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Aboriginal elder Noel Morrison teaches Southwell students about the bush. Picture: Astrid Volzke/The West Australian

Children at Southwell Primary School are being encouraged to climb trees and explore local bush as part of their lessons.

The kindergarten and pre- primary students have been involved in a trial of a "bush school" program which takes learning out of the classroom and into Bibra Lake wetlands one day a week.

The Hamilton Hill school is one of the first in Australia to test an alternative education model, based on the "forest schools" program which began in Sweden in the 1950s. Lessons have included storytelling with Aboriginal elders, building bush shelters and throwing spears.

Principal Stuart Blackwood said results of a trial last year had been "sensational", with improvements in attendance, attentiveness and behaviour.

In April, British forest school provider Archimedes started training 10 WA teachers in the program, who will be assessed next year.

Murdoch University early childhood education senior lecturer Libby Lee-Hammond first saw forest schools in Norway about four years ago. She and co-researcher Libby Jackson-Barrett ran a trial with a small group of Aboriginal children at Southwell last year which was so successful it has been extended this year to include non-Aboriginal children.

"We let them climb the trees," she said. "It's about children learning to take educated risks."

She said Australians were more risk-averse than Europeans. "We've become so paranoid about litigation we're robbing children of really worthwhile experiences in early childhood," she said.

The West Australian

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