Petition seeks law change to allow 'bush kindergartens'

There are growing calls for a law change to allow full time nature-based childcare in New Zealand.

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Bush kindergartens are growing in popularity overseas and educators here are asking whether NZ should support the practice. Source: 1 NEWS

Next week, a petition signed by more than 4500 educators, childcare centres and parents will be presented to the Government calling for the creation of a new licence type.

Education regulations set in 2008 state early childhood education centres need to have 2.5 square metres of indoor space per child.

"If I was to actually start a full-time bush kindergarten I would have to have a fully-functional, kitted out indoor space that wouldn't get used because the children would be playing for the majority of their time outside dressed appropriately for the weather," petition organiser and Little Kiwis Nature Play founder Celia Hogan said.

"Indoor screen time has replaced outdoor play so children aren't as strong as what they used to be, they aren't as resilient, they're not able to converse socially like they used to.

"If you're spending just a token amount of time each week, that's not enough to develop those skills that they actually need to develop and grow into healthy, confident capable human beings," Ms Hogan said.

Forest kindergartens are growing in popularity internationally, but have been recorded from as far back as 1950 in Europe.

Ms Hogan said with society becoming increasingly busy and urbanised, children are missing out on outdoor opportunities and spending more time in early childhood centres.

There are at least 40 outdoor early education programmes in the country and 10 of those are interested in offering full-time care, Ms Hogan said.

International research shows regular time in nature can increase resilience, cognitive recognition and creativity.

Plimmerton Kindergarten's Bush Sprouts programme sees children going bush once a week for around two months.

It was created by Leo Smith, who said the focus is on kids learning how they learn best - through play, exploring and challenging themselves.

"Out here they really are free to just do what works for them... They've all got different things that interest them and that's actually their learning.

"They've got different personalities but they're having to work out how to make that work," Ms Smith said.

On one outing, learning opportunities came from the discovery of freshwater crayfish, or kōura, a dead blackbird, cicada shells and a caged fungus.

Activities included rope climbing, using magnifying glasses, climbing up steep valleys to a hut and walking over a wobbly bridge made of fallen branches.

"We've got this really cotton wool wrapping society going on and it's not healthy for our children if we're hovering over them and preventing them from actually learning," Celia Hogan said.

Kids are taught how to manage risks themselves, but educators are responsible for preventing serious harm.

"If they break an arm, that's actually a little bit of a learning injury you know, sometimes these things happen, kids bounce back, it's not ideal but it does happen and it's actually OK," she said.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said he's received a lot of feedback on the topic and encourages people to continue sending comments to him.

"I think it is an area we can do better on.

"We are looking at different models of early childhood education delivery including whether there can be a greater outdoor component in some ECE.

The Ministry of Education deputy secretary of enablement and support Katrina Casey said there's no information held on the amount of outdoor time childcares offer, and there's no rules on how much time must be spent inside or outside.