by Beth Chesny, year one teacher, Freshwater Bay Primary School
Beth Chesny teaches Year One at Freshwater Bay Primary School. She was an early adopter of the Nature Play Passport Program and has incorporated it into the Year One program. Beth strongly believes that interaction with the natural environment is an important factor in growing well-being and resilience in children and has actively looked for opportunities to encourage her students to explore their environments.
Nature Play WA is an organisation devoted to helping Western Australian children and their families connect with nature, advocating for the importance of unstructured, outdoor play in a healthy childhood. The Nature Play Passport to An Amazing Childhood is a tool provided to encourage children to experience life as “free-range kids”.
Beth became aware of the Nature Play Passport Program through an article in the West Australian. Contact with Nature Play confirmed the potential of the Program to foster confidence in new students and add an element of excitement and adventure to the Year One experience at Freshwater Bay.
Beth’s introduction of the Passport Program into the Year One classroom met with such a strongly positive response that it has become a “fixture” of the primary school experience for Freshwater Bay students.
At the beginning of the program – usually Term 1 – children are issued with a Nature Play Passport, each sporting the child’s name and photograph and outlining the ten missions the class will tackle over the coming weeks. The passports are kept in the classroom until all the missions have been completed, after which they’re sent home and parents are given the option to register the passports on line.
Beth values the flexibility of the Program and indicated that it has been easy to adapt to the needs of her classroom. The stickers provided with the Passport “guide” the missions she sets each week, enabling her to make sure that the program links to the school curriculum and demonstrably contributes to learning outcomes. She uses it to complement, for example, the Science and Language Experience programs. At times, Beth has also made use of the lesson plans provided on the Nature Play website.
“The flexibility is good and I have made it work for my class. I have to be able to justify the Passport Program against the curriculum... For example, the missions easily feed into science; it might be something as simple as finding shapes in clouds or making boats from leaves and we use those experiences for portfolio stories… The children really look forward to it. It is hands-on learning, in a way, that makes them really look at their world and broaden their view.”
Weekly excursions from the classroom often take place in and around the school: Beth considers the Freshwater Bay community is “lucky” to have access to well-established school grounds and community parks. Although missions may take some “thinking about” Beth stresses that some of the more simple missions have profound effects.
“A lot of kids have never climbed a tree and don’t know how to. They can be so hesitant – but watching others do it encourages them to try. We protect children so much in so many ways but we do them a disservice by not letting them go out and try things and letting them work things out for themselves…Learning to climb a tree gives them a real sense of achievement.”
Beth sees the positive impacts of participation in the Passport Program on each new cohort of Year ones. She credits the program with making her classroom a happier and more inclusive unit, more willing and better able to work through problems and work in teams.
“At the beginning of the year, a lot of the children don’t know each other very well – the Program makes my class more cohesive, more of a family. It makes them more tolerant, more willing to listen to other children’s ideas. You can’t just presume that kids will always play happily and work in a group – it’s something they need to learn and practice through play.”
At an individual level, the Program is encouraging children to be less risk-averse and more resilient. Missions are actively working to eliminate the disconnection between childhood and informal interaction with the natural world. When she introduced the Passport Program, Beth was initially surprised to find that not only had many children never climbed a tree, they may never have had experiences like building a cubby or planting a seed.
“I think our lifestyle works against us – families are busy, after school is often crammed with structured activities, gardens are smaller or children may not spend much time outdoors.
Children respond so well to the Mission experiences and we get really great feedback from parents as well. We can watch the students becoming more resilient: in the classroom, they’ll figuratively pick themselves up and try again.”
The Program offers different learning opportunities for children who struggle with traditional desk-learning; weekly Missions have become both a key learning platform and a “highlight” of the school week. The positive experiences of outdoor missions in Year One have a lasting impact: children are more active at recess and lunch and many of the older children continue to bring interesting items from the outdoors to Beth to look at.
The positivity with which the Program is viewed is demonstrated by the ripple effect on the broader school community’s attitudes. Many parents report the program prompting them to consciously go outdoors with their children. The school community has moved toward a philosophy of recognizing outdoor play as critical to healthy and happy development and is currently supporting Freshwater Bay’s plan to build a Nature Play playground.
Advice for Others
Beth’s experience with the Nature Play Passport Program has been positive. She describes a richer classroom experience for both herself and her students.
“As a teacher when planning, the Nature Play Passport inspires me to look at resources in the ‘outdoor classroom,” to make use of and think of ideas of how to incorporate them into my lessons.
The missions can be planned to match the individual interests and needs of any year level. I often change the missions from year to year.
The children love the very real looking passport that they can keep when all the missions are completed. I encourage other teachers to use this wonderful resource in any creative way they can. The possibilities are endless.”
Many schools have taken on the Passport to an Amazing Childhood program, and if you're a school teacher or administrator who'd like to share your achievements and learnings, please email us at [email protected]