Moves to create a progressive, independent community primary school in the northern Shoalhaven is growing momentum.
The Green Mountain Community School will be a secular school and will teach holistic nature-based learning, offering experiential and outdoor learning that is child-led and grounded in nature and community.
It is aimed to open the new school in the northern Shoalhaven, with the goal to provide children with an education that encompasses their whole ecology - place, community, culture, family, head, heart and hands.
The school is hosting the first of its community-based events, an evening of conversation with eminent Finnish educator Professor Pasi Sahlberg, to explore the future possibilities of education in Australia, the importance of play in nature and the educational philosophy behind Green Mountain Community School.
Professor Sahlberg will be keynote speaker at the community event at Silos Estate, Berry on Friday, December 3. The evening will also act as a fundraiser for the school.
Finland is widely acclaimed as one of the most progressive and impactful education systems in the world, having inverted many of the old paradigms of learning, embraced outdoor, hands-on discovery learning environments and utilised highly-qualified educators to deliver creative and responsive lessons.
Professor Sahlberg is the former Secretary-General of Education in Finland, is the author of two books on the Finnish educational success story, and now Professor of Education at the Gonski Institute at the University of NSW.
He will join the conversation about how we can empower our young people to be optimistic, creative and empathic, in a rapidly changing world.
His latest book, Let the Children Play, is a powerful research-based argument for more play in Australian schools, and its role in supporting students' academic and social development.
Joining him in conversation is Professor Tonia Gray, from Western Sydney University, who has devoted the majority of her academic career to examining the relationship of people and nature.
She argues that in the last few decades, society has become estranged from the natural world, mainly due to our busy urban lives and our love affair with technological devices.
"Contrary to the belief we Aussies are a nature-loving outdoor nation, research suggests we're spending less and less time outdoors," Professor Gray said.
"This worrying trend is also becoming increasingly apparent in our schools and other educational settings."
Yet, the evidence is that outdoor play in nature can enhance creativity, bolster mood, lower stress, foster social skills, improve mental acuity, wellbeing and productivity (see Tonia Gray's piece Being in nature is good for learning, here's how to get kids off screens and outside in The Conversation).
The event will consider what schools, communities and parents can do to provide children with an education that is a hybrid of individualised instruction in basic skills, such as literacy and numeracy, exploration of real world issues through play, and nature-based learning environments that fosters students' holistic growth and wellbeing.
The public event is for parents, community members, potential stakeholders and educators and will consider how we can all do more to address the many educational benefits of spending time in nature.
To register, go to greenmountainschool.com.au/future
The Green Mountain School is in the process of submitting a Site Specific Development Application (SSDA) estimated to cost between $30,000 and $50,000, in order to apply to the NSW Education Standards Board.
Similar independent schools exist in Canberra, Port Macquarie, Bega and Wollongong, and more than 100 parents have registered their interest in joining the local school.
The primary school hopes to open in 2023 with about 35 children across kindergarten and years 1 and 2 and aims to expand from there.