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Life at Follyfoot Farm: kids, goats, and a nature experience

Whoever said you shouldn’t work with children or animals hasn’t met Janine Hooley!

children looking at chickens in a coop

Janine works at Follyfoot Farm, an innovative preschool on the NSW Central Coast, which emphasises learning from nature, environmental responsibility, and teaching children care and respect for animals. She was recently awarded a Special Acknowledgement at the Australian Early Education and Care Awards for her unique approach to working with animals in preschool.

Janine says animals can teach children so much, and the kids really learn to love their “jobs”.

“Having these animals gives children experiences which they might not have at home. It’s normal for the kids to come in and see me not with a handbag, but with three kangaroo joeys in slings– but the parents are often surprised,” she said with a smile.

“I want these interactions with nature to be their “normal”, and to teach the kids kindness empathy and compassion,” Janine said.

“We have an amazing opportunity to teach kindness and empathy, and I would love for that to be the children’s memory of preschool as they grow older.”

Janine said that while each educator has their own philosophy, the service aims to teach children to respect and care for their environment, and experience nature as opportunity to explore and play.

“The children learn to play in nature without damaging it. A big tree came down a few years ago, and instead of turning it into woodchips, we got the loppers to help us create a nature walk area. We’ve also got a sensory garden, which is really helpful for the children with autism, where they can smell and touch the different plants”.

The children also learn responsibility, and enjoy a sense of pride that comes with caring for the animals and gardens.

“Every morning, the kids come up to me and ask me ‘What jobs are we doing today?’. They help us feed the calves, mix up the milk, they look for chicken eggs, and give fruit scraps to the goats. We look after a veggie garden, and there’s a basket of fruit and veggies so the kids can take home passionfruit and herbs they’ve helped harvest,” she said.

With some staff at the service for 10, 20 or 25 years, it is clear the wholesome environment encourages long-term loyalty to the preschool.

“One thing parents always comment on is our dedicated staff, who provide stability and continuity to the service. And for us, it’s not like coming to work – you don’t get Mondayitis” Janine said.

“In the long term, my wish is that I’d love the children to learn about nature and sustainability, about respecting our environment, animal care, and a lifelong love of nature, recycling and playing in nature.

“We want to help shape empathetic children, who go out of their way to care for others”.

Category:  July 2018,

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