Best play/nature-based schools & early years centres in VIC

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 200,000+ Facebook followers “Which schools in Victoria 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…”


Here’s what they said:

A G Leech Kindergarten — Maryborough

  • Play based, Veggie garden, chickens, Bush Kinder, The Resilience Project program

Ainslie Parklands Primary School — Croydon

  • Run a play based exploring time program from F-2 and inquiry in 3-6. With a wonderful kitchen garden program and beautiful orchard/ kitchen garden space. It’s a small very inclusive supportive school.

Alfred Nuttall Memorial Kindergarten — Fairfield

  • Has full day bush kinder as part of their program, and strong emphasis on play and nature based learning at home kinder.

Annandale Preschool — Annandale

  • Runs a bush kinder.

Axedale Primary School – Axedale

  • Supported by outside school hours by ‘Open Air Adventure Care’. After school push bikes come out, trees climbed and self-help skills developed. Play paddock – vacant block of land net to school that is being developed into adventure playground using upcycled and natural materials

Brown Hill Bush Kindergarten — Ballarat

  • Recommended

Bulleen Preschool — Bulleen

  • Amazing. They have compost bins, grow their own mandarins, have a giant tree in the garden that shades the whole yard, mud kitchen, veggie patch, a big stick teepee. Their whole approach is sustainable nature play. Amazing program!
  • Recommended

Butterfield House Kinder — Jan Juc

  • Bush kindy

Candlebark School — Romsey

  • Also has a bush kinder as part of its orientation program

Christmas Hills Primary School — Christmas Hills

  • The programs and teaching pedagogy used at Christmas Hills Primary to support all students to thrive.
  • I believe bush school is run at Christmas Hills Primary School by Eco Explorers Australia along with the many other nature based groups they run.
  • Runs a bush program at their school

Cornish College – Bangholme

  • Recommended
  • A beautiful school set on 100 acres with gorgeous out door spaces including a lagoon where many an outdoor science experiment has occurred. ELC to year 12 with sustainability woven into every subject in the curriculum. A truly unique school. Enquiry based education.
  • Situated on 100 acres including a farm, food gardens, wetlands etc. The younger kids spend a lot of time outdoors, the classrooms have gumboot racks outside!
  • The most magical place!

Eco Explorers Bush Playgroups — Melbourne

  • Run Bush playgroups, Bush Kinders and Forest Schools right across Melbourne from Mornington, to Whittlesea, and across to Williamstown.

Elwood Children’s Centre — Elwood

A beautiful community run centre. They are positioned a short stroll from the St.Kilda Botanic Gardens and the children visit often.

Fish Creek Kindergerten — Fish Creek

  • Runs a nature-based pedagogical program. We include natural items in all of our practices as well as regularly accessing untamed nature spaces.

Gembrook Preschool — Gembrook

  • Amazing kinder which has a bush kinder program, children attend the local scout camp to learn about indigenous flora and fauna and get back to nature.

Helen Paul Kindergarten — Hampton

  • Has nature as one of its core values. An Outdoor Kinder session for all 4 yr olds has been provided for 7 years, in addition to Eastern Snake-turtles residing at kinder.

Holy Spirit School – Manifold Heights

  • Walker learning model

Hurstbridge Leaning co-operative – Hurstbridge

  • Recommended

Fairfield Primary School — Fairfield

  • Has a play based prep year.

Farmhouse Daycare and Bush Kinder — Mansfield

  • Recommended

Kardinia ELC — Bell Post Hill

  • Have a terrific program. Big veggie gardens, nature play, chicken etc. so great for our kids

Jacaranda Preschool — Lalor

  • Recommended

Lady Forster Kindergarten — Elwood

  • Recommended

Lara Lake Preschool — Lara

  • They do bush preschool in the You Yangs

Little Beacons Learning Centre – Beacon hills College – Pakenham

  • Recommended

Lisieux Catholic Primary School — Torquay

  • Have lessons called Outdoor Discovery (P-2) and Beach Discovery (3-6). A goal is to teach 30% outdoors.

Lyndhurst Primary School – Lyndhurst

  • Kathy Walker foundation

Mansfield Steiner School Kindergarten — Mansfield

  • Both play-based kinder and prep programs with many outdoor adventures including cross country skiing in prep.

Meruka Childcare — Eltham

  • Have a great Bush Kinder program and extend to outdoor napping when possible.

Mount Evelyn Primary School – Mount Evelyn

  • Recommended

Minimbah — Frankston South

  • Recommended

Myrniong Primary School – Myrniong

  • Can’t wait for my son to start foundation next year

Newstead Preschool — Newstead

  • Recommended

Next Steps ELC — Waurn Ponds

  • An excellent bush kinder as well as an established nature based pedagogy including outdoor sleeping year round. We miss it so much since we moved out of the area

Paratea Preschool — Frankston South

  • A community kinder blessed with being set within a gorgeous bushland reserve enabling a Bush Kinder program to be incorporated into their children’s interest led program.
  • Recommended

The Patch Kindergarten — The Patch

  • Recommended
  • Amazing

Penbank School – Moorooduc

  • A non-institutionalised school where the kids often come home happy and muddy thanks to the spacious natural grounds.

Preshil School – Kew

  • Australia’s leading progressive school. Kids surrounded by nature, build cubbies and are encouraged to take calculated risk. Children are respected as individuals. Play based learning at its best

Rosanna Golf Links Primary School – Rosanna

  • Love that they have their own chickens and teachers are great

Sandringham Primary School – Sandringham

  • Was using play based on Cathy Walker

South Mornington Preschool — Mornington

  • Has a fantastic Bush kinder program as well as a fabulous on-site sessional kinder program

St Brendan’s Primary School – Flemington

  • Recommended

St Johns Primary School – Footscray

  • Amazing

St Margaret’s Preschool — Mildura

  • Truly fantastic!

St Thomas the Apostle Primary School — Greensborough North

  • Run a Bush School program for Prep-Year2. An opportunity for all students to be in nature, care for nature and in turn become responsible for nature.

Sunrise Preschool and Long Day Care – North Fitzroy

  • Recommended

Surrey Hills Preschool Centre — Surrey Hills

  • An amazing play based kindergarten with a weekly bush kinder program. Each term they have animal-related educational days. These have included anything from lessons on approaching dogs, to various groups of animals being brought in by handlers for the children to learn about and interact with, with messages of kindness and respect. They back onto a nature reserve and have plenty of animals visiting naturally, kookaburras, ducks, possums and so on! It’s a gorgeous centre.

Swan Hill Primary School – Swan Hill

  • Recommended

Thornbury Primary School – Thornbury

  • Recommended especially Steiner stream

Torquay Kindergarten — Torquay

  • Brilliant Bush/Beach Kinder program run alongside a wonderful ‘home’ kinder program that teaches sustainability, nature play, indigenous studies and so much more.

Tyabb Village Children’s Centre — Tyabb

  • Play based, bush kinder and embed Indigenous perspectives by following the Possum Skin Pedagogy

Village School — Croydon North

  • An awesome nature school out in the eastern suburbs. Lovely bush setting with lots of animals and outdoor play. I’ve sent all of my children there and can highly recommend it.
  • A fabulous play based learning space.

Warracknabeal Memorial Kindergarten — Warracknabeal

  • Recommended

Warrnambool Primary School – Warrnambool

  • Recommended

Waverley Meadows Preschool — Wheelers Hill

  • Have a fantastic nature program included in the sessional Kinder. They visit the bush reserve 1 to 2 times a week. They also have a guide dog Australia program where they raise a guide dog puppy for the year and the whole Kinder is involved in the training. Plus a pet therapist dog in the program. They are play based and are inspired by Reggio. The Teachers are amazing!!
  • A beautiful approach to children’s learning and the bonus of Nature play, Ruby the pet therapy dog, resilience project, kitchen garden as well as the lovely educators

William’s House Kindergarten — Belmont

  • Bush Kindy

Winter’s Flat Primary School — Castlemaine

  • Unbelievable…part of the Stephanie Alexander program…way ahead of its time for years.

Woodline Primary School – Geelong

  • Set on a 20 acre farm in the Geelong hinterland, they have implemented an earth-centred learning culture.

Wooranna Park Primary School – Dandenong North

  • Follows Reggio Emilia style of learning with lots of play based and child led learning

Yandell Kindergarten — Greensborough 

  • A local Steiner kindergarten, council run rather than private. Play based and lots of outdoor time.

Yarra Warra Bush Kinder — North Warrandyte

  • Best ever.
  • Best Kinder Ever! Incredible educators here

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash