Imagine a school where children spend most of the day outdoors.
There would be no bells, and classes would take place under towering trees.
A group of mothers is hoping to make this a reality by creating what is believed to be Victoria’s first forest school.
While bush kindergartens have become more common in recent years, there are just a handful of forest schools in Australia.
The concept originated in Scandinavia, where it’s common for children to visit forests and woodlands as part of their formal education.
It appeals to parents who are concerned that children have lost their connection to nature, and those who think schools are prioritising grades over other important life skills.
Akasha Konkoly, who is spearheading the campaign for a new P-12 forest school in the Geelong area, is among these parents.
“The more diverse a learning environment, the stronger children will be emotionally, intellectually and physically,” she said.
Ms Konkoly started the Surf Coast Natural Learning School group in August and said 50 families were already enrolled at the proposed school. If all goes to plan, it will open at the start of 2018.
But the group must first overcome a few hurdles: the school is not registered, no site has been purchased and they need funds.
The mother-of-two said that while children will spend a large chunk of the school year outdoors, the independent school will by no means be alternative.
Students will complete the VCE, use technology and learn 21st century skills like entrepreneurship.
“Students can be sitting in a forest on their iPad,” Akasha said.
Children will explore the wilderness, have a bigger say in what they learn and have a much more hands-on school experience. This might involve mud, bubbling streams, bark, trees and the elements.
Serena Macartney has already filled out an enrolment form for her two-year-old son Sola Raya, whose name is inspired by the sun.
“Nature-based play encourages creative thinking, imaginative play and sensory development,” she said.
“When you are exposed to all the elements it turns everything on.”
The Geelong mother runs Geelong Natural Parenting Playgroup, where families meet once a week at beaches, nature reserves and sanctuaries. Last Friday, toddlers collected grass and ferns and then created wreaths beneath the bows of a willow tree.
Barbara Chancellor, an independent researcher who has worked at RMIT, said people were becoming increasingly concerned that children were losing their connections with the natural world.
“This is one of a number of different responses that we are likely to see more of in the future,” Dr Chancellor said.
“Some families will support their children to play sport, otherwise might encourage them to go bushwalking or some might send them to a bush kinder or forest school.”
Research has found children who play and learn in nature build resilience, problem-solving, co-operation and motor skills, she said.
An Education Department spokesman said that the Victorian Regulations and Qualifications Authority would invite the surf coast group to an information session in March for prospective schools.