Today I had the opportunity to take a learning walk with the directors of two local preschools where many of the students of Wahroonga Public School go for their prior to school education.
We visited John Brotchie Nursery School in the Sydney suburb of Botany.
John Brotchie Nursery School is a Department of Education school providing an educational program for children the year before they attend school. John Brotchie is a unique preschool that provides large indoor classrooms and a huge outdoor garden. Their award winning garden provides many and varied opportunities for the children to connect with nature, create and imagine, grow veggies and care for our animals. The schools indoor classrooms provide a wide variety of curriculum options, in well organised and resourced learning spaces.
Sarah Armstrong, owner/director of Beehive Preschools in Wahroonga, Turramurra, St Ives and Castle Hill and Melissa Puckeridge, director of KU Wahroonga Preschool, joined me today to visit John Brotchie Nursery School and meet the schools Principal, Rebecca Andrews.
Historically an industrial area, Botany’s factories are being replaced by high-density housing, in which many of the John Brotchie Nursery School children reside. The preschool’s focus on natural living and environmental awareness offers students the backyard they might not otherwise have.
According to John Brotchie Nursery School Principal, Rebecca Andrews, the children are learning to be environmentally-conscious citizens, while following the prescribed curriculum and having fun at the same time. “We have veggie patches, herb gardens, egg-laying chickens, tadpole ponds, compost bins, worm farms, water tanks and recycling bins — all of which the children have a role in,” Rebecca said. “The children help plant and harvest their veggies, care for the chickens and collect the eggs, follow the life cycle of new tadpoles and, above all else, continuously recycle everything they can. “Our Environmental Education Program teaches children the value of waste reduction through effective recycling, which we hope will lay the foundations for a greener future.”
Rebecca Andrews was the winner of the Australian Early Childhood Teacher of the Year Award in the 2012 Australian Awards for Outstanding Teaching and School Leadership. Rebecca is the Principal at John Brotchie Nursery School, NSW.
Her study – Risk or Benefit: Using the Outdoors to Educate Children in the Early Years
Rebecca used her sabbatical to explore international approaches to Early Childhood pedagogy and explored how different strategies could be incorporated into an Australian context. Rebecca participated in a study tour of the Reggio Emilia region in Italy, visiting schools and meeting with experts. She investigated the ‘Forest Schools’ approach in Denmark and the United Kingdom to challenge her own practices of using the outdoors to help children achieve and learn.
Our visit gave the opportunity for Sarah and Melissa to ask questions, discuss centre similarities and differences, share documentation processes for programming and informing parents. They discussed traditional folders /dividers with jottings and digital platforms to record observations and leaning stories such as Storybook and Leap. Rebecca was equally passionate about the educators being with the children in their learning rather than behind a camera capturing the learning – hard for educators to find the balance I am sure.
The John Brotchie Nursery School garden has won previous awards, including first place at the 2011 City of Botany Council Garden competition and the NSW Early Childhood Environmental Education Network Sprouts Sustainable Practice Awards. The school also won first prize in the 2012 Keep Australia Beautiful Sustainable Cities Award for Metropolitan Schools.
Both Sarah and Melissa reflected on the visit –
“An inspirational journey with passionate educators to an amazing progressive preschool. It was wonderful to share and discuss the different environments and possibilities for improving transition to school processes for children, families and educators.” – Melissa Puckeridge
“Thank you for the opportunity to see a wonderful centre where the environment is a credit to their philosophy of quality outdoor education. The play spaces inside and outside were inspiring and the children were totally engaged in quality play based learning. I loved the kitchen. ” – Sarah Armstrong
Thank you Rebecca for your time today sharing with us such a wonderful environment for children, families and educators.