Debra Salahuddeen counts herself fortunate to have grown up on a farm and an orchard in the Hills of Perth.
“‘Nature Play’ was just what we kids did every day...until it was too dark to see outside and our mums called us in to soak off the layers of dirt we’d managed to accumulate during our escapades,” she says.
Debra has worked for many years at the Lance Holt School, in the West End of Fremantle. It is a small independent school of about 125 students with a focus on nurturing not only children’s academic abilities, but also their social, emotional and civic development. The school values a play-based curriculum, as far as possible allowing children’s interests to guide their learning. Teachers work hard to be environmentally responsible and to instill in the children a deep respect for each other, for our wider community and for the Earth.
Debra began the Lance Holt Bush School in 2012 after initial training as a Forest Schools practitioner. Being an inner-city school with a very small playground, they have long known the need to maximise the opportunities for the children to be within the natural environment. The Forest Schools training and later a study tour to Scotland working with Claire Warden, gave Debra the skills, particularly with Benefit/Risk analysis, to establish the Bush School.
Bush School operates for Lance Holt’s Year 2 and 3 students each Friday for three terms of the year. They have a school bus to reach various locations, dependent on learning focus or on the weather. Most sites are within a twenty-minute drive from Fremantle, with the bush land of Bibra Lake being a particular favourite due to the diversity of wildlife it supports.
“I have no doubt whatsoever that if I took the children outdoors and allowed them complete free play for the day, there would be innumerable benefits. However, as an educator, obliged to meet the demands of the seemingly overloaded Western Australian curriculum, I need to ensure that I can align a day out of the classroom with valid, authentic learning experiences,” Debra says.
“It is for this that I have acquired a passion, and with the Bush School now in its sixth successful year, I have trialed and developed a host of activities that allow children to be in Nature, to use natural resources in their explorations, investigations and documentations and to not only meet the curricula needs, but to develop young people who have a great sense of independence. They develop practical and creative thinking skills. They learn how to really work together to solve authentic problems and above all, they develop an abiding love of being connected to nature, a sense of global environmental stewardship and a genuine belief they have the capacity to be instruments of change.”