Waratah Adventurers: Learning About Nature Through "Feet-On" Explorations!

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Waratah Adventurers:  Learning About Nature Through Feet-On Explorations

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Waratah Adventurers: Learning About Nature Through "Feet-On" Explorations!

By and Mandy

In Adelaide, South Australia, an enthusiastic group of homeschoolers trek out once a fortnight to explore one of the diverse nearby National Parks, or other natural places, as an integral part of their learning experiences.  Hands-on... or in this case hands, feet, eyes, ears and noses-on... is a wonderful way of learning, as it awakens all the senses to discover, and reinforce, the natural learning opportunities which are all around.

I spoke to Mandy, home educating mum to two boys 8 and 5, with a passion for nature and protecting our environment, and co-ordinator of the Waratah Adventurers.

Mandy, tell us a little bit about the group- when did you start it, who is involved?

The group began in September 2010.  We are all homeschooling families.

There are 4 main regular families, with approximately 16 families joined on the group website.

The ages are varied from babies through to 11 year olds.  The 4 main regular families consist of 3 x 18mth olds, 1 x 3yr old, 2 x 4yr olds, 1 x 5yr old, 2 x 6yr olds, 1 x 8yr old.

They have all become firm friends because of spending so much time in all sorts of environments together.

Sounds like a great diverse group, and obviously not only gives the kids an opportunity to get in touch with the natural environment, but is a great social experience too, especially as it enables mixing and learning to get on with all ages, from babies to adults.

What made you decide to start the Waratah Adventurers?

Two families mentioned to me that they wanted to learn more about the environment and spend more time out with nature.  They knew that I would be able to come up with outings to places that they hadn't been before.  So hence 2 families (the "Murphy Town Movers" (us) and another family - 1 of the original families went on an extended travelling holiday) started this group, came up with a name and a program for the rest of the first year and continued to meet once a fortnight at somewhere special.

Soon another family from one of our other groups joined in and became a regular.  6 months later we had another regular family joining in and we do have other members join in when they can as not all outings appeal to everyone.

Well, they were lucky to have someone with your knowledge and enthusiasm to get things started with the group.

Is there a significance behind the name chosen- Waratah Adventurers?

Actually my eldest came up with the name.  At the time my sons were obsessed with Skippy (the bush kangaroo) and Skippy lived in Waratah National Park.

So there you have it.  We are "adventurers" just like Sonny and Skippy.


Has the group lived up to your early hopes and vision of it?

To be honest I didn't actually have any hopes or vision for the group.

I was quite happy with us two families muddling around in the bush until the 3rd family came back from holidays.

But it is nice to have such a lovely core of 4 families that all get along really well together and have others rock up when they are able to.

How do you feel the experiences in this group have benefitted your family?

We regularly work/spend special occasions/spend free time out in the bush, so it was just another excuse to be outdoors, but with other friends.

But my eldest son is really enjoying it because he likes to be a tour guide and show off his knowledge of certain plants/animals/insects etc.

My youngest enjoys the space to play out his stories of being Tarzan and chasing away lions etc.

It's wonderful that your eldest boy has developed confidence and pride in his knowledge, and can share it with his friends.  And the opportunity for imaginative play for your youngest is great also.


Waratah Adventurers nature Waratah Adventurers wildlife Waratah Adventurers bushland


What benefits have you seen for others that attend... how have they blossomed or become more aware?

I have seen the confidence some children have shown in asking questions and remembering things we have talked about on our walks.

One example would be our discussion about snakes.  Rather than encourage a fear that we may encounter snakes the children now know what to do if they see snakes and what to do so they don't see snakes.

They are all quite comfortable in walking through the bush and now really look to see what interesting things they may find - a metallic moth, a funny curled leaf, emu droppings etc.

All are a find and some are saved for the children's special table/shelf.

So learning is unfolding all the time... every step brings a new discovery!  Having these experiences with nature has to bring about a fundamental change in how they see the world and all the life and natural systems on it.  They must feel much more a part of it, than children who hardly ever get to explore freely in the natural world.

How do you see this experience being of future benefit to how these children will interact with nature throughout their lives?

The more people that learn to appreciate and understand our bushland has got to be beneficial to the preservation of it.

I have definitely noticed a greater respect from our attendees of the processes that are involved in the bushland ecosystem.

We have the time to "smell the roses" when we are out and although physically tired afterwards I know that everyone who comes does enjoy the emotional and mental rejuvenation that just being at one with nature automatically brings.

Yes, it's so important, and sometimes undervalued, for children (and us big kids too!) to be able to just "be".  To spend time "absorbing" nature through every sense.  Helps us feel connected, and calmer and more whole.  I think that if more people had the chance to have these experiences more often, stress, frustration, anger and even depression and ADHD type symptoms, might be lessened considerably in modern society.  Nature is a wonderful teacher, in more ways than one.


Waratah Adventurers waterfall Waratah Adventurers birdlife Waratah Adventurers activities


So, what are some of the places the group has visited?

Morialta Falls
Para Wirra Recreation Park
Botanic Gardens - Dinosaur Trail
St Kilda Mangrove Trail
Watershed Wetlands at Salisbury
Sandy Creek Conservation Park
Barossa Goldfields
Nature crafts at a home
Composting at Fremont Park
Cobbler Creek Conservation Park
Paddocks Wetlands
Humbug Scrub Sanctuary
Campfire at Mt Crawford
Camp at Paracombe

Just to name a few!

What have you found the highlights of being part of this group?

Just to see the children's faces light up with wonder and joy when they go somewhere new and make a new find.

Being able to share our nature experiences and places with a wonderful group of friends.

Not a much better way to spend a day!

What do you feel are the important values and concepts your children have learnt from these experiences?

A healthy respect for all things living.

My children have always been brought up with bushland experiences and with fauna so this is just a chance for them to share it with their friends.

My eldest loves caring for our animals and gets really mad when animals are hurt by humans either through deliberate means or through clearing their habitat.  He wants to live on our animal sanctuary and be a park ranger to pay for all their food and vet needs.

My youngest wants to be a police officer and stop people being so naughty.  He also wants to look after our animals.

Wow that's great! They are really taking their experiences to heart and I'm sure they will be committed to helping preserve animals and their habitats in some way in the future... whether in their jobs or their free time.  You must be proud of them!

Would one, or both, of your children like to tell us in their own words what they feel they get out of the group?

Oldest "Murphy Town Mover" - I like meeting our friends and showing them things.

Youngest "Murphy Town Mover" - I like being with our friends and playing with them out in the bush.  Playing imagination games outside.  I like taking photos of things in the sky and people.

What tips and advice would you have to others hoping to start a similar group?

Go for it! What better learning can there be than by our natural environment.

Make sure you have a program of outings organised and that the outings will be able to cater for all ages.  Short walks for young children but which can be extended if some adults want to take the older children a bit further.

Sometimes we may find that a walk takes longer than first thought or the children are getting tired quicker than usual.

We find that having food on hand solves the tiredness and we just make the call to stop the walk and return.

Mind you, we start at 10.30 and hardly ever head home before 2.00pm. That is a lot of fresh air and exercise time!

Yes it sure is! But that's wonderful.  I'm sure the kids are happier and healthier for having done it.

Mandy, is there anything else you would like to say in closing?

I would recommend anyone that hasn't walked through a national park or even their local reserve to do so.

With the amount of land clearance for development that continues before long if you want to see bushland you will only be able to see it on road verges.

Enjoy it now and help preserve it while we still have it.  The animals will thank us for it.

Wonderful sentiments Mandy.  Thanks so much for giving us a glimpse into your adventures. And may there be many more!

If you are a homeschooling family in or near Adelaide, and are interested in maybe joining the Waratah Adventurers, you can find out what they are up to here.


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