Best play/nature-based schools & early years centres in NSW, SA, ACT, TAS & NT

As referred by followers on Maggie Dent’s Facebook page September 2021
A summary of people’s comments are listed in bullet points under school names.

Disclaimer: Please note that this list is compiled from comments made by Facebook followers. It is not the opinion of Maggie Dent or her employees, nor are these recommendations to be considered formal endorsements by Maggie Dent. When deciding which school is best for your child, it is important to make your decision based on your individual child – there is no one-size fits all.

However we asked our 100,000+ Facebook followers “Which schools in your state have you observed have a focus on:
* play-based learning in the early years, and / or
* strong nature-based focus in their teaching and learning…”

As these were quite short lists, we’ve compiled several states into one post here:

Here’s what people in these states had to say:

 

Northern Territory

Casuarina Street Preschool — Katherine

  • Incredible, amazing space, learning areas inside and out and the most caring, gentle and amazing educators

Child Australia – Larapinta Early Learning Centre — Alice Springs

  • Has an incredibly large outdoor nature play area. Their buildings and facilities are wonderful also. Staff/educators so skilled and supportive of each of the kids that go there. An incredible blessing to have such an amazing centre here in Alice Springs, Central Australia

Dripstone Children’s Centre — Brinkin

  • They have chickens which kids collect the eggs and use towards baking. Vegetable gardens which kids help maintain. Outdoor play area encourages exploring and creative play. Soon they will have wet play area.
  • Loving Nature is their slogan and it is embedded in their pedagogy daily

Driver Preschool – Driver

  • Recommended for early years
  • Exceptionally brilliant

Girraween Primary School — Girraween

  • Located in the rural area outside of Darwin, with the majority of students attending coming off rural blocks and the school capitalises on its rural setting. It’s large and spacious with lots of outdoor learning areas and beautiful greenery. They have their own farm which is great for their sustainability programs and great for the kids to have hands on learning caring for the animals and harvesting the produce. I have taught there myself so have seen it both from a teaching perspective and now as a parent. My 5 year old attended Preschool there and is now in Transition and while I was concerned about him starting there last year when he was turning 4 in Preschool, but once I went there and saw how play based it is I was excited for him and he has thrived there both years. He loves the outside bush walks, hatching chickens in class and the days they visit the farm are his favourite!

Gray Child Care Centre – Gray

  • Shouldn’t go without mention. Exceptionally brilliant

Jingili Primary — Jingili

  • Have a wonderful kitchen garden program

Kingdom Kids Early Learning Centre @ Palmerston Christian School — Palmerston

  • Fabulous play based centre for 3-5-year-old. Incorporates environmental play with a ‘river’ and vegetable garden.

Murraya Children’s Centre — Leanyer

  • Has to get a mention. Beautiful staff and great indoor/outdoor space for the kids. It’s in high-demand. Hard to get a spot it’s so good!

Nightcliff Primary School — Darwin

  • Veggie gardens, chickens. Lessons outside in dry season. Amazed at different type of learning environments at this school.

 

Tasmanian Schools

Cambridge Primary School — Hobart

  • Has a fantastic play based program in the early years. They have a weekly ‘bush school day’ for kinder/preps and grade 1/2. They also have a fantastic school lunch program, using fresh produce the children help to grow in the school garden.

Devonport Christian School — Devonport

  • Recommended

Growing Wild Family Day Care — South Hobart

  • Recommended

Sacred Heart Catholic School — Geeveston

  • We have our own bushland, including our Aboriginal campsite created by our Aboriginal students and with assistance from elders. We also have a frog bog that the kids helped to document and establish as a learning space. We also do loose parts play, have made bird boxes, have chooks and use composting. We have a few videos that show our amazing natural classroom.

Snug Primary School — Snug

  • Have an outdoor learning area with access to a campfire, creek, walking tracks and bush play. This area is used by students from K-6 to support their play and inquiry. A new addition to our play area has been a designated loose parts play area which is well utilised by all age groups. Our school garden is tended by the students during gardening classes and produce is used in our kitchen program.
  • Outstanding in these areas, especially with the Kitchen Garden program, the outdoor learning area, the Bush tucker garden, Bush Kinder, outdoor bike track and pump track and just so much more! We so often receive comments on the overall approach to our school and the Snug CARES Values being expressed throughout our play based learning and the structures we have in place. Absolute Gold!

Tarremah Steiner school — Huntingfield

  • Plentiful space, views of mountain and river, access to creek and bush reserve. Amazing little school with flourishing community.

The Cottage School – Bellerive

  • Lots of play based learning, choosing, regular environment days and school camps. Healthy eating policy, small classes and amazing staff.

 

ACT Schools

Blue Gum Community School — Braddon

  • As small not-for-profit community schools we are always looking for ways to get the word out about our schools – and it would certainly be an honour to be included in a list connected to Maggie Dent.
  • I can’t recommend Blue Gum Community School more highly. Kids can start from birth attending playgroup, which includes a “Bush Playgroup” option where the class is held in the Mt Majura bush lands. They can then commence at preschool from 3yrs, which is set across two different but very beautiful play based campuses. The school then continues to year 10. Our preschooler loves their days at “The Hive” campus. They frequently explore the surrounding community, learning through their experiences and also becoming aware and confident community members. The educators are amazing and their passion for the children’s education has been further demonstrated recently as they developed an online platform to remain in contact with the preschoolers during lockdown and give us parents fantastic ideas and taking points.

Eucalyptus Montessori Childcare — Kambah

  • Purpose built, eco friendly, nature focused … amazing!

Forrest Out Of School Hours Care — Forrest

  • Recommended

Gungahlin Children’s Centre — Gungahlin

  • Amazing staff and facilities.

Holy Spirit Early Learning Centre — Nicholls

  • Has a very strong nature play philosophy that uses the trees, grasslands and natural spaces outside their ELC. With a big focus on cooking with fire in the winter months. Mud pits and water play and risky learning experiences within the centre.

Inspired Family Day Care — Conder

  • Recommended

Narrabundah Early Childhood School

  • Recommended

Orana Steiner School – Weston

  • Preschool to year 12
  • Amazing and is set in bush land
  • Was coming in to write this

Southern Cross Childhood Centre – Scullin

  • Wonderful little school with play based education for child care to year 2

Woden Valley Child Care Centre — Garran

  • Simply amazing! A lot of work has gone into developing their outcomes for children particularly having universal access to nature
  • Second that
  • Another vote for Woden Valley Child Care Centre.

South Australia Schools

Adelaide Miethke Preschool — Woodville South

  • Recommended

All SA Steiner schools (5 in Adelaide)

  • No academics until their 7th Godsend for my 6-year-old.

Antonio Catholic School — Morphett Vale

  • About to open an awesome outdoor nature play space.

Barbara Kiker Memorial Kindy – Kidman Park

  • Fantastic
  • Recommended

Black Forest Primary School – Adelaide

  • Recommended

Blair Athol Primary School – Adelaide

  • Recommended

Campbelltown Preschool – Montacute

  • Recommended

Gawler Community Child Care Centre & Preschool — Gawler East

  • Long term staff who care about the children, a friendly and warm environment. Fantastic Preschool area and teacher

Highbury Primary School — Hope Valley

  • Located in the Adelaide foothills among the gum trees with lots of birds and koala sightings. They also have a big nature play area with a creek bed, rocks, logs, wooden lookout and even a teepee for the children to share.
  • Located on the same grounds with a large outdoor area to encourage nature play, including a mud pit and part of the building recently painted by a local indigenous artist.

John Hartley School – Smithfield Plains

  • Recommended

Lady Gowrie Child Centre — Thebarton and Underdale

  • Great play-based kindy
  • Has been operating for 80 years from a heritage site with a beautiful large outdoor area covered by lovely natural tree canopy for all weather play. They’ve engaged in research on nature play and embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture into their daily work with the children
  • Their Underdale campus is fantastic as well!

Nature Play DECD Family Day Care — Parra Hills

  • Ali has amazing nature based play/learning. Animals, mud pit and kitchen, grows fruit and veggies, always out wandering with the kids in creeks forests and more rain or shine. Teaches the kids to care for the environment, and how it works.
  • Run by Ali and is absolutely fantastic!!

Netherby Kindergarten — Urrbrae

  • We have an amazing nature play program where we have access to a bush garden and large block of land we call our paddock which is accessed daily. Our director Tahlia is amazing and one of the first directors to introduce bush kindy (at her previous site Adams Road Children’s Centre) in SA!

Noarlunga Community Childrens Centres — Morphett Vale

  • Absolutely amazing play based learning philosophy. Highly skilled educators that have been with the service for years. We’ve been there for 7 years and still very proud to be one of their ‘families

Pooraka Community Childcare – Yawarra Nature Preschool — Pooraka

  • Amazing hectare of space adjoins a LDC, the emerging curriculum embraces the connections to land, uninterrupted play, capable learners and the sense of spontaneous learning.
  • And the local park a short walk away which is a water catchment space for the council
  • Has an amazing outdoor space. They are a small centre but our grandson loves being outdoors and their offerings tick all the boxes for creative outdoor children!
  • Amazing Centre!!
  • Agree! Their nature play area is called The Wirra, I believe.
  • They live the philosophy of Nature play! They believe in ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather’, encourage risk taking, shared guidelines, respect for the local wildlife and have started to embed Kaurna language in their program.
  • It is an amazing place, from babies, toddlers, kindy and pre school children all enjoy the nature play in each area.
  • These people are amazing you really should check them out.
  • Yawarra Nature Preschool has a huge outdoor area that is big on nature play and teaching kids to explore within the natural landscape. Lots of educational outdoor learning and indigenous culture.
  • Fantastic nature play and activities. They have a huge kindy yard. My 3yo has enjoyed seeing frogs and lizards, spotting mushrooms, digging up grubs, weeding, building, wheelbarrowing, roasting marshmallows on an open fire, jumping in muddy puddles, and regular walks in the local area. Her confidence and creativity have grown so much within just a couple of months. She regularly comes home happily covered in dirt. We are very happy to have accidentally found this centre.
  • Has a great nature play focus with an amazing Wirra for long uninterrupted play time. Embraces exploration and hands on learning.

Scott Creek Primary School — Adelaide Hills

  • Immersed next to the Scott creek conservation park, children are passionate about sustainability and how to heal country with local elder and passionate nature based educators. A gorgeous small school.

Stirling District Kindergarten – Stirling

  • Brilliant
  • Utilise the nearby beautiful Belair National Park

St Margaret’s Kindergarten — Woodville

  • Most of the children’s art projects are based from natural materials, children get involved with looking after insects and animals that visit the school, predominantly outdoor play. Mud play, learning to use a hammer and nails using small pieces of wood. Lots of open ended equipment for children to use their imagination. Not to mention Book Week is very involved and cleverly creative but without the expensive off-the-rack costumes. The Kindergarten has been operating for more than 20 years and the directors are parents from previous generations.

St Peter’s Lutheran — Blackwood

  • Regular movement breaks and outdoor learning daily. They have chickens, veggie patch, sustainability group etc. Nature space used for free play. Fabulous small classes and very accepting of individuality and neurodiversity. Teachers have PD with an OT to better understand children’s need for movement and play based learning, as well as sensory needs etc.

Upper Sturt Primary School – Upper Sturt

  • Dedicated bush school with a heritage listed bush block on site. Lots of learning outside and most learning play based.
  • Recommended

 

NSW

Aetaomah Steiner School – Terragon

  • Small school in expansive bush setting. Creek for kids to play in. Wooden and homemade toys. Two working vegie gardens. Wildlife in the school grounds. Lots of outdoors play. Focus on maintaining kids sense of self-worth and self-esteem and focusing on their individual gifts. Craft, singing, music making, gardening, life movement.

The Armidale Waldorf School — Armidale

  • Recommended

Barrenjoey Montessori School

  • Recommended

Berrima Public School — Berrima

  • There is so much to love ..Our huge vegetable garden and Bush school create the perfect learning environment for deep thinkers, and amazing, caring citizens.. you gotta come and ask the children and staff how much they love being here!!
  • Without a doubt. Brilliant veggie garden which is integrated into the curriculum and kitchen program, the bush school which provides an outdoor learning classroom for the kids, and so many nature experiences for the kids, from Friday running club that takes most of the school for an early morning run through the bush or along the Berrima River, to our school lantern night celebrating the winter solstice with lantern displays through the bush, and the integration integration outdoor learning in so much of the children’s day’s.
  • Berrima Public School values outdoor and creative play for their students. The school has a fabulous outdoor space where children use pinecones, tarps, ropes and bark chips as currency as they build huts and create fabulous imaginative scenarios in the bush! Berrima kids are covered in mud most days as they learn through exploration in nature. Students learn about growing food in the fabulous veggie garden and then get to cook and eat together in the school kitchen.

The Big Scrub — Lennox Head, Ballina, Byron Bay

  • Recommended

Blaxland Preschool Kindergarten — Blue Mountains

  • Amazing! Based on the Blue Mountains they run an innovative Bush Playgroup program for all 4-5 year olds based in the bush integrating knowledge from local Aboriginal Elders as the children learn to ‘care for country’. The staff take seriously the role the children have as future guardians of the Blue Mountains and see this time as being integral to their development. They have also begun offering a Bush Playgroup program for children 0-5 years accompanied by their parents. Highly recommend!
  • Their bush playgroup is the best!!
  • Absolutely agree, it is such a fantastic preschool with such committed teachers. We love the focus on nature based play and learning and the respect for country that they instilled
  • Highly recommend!

Blue Gum Community School — Hornsby

  • As small not-for-profit community schools we are always looking for ways to get the word out about our schools – and it would certainly be an honour to be included in a list connected to Maggie Dent.

Bob’s Farm Public School — Bob’s Farm

  • Mud kitchen, chooks & peacocks free range, veggie patch with native bee house

Brunswick Bush School — Brunswick Heads

  • Recommended

Chrysalis Steiner School — Thora

  • Recommended

Currambena School – Lane Cove

  • Very inspiring school. Wonderful reputation

Dorothy Waide Centre for Early Learning — Griffith

  • They have an amazing play based program. Their playground allows little minds to explore and dictate what they would like to be learning.

Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School — Castlecrag and Middle Cove

  • Beautiful bush setting. Creative hands on education based on play and nature.
  • Recommended

Glenbrook Preschool — Glenbrook

  • A beautiful community preschool several staff who have worked there for many years and a lovely bush setting. The kids love their bush play days! They’ve been awesome during lockdown, sending craft packages, writing letters to the kids, zooming every day for stories and songs. Love them!

Goulburn Preschool — Goulburn

  • Play based, child oriented and innovative staff. Couldn’t recommended it highly enough for 3, 4 and 5-year-old

Grace Village Early Learning — Huntingwood

  • Recommended

Great Lakes Children’s Centre — Forster

  • They have an amazing walking pre-school program, along with great initiatives for bush play in their other areas too!

Heathdene Preschool — Engadine

  • Recommended

Holsworthy Pre-School — Sydney

  • An outstanding play-based preschool. The teachers design an incredible variety of wonderful hands-on experiences that get the children involved. It is exceptionally organised. Most importantly, play is the priority, and the children thrive.

Inspired Family Day Care — Garden Suburb

  • Recommended

Kiama Preschool

  • Amazing nature and play based centre with close tie to community. Highly recommend.

Kinma School – Terrey Hills

  • Very inspiring school. Wonderful reputation

KU Children’s Services — Killarney Heights

  • Offers Bush Kindy as part of their service.

Lalor Park Community Preschool – Lalor Park

  • Child utopia. No other words to describe how wonderful this place is for our kids

The Learning Terrace Childcare Centre and Preschool — Raymond Terrace NSW

  • Recommended

Lindfield’s School of the Future: A Learning Village — Lindfield

  • A wonderful state school in Sydney’s Northern suburbs. Catering for K-12 this state school is set in the middle of lovely native bushland, and housed in the beautiful brutalist building that previously held UTS. It has wonderful big bright spaces, and follows a state curriculum, taught through the lens of best educational practice, under the watchful eye of a dedicated team of teachers and educational leaders such as Parsi Sahlberg. There are wonderful outdoor spaces and chickens and a budding veggie patch…… and the talk of lamas…or there was pre-lockdown.

Little Diggers Preschool — Narrabeen

  • Recommended

Living School — Lismore

  • Recommended

Mimosa Kids Preschool & Early Learning Centre — Frenchs Forest

  • Needs a mention here

Nature Explorers — Pottsville

  • Most amazing outdoor pre school. Fantastic philosophy, amazing educators. I feel so lucky my kids were able to learn and grow so much here.
  • I came to recommend our school and it’s already on the list
  • Recommended

The Nature School — Port Macquarie

  • Recommended

Northside Baptist preschool — Northbridge

  • Awesome play based preschool

Pachamana Latinschool — Wollongbar

  • Recommended

Possums Community Preschool — Condong

  • Amazing, dedicated and wonderful staff, Riverside nature program, their own mini bus for further nature excursions, imbedded cultural program taught by local indigenous community. Awesome playground and lots of outside play…so much more. We love it

Pottsville Community Preschool – Pottsville

  • Amazing nature and play based centre with close tie to community. Highly recommend.

Quoll Kids Bush School — Bellingen

  • A nature connection program for kids and teens in the beautiful Kalang Valley, NSW. We provide school holiday and weekly programs that invite your young person into a deeper connection with the environment, plants, animals, and place.

Richmond Hill Preschool — Richmond Hill

  • Recommended

The Small School — Murwillumbah

  • Recommended

Tingha Public School — Tingha

  • Veggie garden, yarning circle, hands on Indigenous learning and cultural ways

Salamander Childcare Centre — Port Stephens

  • Recommended

Springdale Heights Pre-School — Springdale Heights

  • My girls love the chickens, outdoor cubby house, fire pit with marshmallows for roasting on occasions, massive outdoor area, educated and engaged teachers, balancing ropes between trees outdoors, cooking, puzzles, beautiful chairs for children to sit on and listen to podcasts with headphones and listen to stories. At the end of every term the teachers write a two page, in depth and positive learning journey with photos of what your child did and what they learned. Both my girls highly preferred this preschool over their daycare and my son cannot wait to go.

St James Primary School — Kotara South

  • Interconnected with many community based help groups.
  • Veggie garden, looking after animals, teaching the kindness and connection to community.

St Marys School – Milton

  • Started their outdoor learning journey this year.

Wildsong — Broken Head

  • Bushcraft and nature mentoring program from kids aged 3-12 (plus a mums and bubs program soon be released)

Woodrising Natural Learning Centre — Lake Mac

  • Heard AMAZING things
  • Lovely teachers. Chickens, trees, lots of messy wet play. Bush school behind – take kids there for the day.

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash