gained through active physical play, handcraft, social interaction with people of all ages, and nature connection. Our philosophy is based on the understanding that children are capable and creative individuals and that the process of learning (including the challenges!) is as important as the learning itself.
Our programs include Babies WildPlay for infants, WildPlay Adventurers for families of children under school age, Little Birdwings Forest Kindergarten, Adventure Club for preschoolers, Eco Rangers for school-age children, our School Holiday Forest School programs, occasional handcraft workshops for all ages and consultancy for bush kindy providers and other services.
Birdwings is named for Ornithoptera Richmondia, the Richmond Birdwing Butterflies, and the pararistolochia praevenosa, the Richmond Birdwing Butterfly vine, both native to the Gold Coast hinterland area and both endangered. The children we work with have a special connection to this butterfly and we use its name as a promise we have made to protect the butterfly, its habitat and the land.
We acknowledge and celebrate Kombumerri land and culture. We work with local Kombumerri mentors and use Ngarangwal language in our songs, stories and interactions with nature, as much as possible. Our practice of Ecological Storytelling acknowledges the wisdom and experience of the Kombumerri people, and all that we can learn about this land. We promise to respectfully take care of the land, to constantly learn as much as we can about local indigenous knowledge, both cultural and environmental, and to share what we have learned. As such, Birdwings is committed to working as much as reasonably possible in ways that do not cause harm to the environment, local habitats and local wildlife.
Sustainable practices are a way of life for us and are woven into each of our programs, including ecological restoration and mindful use of land and resources. Sustainability also involves promoting healthy wellbeing of all life, and as an inclusive business, we are open to learning about new ways to understand our world, developing our sense of belonging to space, place and people. In addition to spontaneous play and conversations surrounding social issues we celebrate our unique families and heritage through handcrafts, storytelling and observing seasonal festivals with our families and community.
Play at Birdwings is free-flowing and mostly unstructured, involving the provision of open-ended materials where children can decide for themselves how they will play. Children are invited to discuss how they would like to design their day and plans are made accordingly. Our play is adventurous – going on journeys into wild nature together. Risky and adventurous play allows children to test their personal boundaries, discover social confidence and assess their own feelings of personal safety with a focus on respectful use, and a sense of safety and wellbeing – for ourselves and others.
Our mentors encourage children to embrace challenges and new experiences in this kind of play, acting more as a “companion” to children, rather than a teacher. Mentors may invite children to play, undertake challenges or create something, but will rarely offer set ‘activities’ or formal learning opportunities, unless requested by the children, and in the context of play. This may result in some challenging moments for some children, as they awaken to the idea that we trust them in their learning but won’t always do things for them.
We are proud of our programs and have been recognised for our innovative approach to nature immersion as Finalists for 5 years in a row at the Outdoors Qld awards since 2018, and winners of these awards in 2020 and 2022. Birdwings Forest School offers professional mentoring to other early childhood, nature play and outdoor services who would like to work with our special, creative and adventurous approaches. We offer personal consultations, speaking at conferences and online learning.