Monday, 5 September 2016

School Garden and Sustainability Programs, why all schools need to be a part of it!

Many children have little or no exposure to a natural environment they have minimal interaction with anything in a nature context. Whether that's because of a lack of exposure in their home environment or it's simply logistics because they live in an urbanised area. What we're finding more and more is that the impact on children is profoundly greater than simply their disinterest in nature,  it changes the way they view the world around them. This is one of the reasons why the issue of sustainability, growing food, growing plants and home cooking is so high on my agenda; because I can see the profound impact it has had on my life and my child's life. 

So when I was recently given the opportunity  to attend School Gardening and Sustainability Training held by the Victorian School Garden Awards, hosted by the award winning 5 star rated Sustainable school at St. Macartan's Parish Primary School in Mornington I obviously jumped at it.

Understanding how to implement a sustainable lifestyle in your own home is vastly different to how you implement it in the school system, how do you encourage children to then take that knowledge home and in fact educate their own families. In my current home environment we are pretty fortunate we have water tanks to reduce our use of freshwater we have solar power to help reduce our use of electricity we also cook with mainly organic produce and we grow whatever vegetables we can. Whilst this is becoming a lot more commonplace we still have a long way to go in our communities. Like many parents I've decided to put my hand up to try and contribute to implementing sustainability, vegetable growing and cooking at my son's school, but the more I look into it I can see it's quite a large undertaking within a school and can be somewhat overwhelming which is probably why it is not implemented in many schools due to their funding and resources.

So since I was attending this training I thought I would collect as much information as I can to share with my readers and hopefully they will be able to think about how they could encourage their children's schools to do the same.

Throughout the day the Sustainable School provided inspiring training, talks, walks and presentations. The day begun with a talk by Erica Gurner of Human Nature Connect, a specialist in facilitating deep learning experiences with a focus on nature and wellbeing. Erica explained the importance of 'Nature Literacy Education' and as an expert in 'experiential learning' she elaborated on the many learning opportunities an 'outdoor' learning environment can provideExperiential learning involves learning through participation, trial and error, and hands-on activities that lead to reflection and analysis. I have a background in education and managing RMIT University Business programs focussed on experiential learning so this was a topic I was excited to hear about implementing in such a context.

Visually there was a great deal to take in and so I've  located at much of the photos from the day on our Pinterest page  



If you are keen to see more about how the St MaCarten's school implemented the kitchen garden and became an award winning Sustainable School you can visit their website at



Teaching Nature Connection 

Erica explained that her philosophy of engaging learners through experiential learning transcended traditional notions of adult learning and early learning differences. In fact it focused on all humans desire to connect, to be inspired and to make meaning of experiences.


Erica explained the need for us as humans to focus on reconciling with the land and she recalled when an indigenous Australian gentleman once explained to her that "We are all indigenous, we are all indigenous to the Earth'. A somewhat controversial statement coming from an Indigenous Australian, but a very thoughtful and poignant reminder of our universal belonging to the earth no matter what our race.

Erica stressed the need for educators to 'Give children outdoor experiences that give them a chance to 'reflect' on nature, NOT just 'physical' exercise devoid of connection to nature'. She explained the need to provide learning with a focus on 'wellbeing' not just 'physical development' to create a true 'nature connection'. For example providing children with opportunities to understand the types of  'food' we need to nourish our bodies AND give us 'energy' for physical activity. Creating that self awareness that they are part of nature requiring sustenance like any living being.


Erica launched into her discussions on outdoor learning experiences, stressing that they are NOT all about physical activity and exercise and that the benefits and opportunities outdoor learning propose are vaster. So if the goal of outdoor learning is not to focus on physical education, what is it for? Erica explained that 'The outdoor experience is a tool to enhance wellbeing'.  A particular example she used was where children are engaged in a 'Cross Country' activity, where rather than focusing on just the physicality of the activity, to urge the children to reflect upon the experience: 

-what they feared?

-what they were excited about?

-talking and communicating

-creating empathy for the earth

-creating a sense of awe in the earth and nature

-experiencing gratitude for nature

-creating a sense of belonging

-creating meaning, zest, purpose and excitement


Shifting the outdoor learning experience to equally involve experiencing, reflecting, making meaning and acting.

Erica went on to explain that science and research often relies heavily on data and is rather devoid of nature, exploration and intuition. Her background was initially working in a laboratory and she longed for a more 'connected' way of researching. Erica discussed Einsteins frequent references to intuition and creativity and the importance of learning using our right side of the brain, our creative, imaginative, our intuitive selves.


One of the themes of the day was exploring how to create an awareness in children around what they can do to keep the earth 'well'. Creating that link between Sustainability (air, water, soil, food, health) and personal wellness, both spiritually and physically. Anholistic approach to teaching the sustainability of our planet and sustainability of ourselves. 


Erica asks us to close our eyes and think about our own nature experiences in the last 24 hours. As someone that is usually immersed in something nature related, for me and a few others it was a little confronting to discover that we too have somewhat of a disconnect, despite everyone in the room having a keen interest and passion for nature, outdoors and creating a more sustainable existence. Whilst as a group we explored the experiences of rain, looking at animals in fields, kids playing in the puddles etc, Erica was able to remind us that it's easy to forget that the simple act of turning on the tap is an experience of nature, taking a breath and breathing in fresh air, looking up at the sky and feeling the sun on your skin, making dinner and absorbing the nutrient into our bodies. So, if the parents, the teachers, the role models fail to make that instant connection, how can we expect children to adopt a sustainable lifestyle and observe their impact on the earth.


Often we are too busy 'doing' things to stop and 'experience' the wonderment. Often learning and education can become overwhelmed with the doing, rather than the feeling, the experiencing, the awe and the passion.  Sharing, reflecting and discussing your experience of nature also provides an opportunity to reflect and consider others perspective, learning from each other and seeing the wonderment through their eyes. For example seeing trees in Australia from the perspective of an international visitor. It's a vastly different perspective and a very valuable leaning opportunity.


As we delved more into the synergies between wellness education, sustainability and school gardensthe issue of Spiritual Wellness arose. Often the physicality of these teachings are limited to the tangible, however Erica explained the importance of helping children (and adults) to connect with their learning on a more spiritual plain. Exploring the philosophy of living true to ourselves, feeling a sense of belonging, feeling at peace, understanding 'who' they are, feeling empathy, feeling a zest for life, feeling the flow of life and energy, being in awe. The importance of appreciating and valuing, having an understanding of and feeling of purpose for all things, creating calm, having a sense of self, creating and feeling hope, developing self esteem, exploring inner feelings and creating 'Connection'. Connection to 'self', to 'others' and to 'nature'.


Leading on from this discussion I raised the issue of encouraging a shift back to the old days of playing in the rain, school hallways lined with raincoats for children to wear with gumboots and letting them go and explore in these conditions. Let them see and feel the power of nature, what nature does under different environmental conditions such as rain, snow, wind, rather than caging them in protective classrooms.


Learning Resources and Activities


Looking at the Sustainability Framework as outlined by the Department of Education via Erica suggests adopting a Sustainability program that is viewed with a wellbeing lens, by adding the wellbeing context, children can make a better connection to nature learning. This context assists them to make meaning of sustainability similarly to how adults do, the ‘wellbeing lens’ more easily can put it in context for children.




The challenge is guiding schools, children, parents and teachers to understand the importance of 'connection', 'wellbeing', 'spiritual wellbeing' and a NATURE CONNECTION. 


Implementing programs in schools relying on curriculum, plus resources for example like the 'Stephanie Alexander Program' combined with resources for teachers and parents in relation to nature learning is always a big part of the challenges. Erica suggested resources by Coyote Mentoring who create learning tools that draw upon experiential learning for children. In particular the Coyote's Guide to connecting with nature for Kids of all ages and their Mentors, by Jon Young, Ellen Haas and Evan McGown.


An obstacle is ensuring children who adopt a wellness and sustainability philosophy can continue those practices at home. In fact it's a critical aspect of the program to address long term environmental and social health. However how can we expect children to implement water recycling, waste recycling, organic vegetable garden growing and outdoor meditation immediately in each of their homes. We certainly need to explore how we can support these children to be the change makers of the next generation who are in fact teaching their elders the errors of their ways and developing a school learning community that are all committed to creating a sustainable future for the children.


Developing meaningful learning experiences is the key and our session explored examples that would be useful in engaging the children but also in engaging their parents, siblings and families, for example to generate experiences that:

-Create a zest and excitement around nature

-Making use of 'unexpected encounters' for learning

-Using the senses

-Talking about gratitude

-Tracking nature changes and animals

-Pretending to be animals to generate understanding and empathy

A terrific example of a learning activity that generates reflection is adopting Joseph Cornells Art Box approach. Cornell was an American artist who produced fascinating works of art in boxes. Cornell's works contained sets of everyday objects that were carefully positioned behind glass. His work transformed ordinary objects into works of timeless art. Details of how to create one of these can be found here


Another example of how to engage children with empathy for the earth is through videos such as this one that depicts the earth breathing. It demonstrates the impact on the earths life should we fail to address climate change and the destruction of natural resources upon which life depends. Erica explained the challenges when trying to engage learners in an empathetic manner towards living objects and natural resources that don't actually have a face. The video here immediately came to mindit depicts the earth breathing providing a relatable example of viewing the earth as the living organism that it is. 

During our training Erica provided an example of relating to inanimate natural resources where learners are given  an opportunity to select a rock from a collection and to feel, smell and look at the object and consider its past, its origins, how it may have been formed, where it might have come from. Then to give your rock a name and see if you can provide an empathetic relatable personality to it via its various attributes. It was reminiscent of my childhood days when everybody had a pet rock. 


Engaging children with their natural surroundings can also be achieved through providing activities that encourage them to consider mapping the land, or observing maps of the land, the terrain and resources in the area, and the local flora and fauna species. Then taking it that step further and allowing them to wander off the tracks. Consider what takes place and lives in the unmapped areas of our landscape?  Erica explains the importance of generating interest prior to launching into learning activities. Looking at ways to generate interest and excitement.


Implementing a School Sustainability Program


The second part of our day was presented by the host primary schools sustainability leader who explained how critical it is to maximise use of the land, even land previously deemed unusable. The school we attended had a significant natural creek (swale) running through the property that was often dry but necessary to retain for drainage of rain water runoff out to the bay. She explained that great effort and consideration was given to ensuring this was beautified and maintained with ingenious plants and that the water quality was monitored by a team of students who regularity checked levels as part of their sustainability explorations.


Some of the many examples of sustainable practices were the introduction of multiple bins in the classrooms for paper, soft plastic, mixed recycling and food. 


Rubbish bins in the yard were removed or replaced with very small bins and the wastage was significantly reduced. The introduction of wrapper free lunches also made significant improvements meaning parents were encouraged to buy lunch and snack foods in bulk and place in reusable containers reducing the individual wrapped snack foods.


One example of a program that may be accessed to assist with sustainability implementation and rating was the Resource Smart Sustainability Victoria Program at


The resources available via the website provide significant guidance on implementing sustainability practices in the home, business' and schools. Schools have the opportunity to apply for certification for various sustainability ratings from 1-5 however it was highlighted that the paperwork necessary and record keeping is somewhat onerous. A possible solution would be to ensure from the outset that each step in the process of sustainability implementation is mapped against the certification criteria and an internal audit and evidence collection and record keeping system would need to be maintained, knowing in advance what evidence needs to be collected would save considerable time later.


Some of the areas of focus under the Resource Smart Schools Program are: 


• Recognition -
          Sustainability Certification and the ResourceSmart Schools Awards recognise and reward school activity.
• Savings -  
         Save on energy, water and waste bills – and greenhouse gas emissions.
• Adaptablilty- 
Schools create a unique environmental management system and can work with any sustainability program or organisation within the ResourceSmartSchools framework.
• Learning - 
Students learn take-home lessons about sustainable actions as required by the Australian Curriculum.
• Sustainable schools - 
Schools learn to operate more sustainably, reducing costs and minimising their impact on the environment through efficient resource use.

• Community - it provides practical support for schools and communities to live and work more sustainably and to support other schools and environmental partners along the way.

There are various sustainable practices that can contribute to achieving a 5 star rating or to simply improve the schools sustainability ethos. These include:

Looking  at the orientation of the classes, the windows and buildings, maximising these or considering them when making building improvements. 

-Using E glass that helps reduce heat loss

-Building awnings and pergolas that maximise solar sun warmth in winter and cooling through shade in summer

-Rain water collection for use in toilets

-Solar panels

-Use of non-toxic products in the 

classrooms, office and common areas

-Sourcing locally produced materials

-Use of renewable materials

-Selection of non toxic paint

-Looking at air flow in buildings and heat and cooling loss through doors and windows

-Planting of local species of plants in the gardens and use of plants to create a cooler Eco system in the school, shade in summer and protection in Winter.


The school that we visited had established and built an indoor/outdoor Sustainability Centre.


The centre contained a covered pergola flanked by two kitchens, one with a serving and preparing area and another similar to a butler’s pantry, complete with washing facilities for kitchen linens. The long central table serves as a dining table for the children and visitors to experience their cooking as well as working and preparing tables.  

Surrounding the pergola is a vegetable garden, rabbit hutch, chicken coop, worm farm and pig pen (who feast on the scraps).The garden contains work sheds, hydroponics, water tanks, compost bins, hot house, fences using reclaimed materials and sustainably milled wood and no treated pine. The gardens were estimated to have taken 8 working bees to create and approx 800 man hours. 

The hot house is maintained by the students and cuttings are taken from plants and trees to grow the cuttings and raise seedlings ready for tree planting days.


The landscaping across the school and the BBQ area complete with pizza oven was created by RB Landscapes Richard Ballemo.




Richard Bellemo is also responsible for the significant grounds landscaping Including the previously mentioned the landscaped natural outdoor plant water purification garden which is constructed in a swale where the water runoff is cleaned naturally prior to it returning to the sea. 


Continuing the natural connection indoors the children can enjoy spiny leaf insects in each of the classrooms. They are able to contribute to the care of the insects as well as learning about their rather bazaar lifecycle of the females laying eggs which hatch into all females unless there is a male with her fertilising them and creating both male and females.


Management and incorporation of the sustainability into student participation was achieved through a Student Leadership Structure where a leadership team of students is allocated from each class level to a particular aspect of the Sustainability Program being:

Sustainability Team - Rep from Prep, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Social Justice Team - Rep from Prep, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Garden Club -  Rep from Prep, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Biodiversity Team -  Rep from Prep, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Water Team -  Rep from Prep, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Energy Team -  Rep from Prep, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Recycling Team -  Rep from Prep, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Clean living Team -   Rep from Prep, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


Each term the reps could be changed to allow every student to take a leadership role on a different aspect, or possibly they could work in pairs in the class. The structure provides an opportunity for the kids to show their class the progress of each aspect and to participate in the implementation. For example the Recycling Team can create the collection bins and signs, then help empty and sort waste and provide feedback to the classes on goals. The Energy Team can monitor class temperatures, heat and cooling management, create posters, arrange a no power hour event, run a peddle power movie event. The Biodiversity Team might look at the plants and animals endemic to the area and help educate the school on how to sustain these. The Social Justice Club might look at Environmental issues impacting on quality of life and help educate their classmates. The Clean Living Team might look at nontoxic, natural and organic options for the school and gardens and research these for implementation.


With the groups in place the possibilities for learning are endless. The teams can also lead the school in creating and working towards achieving targets such as reduction of paper, reusing paper, shredding for compost and weighing the rubbish collected to see how much they have shifted from land fill to recycling. Some hard waste items can be donated to charities, and other items such as printer cartridges may be recycled.

There are several options for School garden curriculum available, a very popular program and the one adopted by our host school was the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program. The children attend the Sustainability Centre on the School grounds for 2 hours on a Friday ( 2 groups - which is run a morning session then a second afternoon session). The children complete 40 minutes of gardening and 40 minutes of cooking with the rest of the time taken up by a banquet where they can feast on all their hard work in what looks like a fine dining experience. 


Learning resources for growing and cooking can be obtained via the The Stephanie Alexander Program 

Find resources here

In addition the resources for Early years has just been released providing guidance for teachers of the Prep-Grade 2's.  Find respurces here

The key to implementing any sustainability and kitchen garden is to adopt it as a community project. It has long term results and the implementation is not going to happen overnight. With that in mind it's achievable. 

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The best of the Australian Runways in 2016

Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival 
& Mercede-Benz Fashion Week

Photos Lucas Dawson 

Spring Summer in Australia isn't complete without Camilla. This year on both of these runways we saw Camilla signature kaftans and swimwear.

In 2016 Steve May brings a little boho to the shift dress and kaftan.

David Jones parade had a youthful sexy look. Wrap dresses, sheer fabrics and cutouts are on trend.

As always J'Aton delivered their usual class and sophistication with lace and embellishing.  

Alice McCall never disappoints and in 2016 she delivered on trend embellishments and patterns on black with lace and sheer fabrics.

Bec and Bridge's Collection was filled with gorgeous neutrals and classic cuts.

Aurelio Castarellio was as on trend with the nude look. These neutrals are simple with little pops of embellishing.

Dion Lee again hit the neutrals trend on the button with these looks, with fringing, tassels and sheer fabrics.

Keepsake's designs in blush and whites with sheer and simple cuts are something we all need in our Spring wardrobe.

Thurley's collection was full of bold laces and dramatic heavy embellishing that will be going on your Spring bucket list! 

Swimwear for 2016 came in all shapes and sizes from the previous Camilla range to Billabong's great rash vest options. Perfect for covering up in the harsh Aussie sun.

Billabong from the VAMFF (Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival 

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week 

The most on trend and wearable pieces from the runways at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
These will inspire your Spring Summer Wardrobe. 

Leading on from the VAMFF we'll start with the swimwear and resort wear.

Bondi Bather bold prints and sheers are perfect for Summer 16!

Cynthia Rowley hit it out of the park with these 3 swimwear options.

If geometric patterns are more your thing. These rash vest swimsuits are a must have.

Resort looks were abundant at the MBFW.

Once again Camilla wowed audiences with their tropical tribal look. 

Ginger and Smart combined class with fun with these looks. 

The kaftan look by Ginger and Smart.

Cynthia added her own colourful boho look to the mix.

Akira delivered romantic whimsical kaftans with botanical prints.

AJE combined wearability with gorgeous sheers.

Karla Spetic gave us some soft lavender hues. 

Bec and Bridge combines the texture of the camel tones with the neutral and flesh tones so much on trend.

Bec and Bridge also gave us some completely original trends for this year! 

Some of the most wearable trends from Bec and Bridge are the one shoulder, shoulder cutouts and sheer soft fabrics in once again the neutral tones. 

By Johnny pushed the design and cut principals with these gorgeous creations. 

Femininity was a theme you couldn't ignore by CMeo Collection 

Daniel Avakian

Dixon Lee feminine neutrals.

We are Kindred's collection was whimsical and feminine. 

For a more bold look Steve Kahlil showed us how to do glam.

2016 Australian Runways bought to you by Lily Online Magazine. 
Photography by official photographer Lucas Dawson.