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Lessons from a bush classroom

Published 21 Dec 2017 by Kim Eastman (volunteer)

Tassie-based volunteer, Kim Eastman certainly has a beautiful way with words. Last year her blog post about Grandparenting at Goonderoo garnered comments and compliments from so many supporters and readers who share the value of a “bush education” for our future generations.

Kim recently sent me her reflections on time spent volunteering at Yourka Reserve earlier this year. Again, Kim and Pete brought their grandson Pelle along for the adventure and she later penned this inspiring piece about who was teaching who in their far north outdoor classroom.

Some of you may be grandparents and know the joy of watching your grandkids grow and explore the world. You may even feel that part of what adds to your package of "grandparentness" is the accumulation of a sack load of experiences across a lifetime that lend you a certain air of knowledge, dare I say, wisdom even.

And then there are the grandkids themselves. So fresh, so pliable... like little sponges just waiting to soak up all that perfectly aged wisdom you have on tap ready to douse them in.

If you're anything like me you may have offered up, "Read this recipe... spell this word... learn this way." All perfectly legitimate ways of interacting with a grandchild. Well, at least that's what I used to believe.

A recent experience with my grandson has given me a new insight into how kids might learn best and how we as their elders, might learn from them.

This last August my husband Pete, our 10 year-old grandson Pelle and I engaged in a 3-week volunteering stint at Yourka, a beautiful property 130km southwest of Cairns. Yourka's abundance of resilient and adaptive native plants and animals affords it worthwhile conservation status going forward into the uncertain impacts of climate change. Our job was to go out there and work with the property managers to help take care of it in our own small way.

Being able to take a grandchild off on such an adventure is a gift and wouldn't have been possible had Pelle not been homeschooled and his parents okay with us opening up the outdoors as his classroom for this time.

Having lived his entire life on bush properties in Tasmania and nurtured on a diet of David Attenborough documentaries, Pelle was already pretty clued up on all things environmental. He intrinsically understands so much more of the natural world than I did at that tender age.

Through the weeks on site as we tackled different chores across the reaches of the property, I couldn't help but notice that Pelle was lightning quick to engage with the landscape. In fact, rarely a minute went by without a stone being overturned, a leaf being examined, an insect being observed.

Where our adult downtime might be taken up with reading or relaxing, Pelle would be head down at the surface of the billabong, hoping for a glimpse of something exciting to rise from the murky depths or plunging head-first into the river, emerging with a baby turtle in his hand.

Hours went by with him perched on a limb with a camera in hand, waiting for the perfect shot or eyes scanning the bush, watching for monitor lizards, snakes or the bright flash of a forest kingfisher.

All this one could dismiss as play yet he was immersed in a world of curiosity and exploration that I could honestly say I hadn't experienced myself for a long time. A very long time.

Watching his daily journey of discovery unfold it occurred to me that for all my belief in my ability as an adult to impart knowledge into his tender head he was demonstrating at every turn that knowledge exists all around us if we just pick it up, dust it off and shake it to see what's inside.

His child's eye view of the world let him see the richness of life around us that I had looked right past. He stayed focussed on the tiniest task where my mind wandered. He unearthed what I was unable to see. And always with a look in his eyes that said, "I wonder.... I wonder."

Well, I was the one that started to wonder after that. Observing him teach himself through persistence, patience and curiosity got me to wonder who was really teaching who all these years or even more thought provoking.... who was kidding who?

To see the world as a child might see it, full of mystery and possibility to be unpacked, not always through books or a classroom or well-meaning instruction, but through an expanding view of one's self within the landscape, well maybe that's where true and lasting knowledge lies.

I won't forget what I learned from watching our grandson evolve on Yourka. I learned that disguised amongst all the critter catching, the tree climbing, the rock turning, the running and the playing lay an insatiable hunger to know more, feel more, be more.

What a joyously rewarding way to live a life! Pelle's very natural inclination to immerse himself in the landscape and reap whatever came from that experience reversed our roles and allowed the student to emerge as the teacher. It was a lesson laced in humble pie and it has allowed me to view the world from a new perspective.

Going forward our learning interactions became a two-way street. No one holder of wisdom, no empty receptacle waiting to be filled with knowledge.

Through my inquisitive grandson I have learned that curiosity did not, in fact, kill the cat. Instead the very lack of it could certainly kill off opportunities to grow, expand, question and be a better grandparent and human being. The simple realisation that a child's natural curiosity can unlock such secrets has led me to believe that I could do a lot worse than wake up every morning and face a new day with my first thought being, "I wonder...".

Pelle and a bearded dragon Pelle and a bearded dragon
Helping set up pitfall traps Helping set up pitfall traps
Native mouse caught in the pitfall Native mouse caught in the pitfall
Expert lizard catcher Expert lizard catcher
Always exploring Always exploring

Budding wildlife photographer Budding wildlife photographer

Pelle spies a cicada shell
Pete and Pelle contemplate the universe... or their next fishing spot? Pete and Pelle contemplate the universe... or their next fishing spot?
Author, Kim Eastman Author, Kim Eastman

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