Bush Kinders

Outdoor activities such as exploring natural environments, are beneficial to children and contribute to improving children’s health and wellbeing.

A number of early childhood education and care services in Victoria have included bush kinders in the program they deliver for children.  These services predominantly operate from the education and care service’s premises with a small part of the program delivered at the bush kinder site. Bush kinders are generally located in natural environments away from the education and care service and provide valuable opportunities for children to explore the natural environment and to extend the educational program.

Services conducting a bush kinder must assess and address the additional risks that may be associated with delivering the program outside of the service and ensure that when children are at the bush kinder site:

  • every reasonable precaution is taken to protect children being educated and cared for by the service from harm and any hazard likely to cause injury (section 167)
  • children are adequately supervised (section 165)
  • the educational and developmental needs of the children are met (section 51).

This information should be considered by services that propose to, or are operating, a bush kinder located away from the education and care service's premises.  It should be read in conjunction with the information about Excursions and regular outings and Transporting children.

The Education and Care Services National Law Act 2010 (National Law) and the Education and Care Services National Regulations 2011 (National Regulations) prescribe a number of requirements for education and care services when they take children outside the education and care service.  The requirements for excursions apply to visits to the bush kinder site (regulation 4).

Bush kinder video

This Koorie Kids Shine video shows the positive impact that bush kinder and an outdoor learning environment can have on children.

The short video is a resource for all educators considering incorporating the local natural environment into learning, and for kindergartens considering joining the growing number of services offering a bush kinder program.

Selecting the bush kinder site

Factors that need to be taken into account when initially selecting a bush kinder site include:

  • distance from the service to the bush kinder site as it may impact on methods of transportation (such as whether children can walk)
  • adequate pick up and drop off areas
  • natural boundaries of the site
  • range of natural elements which can be integrated into the educational program and practice
  • distance from large bodies of water
  • any hazards at the site and ways of mitigating/addressing these hazards
  • adequate surveillance points and lines of sight for educators
  • parkland management support
  • access for children with disabilities or mobility issues
  • adequate mobile phone coverage and access for emergency services
  • nearby facilities that may offer shelter in extreme weather conditions if the site is some distance from the service.

These factors should also be addressed in the risk assessment for excursions to the bush kinder (regulation 100).

Planning for a bush kinder

Services should give careful consideration to the planning and development of a bush kinder program. Consultation and communication with parents and families should take place during the planning stage. The operation of the bush kinder should inform all relevant aspects of a service’s policies, procedures and practices. Each service should review their policy and procedures to ensure that the principles and practices relating to their bush kinder are integral to the decisions, policies and daily practices of the service (regulation 168) (regulation 168 refers to policies and procedures education and care services must have in place). Particular attention should be given to the service’s policy and procedures relating to health and safety (regulation 168(2)).

Enrolment and orientation policy and procedures

Enrolment policies and procedures should contain a reference to the operation of a bush kinder at the service. This allows parents and carers an opportunity to consider whether they wish their child to attend the bush kinder. Parents and children should be referred to information in a handbook or website containing details about the bush kinder so that they are able to make an informed decision. 

Educational program and relationships with children

An educational program must be planned, documented and delivered to children attending the bush kinder and should enhance children’s learning and development and be based on an approved learning framework (section 168; regulations 73 to 76).

Approved number of places

The maximum number of approved places for children who can be educated and cared for by the service at any one time must not be exceeded (section 52(g)). To ensure that the approved number of places is not exceeded the service will need to consider all the children being educated and cared for by the service at any one time, including the children at the education and care service’s premises and those at the bush kinder site.  This is also the case when calculating the ratio requirements and in meeting the educator qualification requirements.

Delivery and collection of children

The service should consider whether it will provide transportation to and from the bush kinder site or whether parents and carers will be responsible for the pickup and drop off the children at the beginning and end of each bush kinder session from the bush kinder site.  These details should be included in the service’s policy and procedures for the delivery and collection of children (regulation 168 (2)(f)).  If children are transported by the service to the bush kinder site, these and other requirements are set out in the Transporting children fact sheet.

If children are delivered to and collected from the bush kinder site, the policies and procedures for the delivery and collection of children (regulation 168(2)(f)) should consider and include procedures to ensure:

  • the children’s safety
  • that an attendance record is kept
  • that the time that children arrive and depart is recorded
  • that the person delivering or collecting the child or the nominated supervisor or educator signs the record (regulation 158).

Meeting requirements for a regular outing

Excursions to bush kinder sites can be regarded as ‘regular outings’. A regular outing is an excursion undertaken on a regular basis. A regular outing means a walk, drive or trip to and from a destination that an education and care service visits regularly as part of its educational program, and where the circumstances relevant to the required risk assessment are the same on each outing (regulation 4).

Authorisations for regular outings

An authorisation must be given by a child’s parent or other person named in the child’s enrolment record before a child is taken on a regular outing (regulation 102(4)), the authorisation must state the child’s name and:

  • the reason the child is to be taken outside the premises
  • the date the child is to be taken on the excursion
  • a description of the proposed destination for the excursion
  • the method of transport to be used for the excursion
  • the proposed activities to be undertaken by the child during the excursion
  • the period the child will be away from the premises
  • the anticipated number of children likely to be attending the excursion
  • the anticipated ratio of educators to the anticipated number of children attending the excursion
  • the anticipated number of staff members and any other adults who will accompany and supervise the children on the excursion
  • that a risk assessment has been prepared and is available at the service (regulation 102(4)(k)).

If a bush kinder excursion is a regular outing the authorisation is required once in every 12 month period (regulation 102(5)). However obtaining authorisation more regularly is advisable. Authorisations for excursions that are regular outings must be kept in the enrolment record for each child enrolled at an education and care service (regulation 161(1)(b)).

Risk assessments for regular outings

A risk assessment must be conducted to identify and address possible risks of harm to children when they are at the bush kinder site. The risk assessment should cover any unexpected incidents, harm and hazard likely to cause injury (section 167), emergencies or extreme weather events. The National Regulations require that a risk assessment contains the following (regulation 101):

  • the proposed route and destination for the regular outing
  • any water hazards and risks associated with water based activities
  • the method of transport to and from the proposed destination
  • the number of adults and children involved in the regular outing
  • given the risks posed, the number of educators or other responsible adults that is appropriate to provide supervision and whether any specialised skills are required to ensure children’s safety
  • the proposed activities
  • the proposed duration of the regular outing
  • the items that should be taken on the regular outing.

Any other identified risks must also be considered in the risk assessment. Adequate supervision must be provided at all times (section 165).

Weather conditions

The outdoor nature of bush kinders can result in exposure to extreme weather conditions, including electrical storms, extreme heat, bush fires, floods and high winds (section 167). Systems for checking the weather forecasts prior to commencement of each bush kinder session should be implemented and bush kinder sessions cancelled if extreme weather conditions are forecast.

Emergency and evacuation policy and procedures

Policies and procedures should be developed, practised and implemented to effectively manage incidents and respond to emergencies in consultation with relevant authorities, including emergency and evacuation procedures (regulation 97).

If unforeseen extreme weather conditions develop during a bush kinder session, children and adults should be evacuated from the bush kinder site via predetermined routes to specific assembly points or nearby buildings.  In situations where the service is close by, children may be transported from the bush kinder site to the service.

Delivering the program at the bush kinder site

Ratios and qualifications

Educator to child ratios must be met whenever children are being educated and cared for including outside an education and care service (section 169, regulation 123(1)(c)).

At least 50 per cent of the educators required to meet the relevant educator to child ratios must have, or be actively working towards, at least an approved diploma level education and care qualification (regulation 126(1)(a)).

All other educators required to meet the relevant educator to child ratios for the service must have, or be actively working towards, at least an approved certificate III level education and care qualification (regulation 126(1)(b)). Services must have access to an early childhood qualified teacher working with the service (regulations 130 to 131) or have an early childhood teacher in attendance at the service (regulations 132 to 134).

It is also important to note that educator qualification and ratio requirements must be met across the service not just for the bush kinder program. 

Consideration must be given, as part of the risk assessment of the bush kinder as a regular outing (regulation 101(2)(f)), as to whether educator to child ratios will need to be higher than the prescribed requirement (section 169) and/or other responsible adults will be required to ensure that adequate supervision of children is maintained at all times.

The number of responsible adults needs to be regularly considered having regard to such things as weather conditions (regulation 101(2)(f)).

First aid requirements

The following persons must be in attendance at any place where children are being educated and cared for by the service.

  • at least one educator or one nominated supervisor of the service with a current approved first aid qualification; and
  • at least one educator or one nominated supervisor of the service with current approved anaphylaxis management training; and 
  • at least one educator one nominated supervisor of the service with current approved emergency asthma management training (regulation 136(1)).

Toilet and facilities

Adequate toilet, washing and drying facilities must be provided for safe use by children (regulation 109) including additional water for hand washing.

Is a portable toilet required or should a bush toilet be created on the site?

Food and beverages

  • Children must have access to safe drinking water, including additional water for drinking on high temperature days. 
  • Additional food to be made available if needed and cooling facilities should be available for food and water.
  • Safe practices for handling, preparing and storing food must be observed (regulation 77). 

A policy should be adopted as to whether children bring their own food or whether food appropriate to the needs of each child is offered by the service (regulation 78).

Comfort, sleep and rest

Appropriate opportunities need to be provided to meet each child’s need for sleep, rest and relaxation, having regard to the ages, development stages and individual needs of the children (regulation 81). Arrangements for children at the bush kinder site should be reflected in the service’s sleep and rest policy and procedure (regulation 168).

Additional changes of clothing should be available to ensure the children’s comfort. The provision of protective wet weather gear should be available for each child (this may be provided by children and/or the service).

Sun protection

Sun shade and protective clothing should be available for each child. Sunscreen and sun hats should also be used (section 167, regulation 168).

Administration of medication

If children have a specific health care need, allergy or relevant medical condition a medical management plan and risk minimisation plan must be developed or modified outlining the process to be followed in the event of an incident related to the child’s specific health care need, allergy or relevant medical condition arises when the child is attending the bush kinder (regulation 90).

Emergency plans must be in place, which allow each child to be easily removed from the bush kinder site in the case of an emergency (regulation 97).

Risk minimisation plans must take into account such matters as keeping medication at the required temperature and ensuring it is not accessible to children. Read more via the Children with medical conditions attending education and care services fact sheet.

Items to take to the bush kinder to address incident, injury and trauma

Incident, injury, trauma and illness policies and procedures must be developed in relation to the bush kinder and must include procedures to be followed by nominated supervisors and staff members of, and volunteers at, the service in the event that a child is injured; or becomes ill; or suffers a trauma or illness (regulations 85 and 168).

When children attend a bush kinder program, the following items must be taken with educators:

  • an appropriate number of suitably equipped first aid kits which must be portable and readily accessible (regulation 89);
  • an operating mobile telephone with an appropriate telephone network; this is particularly important in remote bush kinder sites (regulation 98);
  • the contact information of any person who is to be notified of any incident, injury, trauma or illness involving the child and the child’s registered medical practitioner or medical service (regulations 85-87).