Engaging with the outdoor classroom – stepping off the asphalt!

Jenny Dudgeon1, Ruth Whelan1, Sharyn Brett1,2

1Department of Education Tasmania, 2Sustainability Learning Centre and wyraparatee Child and Family Centre, Geeveston

In 2017 and 2018, Aboriginal Education Services (AES) and the Sustainability Learning Centre (SLC) in response to the Australian Curriculum’s Early Years Learning Framework’s focus on nature pedagogy, play based, student led inquiry offer an outdoor classroom immersion program for early year’s educators and students in suburban Hobart as a model of play based environmental education for educators to adopt in their own school settings.   We have noticed a strong push  back from early years educators and their managers to engage with learning out of doors – hence the program development to model how the outdoor environment has great potential to pose real world problems that engage learners and provide rich cross curriculum, multi-disciplinary learning to enable to;

“look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better”- Albert Einstein

The program has three strands.

1: Learning on and in Country with an Aboriginal Early Years Education Worker

2: Exploring and investigating the outdoor classroom with an outdoor educator

3: Engaging and collaborating with peers through problem solving using loose parts and natural affordances led by an early years educator

All strands of the program invite participants to move out of their comfort zone by stepping off the asphalt and with all their senses – engage with Tasmania’s Aboriginal cultural heritage, explore the ever changing environment, its natural affordances and how these can be used, interacted in/with and learned from.

An independent reflection of the immersion program has captured the thoughts and feelings and learnings of educators, parents and children involved.


Jenny Dudgeon
Jenny leads the innovative bush kindergarten/nature play programs at Tasmania’s Department of Education’s Sustainability Learning Centre (SLC). Inviting young learners and educators to step off the asphalt and engage with the bush first hand. In 2016, Jenny’s US Hardie Fellowship, investigated educating for sustainability through hands-on, real-world inquiry-learning; nature play/outdoor classrooms. A result of her inquiry is the outdoor classroom immersion program offered by the SLC in partnership with Tasmania’s Aboriginal Education Services targeting early years classes to embed nature based learning. Jenny’s a member of Tasmania’s Science Teachers Association and Convenor of the Australian Association of Environmental Educators – Tasmania.

Ruth Whelan
Ruth has extensive experience in outdoor education working in an education capacity for Green Corp, Greening Australia and currently for Eco Schools Australia and Keep Australia Beautiful – Tasmania. Ruth loves the outdoors and her greatest delights are sharing her passions for rock climbing and mountain biking with her children. Ruth recently completed her Masters of Education through Swinburne University and has begun an Early Years Grad Cert. Ruth, co – leads the SLC’s regular bush kinder community program and is co-collaborator in the SLC’s outdoor classroom program.

Sharyn Brett
In 2015, Sharyn co developed the bush kinder program for the SLC. She has been integral to the programs sensitive Aboriginal intercultural lens, exploring and learning about Country for Tasmania’s young children and their families. Sharyn is a member of Tasmania’s Aboriginal community and values her role as educator encouraging all participants to gain a more inclusive knowledge of Aboriginal history and its living culture. Sharyn provides Aboriginal early years programs across the Huon/Channel areas through wyraparatee Child and Family Centre and co-leads the SLC bush kinder and outdoor programs on Mondays and Tuesdays. Families traverse Hobart to attend the bush kinder program because of the opportunity to learn about Tasmania’s Aboriginal culture from Sharyn.

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