Forest Companions

June 28, 2022
Kellie Kleinjan
Stephanie Reisch

Forest Companions

Creative Practitioner: Stephanie Reisch

Creative Practice: Visual Artist

Teacher: Kelly Kleinjan

Year Group: 4

Main Curriculum Area:

HASS - Geography

The importance of environments to animals and people, and different views on how they can be protected (ACHASSK088)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples' ways of living were adapted to available resources and their connection to Country/Place has influenced their views on the sustainable use of these resources, before and after colonisation (ACHASSK089)

The natural resources (e.g., water, timber, minerals) provided by the environment and different views on how they can be used sustainably (ACHASSK090)

People belong to diverse groups, such as cultural, religious and/or social groups, and this can shape identity (ACHASSK093)


In Term 3 the cohort of Year 4 students took a walk of mindfulness through the nearby forests of Jarrahdale and learned about the history of the land, the now defunct timber mills and the impact deforestation is having on local flora and fauna. Although the scope of our project included species from all around WA, our focus was on researching the growth cycle of the endemic Jarrah tree and the value it holds as a timber product, as well as the majestic red-tailed black cockatoo (Karak) that is being pushed to the brink of extinction. By keeping our project close to home, the kids were able to assess firsthand the impact their actions were having on the forest and connect with the animals that rely on it for food and shelter.

In the early stages of the project, the class were asked to reflect on the many consumer products and routines that make up a regular school day.

Items such as pencils, paper, toilet paper, buildings, woodchips, firewood etc. can all be traced back to a forest. In each forest is a tree that some biological life form calls home. Deforestation as a global issue is a difficult subject to grasp as a 9-year-old but if it can be broken down into bite-sized pieces then the seed of curiosity and social responsibility is planted. Instead of lecturing the students on what is right and wrong, Kelly and I gave the class an opportunity to explore and connect with the Marri and She-Oaks on school grounds and asked them to reflect on the differences and similarities between humans and trees. The students were quick to point out that trees are alive, they reproduce, require sunlight to thrive and absorb nutrients just like we do. However, unlike humans, trees take a very long time to mature, requiring centuries of growth before they become viable homes for animals seeking shelter.

The question at the heart of our Forest Companions project was, how can we work with natural resources in a more sustainable and socially responsible way?

Over the 8-week program, Kelly and I designed activities that highlighted 2 of the Creative Habits of Learning - being imaginative and inquisitive. We asked the students to visualise a world without trees through drawing and collage and carefully consider how that would impact on their individual lives. This transitioned into discussions about the lifestyle changes the kids could implement right now to ensure Jarrahdale Forest can be enjoyed by future generations. Our project was also largely shaped by the First Nations peoples’ world view that regards humans as caretakers of the land. Unlike the dominant Australian world view, where the environment is shaped to suit our culture and society, in the Aboriginal world view it is the environment that sets the boundaries and rules. In later weeks we looked at the important role inherited animal totems play in Aboriginal culture and asked the students to adopt a totem of their own.

The Forest Companions project came to a head with a class excursion to Jarrahdale Forest and Kaarakin Black Cockatoo Conservation Centre where the kids were able to meet the birds in person and put their knowledge about forest biodiversity to the test.


“I learnt that trees are really important, that’s why we don’t chop them down. Some people chop them to use them. That makes me feel bad because they're living. It's ok if people use parts of them but not if you chop them down on purpose.”

“The best part of Creative Schools this term was when we made the totems because we got to learn about the animal we chose and the habitats. We got to be creative with all of it. Being creative is important because you can accomplish more things.”
“This best part of Creative Schools was learning fun ways to do hard stuff. It is important to learn creativity because even though it seems you won’t use it a lot in your life, you will use it a lot. Because even if you are trying to measure something, you could use the strategies we learnt.”
“For Creative Schools you have to have five habits of learning to be creative, and we reflect back on if we are being inquisitive, imaginative, collaborative, persistent or disciplined. Before Creative Schools I only knew about persistent and imaginative. Now I know about all of them. Our class is getting better at these skills now, and people are recognizing and doing the skills more and more.”


“Last term our project was quite exciting, learning about colonisation and the First Fleet. They loved the project. I think they learned more about the social side of things, developing teamwork and leadership skills. That was good for them. We also tied it to our literacy focus. This term we have a sustainability theme, looking at forests, deforestation, and Black Cockatoos, which is a local issue. We are going on an excursion to make it real.
I haven't covered this topic, I haven't covered, any of these topics before. If it wasn't for [creative practitioner] Steph pushing me along and sorting out the creative side, I would never have done it. It was a challenge for me stepping back and letting the children have a go. It was far out of my comfort zone, but I could see the benefits in the social skills for the students. It created some curriculum pressure for me, but this term we've put more curriculum in. So, I now see how it can be done. I have been inspired. I will definitely keep more creative things going in my class once my creative practitioner leaves. I like the Creative Habits of Learning. I'm applying them to all my lessons now, and I am doing much more reflection with students. The more interesting and creative ways to present the same topic, in ways that the kids love, but still getting the same learning outcomes achieved, have inspired me. The students are super on task and engaged, and they are learning. That's all a teacher wants.”