Hearing kids say that “this was the best excursion ever!” is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work as an educator at Centennial Parklands. Kids get excited about discoveries in nature, including bugs! This is such a good reminder of how wonderous the natural world is and how curious students are about the world around them when they have someone to help them engage with it. I’m so delighted that the Centennial Parklands Foundation provides generous Access Pass funding each year that means that all kids, regardless of where they live and what their background is, can enjoy education programs in the great outdoors.
Students with little experience or access to natural places can feel uncomfortable in the outdoors, which can lead to a lack of understanding and engagement with the Living World (Science) and Geographical aspects of the school curriculum. What we see is that once students are given access and they start having fun through enjoyable and engaging curriculum-based activities, the learning and understanding becomes real and a sense of excitement and a desire to know more takes over.
The benefits of learning in our Parklands reach far beyond curriculum understanding. Students develop physical, emotional, social and communication skills through learning outdoors, as well as gaining a deepened connection to nature. We need future generations to value outdoor environments, both for ongoing environmental protection and for our health and wellbeing. Many students come back to visit the park with their families after they have come for an excursion, sharing their own stories and knowledge of the park with pride.
Even in the middle of the city there is so much to explore at Centennial Parklands. Our education programs provide students with unique and accessible outdoor learning experiences. We combine experiential learning with nature play, there is wildlife to see and each day varies. I always get a thrill to see the flying-foxes, freshwater eels, turtles, possums, and dragonflies and so do the kids.
As an educator at Centennial Parklands, some of my favourite activities to do with students on our school and community programs are:
Dipnetting in the Ponds
Dipnetting is like fishing for tiny macroinvertebrates, with nets and spoons. Macroinvertebrates are tiny water bugs that can tell us about the water quality of the ponds. Diving beetles are common to find and they swim really fast round in circles. My favourite creature is the caddisfly lava. This stage of the caddisfly life cycle takes place in the hollow of a tiny stick. If you see a stick moving around the tray, looking closely you may see legs poking out pulling the stick along. This creature only lives in clean unpolluted water, so when we find one of these it indicates clean pond water.
Exploring Lachlan Wetland
Exploring Lachlan Wetland is an adventure. This place is an important refuge of grey-headed flying foxes, a threatened species that provides pollination of many plant species. Populations fluctuate in the wetland and with the recent bushfires and habitat loss, it is becoming increasingly important. In February 2020, 90,000 flying-foxes inhabited this area! Exploring this habitat with students we discover what the bats have been eating by observing the plants growing in the understory. You can also see the water bubbling up from the underground springs.
Building shelters with sticks is an art and an ancient tradition. We teach kids how to build safely with sticks and construct free standing shelters that they can enter. Sometimes we give shelters the water test by pouring water over the shelters to see if it is waterproof. Building shelters is a fantastic small group team building activity, encouraging imagination, leadership and gross motor skills.
Centennial Parklands Foundation is committed to social inclusion and proudly supports our education programs by providing funding for schools that may otherwise not be able to afford our programs with the Education Access Pass Program. The grant covers both the cost of the program and transport. Find out more here.