Conversation with Melanie Ralescu from Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation (SAKGF)

In this wide ranging conversation Llewellyn and Melanie reflect on what SAKGF and early childhood sector partners are learning through the early years kitchen garden pilot project 2016-2019.



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Outdoor early childhood playspaces + Permaculture Principle 11.

Edges in a children’s centre rural NSW, Australia – Photos: Llewellyn Wishart

Early childhood practitioners, children and families ever thought about that slightly wild, weedy corner or edge of your kindergarten or childcare centre outdoor space? Do you want to “tidy it up” at the next working bee coz it’s messy, unsightly or potentially non-compliant? Well, perhaps think again…

  • If we were to apply Permaculture Principle 11. Use edges and value the marginal  we might find the weedy edge along the kindergarten fence has daisies popping up in Spring for children to forage and make daisy chains with. A wonderful aesthetic experience supporting fine motor skill development.
  • Or that neglected patch of dirt in a far flung corner of the childcare centre yard could be filled with so-called “kid-proof plants” . Hardy herbs, wild flowers or tough indigenous grasses could create a small patch of wild for children to play or retreat to.
  • Further opportunities could be had for children to create small hiding places, paths and nooks in those edges between built elements and marginal zones (DECD-DPTI 2015).
  • In our observational research we sometimes noticed outdoor spaces with “dead zones” where children wouldn’t play. In some cases these zones were set-up by early childhood educators with one specific idea of what children would do in them. If we embrace valuing the marginal then these dead zones could be looked at again by rethinking their functionality. Children may have very different ideas about what could happen in these spaces.
  • In another of our studies (Morrissey, Scott & Wishart, 2015) an “edge” was used in a way that was unexpected. Garden edging or borders became walkways for young children to transit the space and practice balancing. All the while a purpose-built traditional balance beam was left largely unused.

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More ideas and resources

Be Reggio-Inspired: Outdoor Environments


LITTLE GREEN STEPS – Sustainability Education for Childcare Centres


Victorian Indigenous Nurseries Co-operative

Find out about my research

Children’s physical activity & movement in outdoor landscapes – What matters to early childhood educators?

Professional learning for early childhood outdoor pedagogy


Department for Education and Child Development & Department of Planning Transport & Infrastructure, 2015, Madge Sexton Kindergarten Outdoor Learning Areas Concept Design Report. DECD & DPTI, Government of South Australia.

Anne-Marie Morrissey, Caroline Scott & Llewellyn Wishart 2015, ‘Infant and Toddler Responses to a Redesign of Their Childcare Outdoor Play Space’, Children, Youth and Environments, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 29-56. Article Stable URL:


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Professional learning for early childhood outdoor pedagogy

Here’s another slice of research from my doctoral studies investigating how early childhood educators can be supported with professional development to embrace embodied kinaesthetically focused teaching in outdoor learning environments:

Professional learning for early childhood outdoor pedagogy

Moving to learn outdoors can mean so many things:

  • Getting children playing games or sports in different outdoor settings;
  • Exploring and working in kitchen, sensory and community gardens;
  • Foraging for loose natural materials, fruit and vegies in kindergarten outdoor spaces or local neighbourhoods;
  • Exploring for insects and micro-fauna;
  • Caring for worm farms and working with animals such as chickens or rabbits;
  • Nature play in bush, beach and forest kindergartens;
  • Bringing indoor physical activity outdoors such as yoga, meditation or games.
  • Moving to learn outdoors might also mean exploration of Indigenous ways of knowing with local elders conducting welcome to country and smoke ceremonies or learning cultural dances.

There are so many amazing ways to invite exploration of our outdoor worlds.
Lets get active outdoors, using all of our senses. Our world needs us outdoors to listen more deeply 🙂

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Children’s physical activity & movement in outdoor landscapes – What matters to early childhood educators?




What do children need for active play in the outdoors?

In-depth research with six early childhood educators revealed what mattered to them when thinking about young children moving and being active in outdoor learning environments.

According to these educators children need to:

  • explore and practice fundamental movements;
  • have freedom & open space to move;
  • manipulate movable natural elements;
  • develop confidence & skills for being in outdoor spaces;
  • build awareness of others, their own bodies & moving safely outdoors;
  • traverse variable terrain & surrounding landscapes;
  • negotiate safety-risk challenges.

Building blocks for movement and physical activity in outdoor spaces

Also of interest were the natural elements the educators felt were important for children’s active play & movement in outdoor eco-systems:

  • Stepping stones for balancing;
  • Trees branches, upright logs & tree stumps supporting different forms of movement to varied heights: children gain confidence – climbing, jumping from heights, stepping and balancing on/off asymmetric fixtures;
  • Hills & mounds supporting different gross motor experiences for children of different ages – crawling up/down, running up/down and rolling down for example;
  • Variable surfaces, textures & levels supporting varied movement: stimulating balance-co-ordination, body-safety-risk awareness, awareness of different surfaces under foot & different ways to move-negotiate space.
  • Loose movable natural elements rocks, branches, pine cones, gum nuts supporting different types of “fine motor imaginative creative type play”. These loose moveable elements potentially stimulate combined manipulative & locomotor experiences, spatial awareness & object control e.g. foraging, weeding, picking, & ferrying of materials around an outdoor space.

All of the above are potential design ingredients for kinaesthetic-rich outdoor learning environments.


Deeper analysis of what some educators were seeing revealed rich understandings of how kinaesthetic learning can be built upon through observation of children responding to outdoor environments. As a result a vision emerges that considers children’s balance skills and variable terrain; the presence of loose natural parts and children’s adaptive manipulative movement play. This level of analysis matters because it provides an understanding of how educators can more closely observe what children might be learning when physically active in outdoor landscapes (Wishart 2018).


Thank you to the six early childhood educators participating in this study and the auspice agencies, UNE and Deakin University for supporting this research.


Wishart, L. (2018). Early childhood educator perceptions of children’s physical activity and the outdoors. NZ International Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 21(1), 1–16. Retrieved from


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Tribute song to Permaculture giant Bill Mollison (4 May 1928 – 24 September 2016)

Formidable Vegetable Sound System have done it again with a quirky poignant tribute to one of Permaculture’s founders Bill Mollison who died last year. Check it out here:

While your at it if you are looking for fun music to get children and grown-ups singing, dancing and more eco-literate you can’t go past Formidable Vegetable Sound System’s Permaculture: a Rhymer’s Manual . This album has been in high rotation for many years in our household especially with our youngest family member. More funked-up reggae-swing inspired beats promoting permaculture ethics of people care, fair share, earth care can be found at:

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Building outdoor environment literacy


Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden, Singapore Botanic Gardens Photo: Llewellyn Wishart

Developing nature-rich outdoor environments for young children takes conviction, creativity, planning, negotiation, design sense and skills in early childhood pedagogy.

Early childhood educators here in Australia are being offered more and more professional development in this area with flow-on benefits for children, families and even practitioners working in early childhood education.

Some of my research and that of my team has shown children benefit in many ways from enriched natural outdoor spaces including:

  • More varied challenges with movement and physical activity
  • Enhanced manipulative and creative play with natural materials including foraging, picking of flowers, vegies, herbs and fruit.
  • Calm, focused and flowing imaginative play
  • Sensory rich learning
  • Deeper understanding of life cycles and environmental change

The benefits also flow on to practitioners who also find these environments inspiring and calming to be in…

Taking nature fun back to playgrounds

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Embodied Parenting – Perspectives on non-verbal communication & power of movement-dance

Dance-movement therapist Dr Suzie Tortora’s research into embodied parenting and infant-parent communication has much to offer about the power of movement as a form of subtle embodied communication in infancy, early childhood and across the lifespan. Dr Tortora’s research challenges assumptions about the nature of communicative development as largely a question of the acquisition of expressive and receptive verbal communication. Find out more at: Dance/Movement Therapy: Embodied Parenting

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