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St Andrew’s students embrace education in the great outdoors

When our children rode their bicycles or walked to school, spent part of their afternoons kicking the footy or throwing the netball, there was doubtless less need for it, but as we now find ourselves citizens of the digital age, it has become a vital component of the school curriculum.

I am talking about education in the great outdoors which, over the past two decades, has come to the fore and, more recently, gone on to embrace nature play and interaction with our environment.

It is most rewarding to see how enthusiastically our St Andrew’s School students enjoy our carefully devised outdoor education program that seeks to align activity with classroom endeavours, amalgamating all disciplines and seeing to it that skills are transferable.

Over the years, it has been equally rewarding to see the enormous benefits that flow from a comprehensive outdoor education program. We know how good it is to be active, all the more so when it takes place in the fresh air and under a warm sun – with all the slip, slop, slap, seek and slide measures adhered to, of course!

We have seen our students’ health enhanced, along with their learning capacity. The physical exercise, complemented by the mental stimulation of creating new things and allowing the imagination to run wild, leaves them suitably tired. A good night’s sleep invariably follows, as does a brain that is fresh and alert the next day.

In keeping with trends and innovative thinking in the area of outdoor play, our program has developed greatly since our first tentative steps some 20 or so years ago, to the point where a sizeable portion of our campus is now devoted to outdoor education activities.

And when our own space imposes limitations, there is always great public space to discover and explore, whether it’s an educative meander along the nearby River Torrens and its abundant Linear Park, or heading out into the bush on day-long excursions or overnight camps.

Closer to home, we have created a mosaic of pleasantly shaded outdoor areas, where on any given day, you’ll find children in the playground; planting, watering and nurturing flowers and shrubs in our school garden; pulling on the aprons and heading for the mud kitchen to bake a ‘mud cake’ with a difference; or sitting quietly on the outdoor furniture while they update their nature diaries to record the day’s collections and observations.

Others may well be found engaging in simple and soothing activities such as sitting down to read a book while breathing in the fresh air, taking in nature’s many aromas and absorbing the sounds of the wind through the trees, birdsong and chirping insects.

Nature play has certainly added to their rich understanding and appreciation of the world we live in and our role as the current custodians. But more than that, it has also allowed them to grasp the difference between danger and risk. We always work to eliminate danger but through nature play – whether climbing trees or jumping across streams – our students are encouraged to weigh up what’s risky and then, when comfortable with the degree of risk, have a go.

We are not done yet, with some ambitious plans already unfolding or in conceptual stage.

Our playground masterplan will see us introduce more wood structures and ninja equipment into the environment, while at the end of the secret garden, we will create a little farm area that, with a veggie patch and a chook run, will help children understand where their food comes from.

Yes, there is a place for digital technology and sedentary moments in our school curriculum, but let us never forget the enormous benefits of outdoor play. It has been around and doing good since time immemorial and you can be sure its merits will demand it is here to stay, at least at St Andrew’s School.

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  • St Andrew’s School is a South Australian independent, co-educational specialist primary school providing excellence in education from playgroup through to early years and on to Year 7. Principal Jackie Becher – an International Baccalaureate School – UNESCO Associated School.