Our History – From home school co-op to Forest School: The first six months of business

Wildlings Forest School began as an idea between myself, Nicki Farrell & Vicci Oliver, fellow mothers, high school teachers and friends. We met at Vicci’s nature playgroup (Little Wildlings on the Sunshine Coast) and quickly found ourselves discussing if and where to send our eldest children to school the following year. Following quite a lot of research, we both decided to delay starting our children in Prep for a year for a variety of reasons (that’s another blog!). Both of us wanted to provide our children with a place they could go regularly to meet friends and play in nature. We had a mutual passion in alternative education and all things nature and both needed to go back to some kind of work after our maternity leave, so our original business idea, a home school co-op, Where the Wildlings Grow, began. We signed on to do the Intro to Forest Schooling with Nature Play QLD in October 2016 and this threw us into a passionate tizz!

We decided to go ahead with the idea of a co-op and spent the rest of the year scouting out potential sites and working out how to legally run a co-op. We initially thought we’d run through the Home Education Association (who do a wonderful job of enabling children to attend workshops and events by insuring the parents who run them) but soon realised we couldn’t make a profit doing this. We had realised very quickly the amount of work and time this idea was going to take and that we needed to be paid for it. We toyed with the idea of a not-for-profit but discovered that the start-up costs of an NFP were very similar but we would then have to hand over control to a committee and we weren’t sure we were happy doing this (though this would have made accessing funds through grants a heck of a lot easier – it has been very difficult thus far to do this as a business).

We scouted the coast from Coolum to Caloundra, Maleny to Yandina, checking out everywhere from National Parks, to old halls to community centres but none of them had the natural space we were looking for AND access to a room of some sort to run the workshops we initially wanted to run. After a very long search, we eventually got given a tip from a friend about a space behind the Flametree Baptist Church in Nambour. I put two-and-two together and realised this was the same space that old work colleagues at the Sunshine Coast PCYC used to talk about (but that I’d never seen) and when I saw it, I knew it was the space. It was light, it had running fresh water, it had flat space to set up our basecamp, it was in a beautiful, open and spacious rainforest that was already being utilised by the public with pathways etc, so we wouldn’t be damaging pristine forest. It was perfect.

So began a fast lesson in small business ownership! ABN’s, ACN’s, company start-up costs (thank you to our wonderful HPM Accountants who softened the very steep learning curve for us), insurance (not as bad as you think), Xero, invoicing, social media pages, land-use contracts and negotiations with the church, disclaimers, waivers, start-up info and pricing (still the hardest thing to sit with). You name it, we learnt it!

An so, our homeschool co-op, Where the Wildlings Grow began. It was a place where children came together to participate regularly in workshops such as gymnastics, dance, drama, yoga, Lego brix, STEM, journaling and much more followed by a nature play session down at the beautiful Petrie Creek. We created a Facebook page and put a shout-out to all of our friends (many of whom we’d met through Little Wildlings) asking if anyone would like to join a co-op that would meet once a week. Within two weeks, we had around 25 children signed on.

Within the first term of operating we realised our hearts weren’t in running the co-op. We loved the families and children attending and had put a great deal of effort into the organisation and running of the activities each week. However, the learning felt forced (despite the children enjoying it immensely) and many children were choosing not to participate in the provided activities (which was more than ok), choosing instead to free play together in games of their own choosing. Watching the learning that was happening in these child-led sessions made our hearts happy and led us to looking for a new way to operate.

Having accidentally nose-dived head-first into the world of natural learning, unschooling and democratic learning we soon realised that this was exactly what we wanted for our own children and exactly what we wanted to do as teachers, or as we had now become, facilitators…

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