‘Bush Schools’ bring Aboriginal culture alive for children

December 12, 2012

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Researchers Libby Jackson-Barrett (left) and Libby Lee-Hammond with Southwell Primary pupils (from left to right) Savannah Pegler, Tuhleesha Walley, Marcel Wynne, Dwayne Garlett and Andrew Togba.

Murdoch University researchers are helping to bring Aboriginal culture alive for a small group of primary school pupils in Perth.

Children from Southwell Primary School in Hamilton Hill have been involved in a trial of a ‘Bush School’ program which has been developed and run by Associate Professor Libby Lee-Hammond and her colleague in Murdoch’s School of Education Libby Jackson-Barrett.

The researchers, joined by Associate Professor Cheryl Kickett-Tucker, have also just won Public Education Endowment funding to run the program with pupils from Brookman Primary School in Langford.

The program takes the kindergarten to year two children out of the classroom and into the Bibra Lake wetlands once a week where they engage with Nyungar elders who tell them stories, teach them songs and help them to explore and understand the local bush.

“We wanted to investigate the idea that children can learn outside of the four walls of the classroom,” said Professor Lee-Hammond.

“This idea started in the UK with forest schools where the children would learn science, maths and English but in the woods where they could apply what they learnt while enjoying being outside.

“Research has shown that levels of well being and engagement in children increase when they are outdoors. Teachers are really able to bring subjects like science and maths alive when children are engaged.”

Ms Jackson-Barrett added that one of the most positive outcomes from the Bush Schools was fostering a positive attitude among the children to Indigenous people.

“We were putting together a drama around one of the elder’s stories which involved dividing the children into groups, including a group of Nyungars. It was really heartening for us when one of the children showed his pleasure at being picked as a Nyungar over and above any of the other groups,” she explained.

Aboriginal elder Noel Morrison said he enjoyed the sessions as much as the children did.

“We want to pass on our stories and our knowledge so that it doesn’t die,” he said. “And it’s nice that the children are able to leave the classroom just for a little while and enjoy the natural surroundings at Bibra Lake.”

Sarah Priest, who teaches years one and two at Southwell said getting the children out of the classroom had benefitted them.

“Some of these children don’t get a lot of opportunities to get into the bush to explore and learn in a natural environment,” she said.

“I believe this is important for the students, particularly now that information technology plays such a large part in their lives.

“This program also serves as a fabulous stimulus inside the classroom and the students have created work of a high quality based on these experiences.

“The children have enjoyed their time so much that we have seen an increase in student attendance on days that we are visiting Bush School.”

To find out more about the Bush Schools program, email Professor Lee-Hammond or Ms Jackson-Barrett.

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