Aussie Adventist school goes ‘bush’

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Every Tuesday afternoon, an Adventist school in northern New South Wales (NSW) “goes bush”. From 12:30pm onwards, the students at Manning Adventist School head outside and enjoy a few hours of unstructured play outside in nature. Activities they have engaged in include weaving, mud play, bushwalking, slacklining, studying insects and building dens. Head teacher Dianne Hillsdon is the leader of the “bush school” initiative.

“It’s been very successful in building confidence and creating resilience,” says Mrs Hillsdon of the kids at Manning. “They’ve attempted things they’ve never done before, like climbing trees and playing in mud — all those things that children don’t do nearly as often these days or not at all. I love that about it. In a time when children are more anxious and stressed than ever before, it gives time for us as teachers to connect, build relationships and understand children’s behaviour. It gives children the chance to be creative, use their imaginations and become more environmentally conscious.”

Mrs Hillsdon first heard about outdoor unstructured play during a previous role as Adventist Education Director in Western Australia. It captured her interest and she later enrolled in training to become an accredited Forest School Leader (Level 3). This involved studying for more than 12 months and travelling to the UK twice to complete the course. The qualification allows for Bush Schools to happen with any age group right up to adults. She is the only trained person in Adventist schools across Australia.

"I've worked in Adventist schools for 30 years but this is the best thing I've ever done."

“Bush School aligns beautifully with our ethos of Adventist education,” says Mrs Hillsdon. “The initiative began in Scandinavia during the 1950s where it is known as Forest Schools. Forest Schools migrated to the UK during the early 1990s where it now forms a part of almost every pre-school across the country. Australia is about 20 years behind the United Kingdom (UK). It is our choice to call this program Bush School because of our Australian context.”

Bush School currently runs one afternoon a week but Mrs Hillsdon would like to increase it to lunchtimes every day. The children have been asking for more!

“I’ve worked in Adventist schools for 30 years but this is the best thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “I’d love to gain a Level 4 accreditation, train other teachers and help implement this program in all of our NSW Adventist schools.” The program aligns with curriculum outcomes and can replace other not-so-exciting subjects!

“There is a ‘buzz’ around the local town. People are getting to hear about what we are doing at Manning,” says Mrs Hillsdon. “We have been on the television, radio and newspapers in the last month. This week we had the local pre-school come to visit, which boosted our numbers by more than 20 students. Please check out our Facebook page to learn more about the exciting things that are happening at our school.”