Home School Nature Play and Outdoor Learning

We are back this term with more home school sessions in two locations!

Outdoor Connections facilitates Home School sessions that focus on inquiry learning during nature play, discovery and exploration. Our sessions foster friendships and build a sense of community amongst the families.

We have a strong focus on developing resilience, social skills, confidence and friendships. Activities are designed to foster teamwork and encourage individuality.

Our sessions are focused on aspects of the curriculum and presented in engaging ways. We conduct scientific investigations, complete geography fieldwork and encourage creativity in story play.

Sessions are suited to 5 – 12 year olds, parents/ guardians stay with their child/ren to assist and join in the fun. Younger siblings attend free of charge.

We welcome back returning families and are excited to meet new friends. Individual needs can be catered for and we actively promote access to the outdoors for all.

Bookings are pre-booked at https://www.trybooking.com/eventlist/natureplay

Cost: $40 per child/ session $100 per 3 child family/ session

Time: 10 – 2

Session Details:

Seven Mile Beach National Park
Wednesday 6th June
Feathers, Fur, Fins and Fieldwork
Geography – Maths – Science
Which animals can we find in the environment?

Narrawallee Inlet
Friday 15th June
The Science of a Shelter
Science – Maths – English
What materials male strong and waterproof shelters?

Narrawallee Inlet
Wednesday 27th June
Feathers, Fur, Fins and Fieldwork
Geography – Maths – Science
Which animals can we find in the environment?

Forest Schools in Australia? Is it time to consider place-based outdoor learning as more than a drag and drop approach?

There has been a recent interest in the Forest School movement in Australia. Here is some background of the Outdoor Connections team and a link to a recent paper written by Amanda, along with her PhD supervisors.

Forest School in Australia is a controversial topic. Where do you stand? Yes? No? Somewhere in the middle? A blend of what you already do? Part of a puzzle of training?

No matter where you stand on the issue there is no doubt that the intentions of Forest School training and practice are great! Essentially, it is about getting kids outside more often in meaningful ways. BUT there are a few things to consider namely:

* We need to acknowledge the actual origins of Forest School come from Scandinavian outdoor learning.
* The practices of the UK Forest School model are from a vastly different physical environment, weather and culture.
* If Forest School is about connecting children to the outdoors, we should be connecting children to their local outdoor environment – in local ways.
* Especially in schools, what is the underlying pedagogy for outdoor learning?

Where do Outdoor Connections two founders sit with this issue?

Interestingly, Amanda and Penny were two of Australia’s first Forest School Trained Practitioners. Narrowly missing each other on courses back in 2009. True story, to this day we wonder how they both ended up living in a town of 3000 people? We don’t know but lucky us and lucky town hey!

A decade ago, Penny was living In the UK with her family and after her training continued on to run a Forest School in London. She had been living in the UK for an extended period and also completed landscape design, so was very in touch with her surrounds. These experiences have led Penny to work in a variety of outdoor settings in Australia, most recently at Bundanon where her considerable arts based practice comes into it’s own.


To complete her training, Amanda went on a study tour to the UK funded by the ACU Bob and Margaret Frater Scholarship. Notably, Amanda had taught in London for a couple of years as she roamed around the world back in 2001/02 – so the UK education system was known to her. She went on to complete a wall full of certificates in outdoor learning, a superb study tour to Denmark and teach literally hundreds of children outside. Eventually, her Phd focused on place-based outdoor learning in a primary school setting.

Both Amanda and Penny gained considerable amounts from their Forest School training. Additionally, the practical experiences Penny gained in the UK offered her the opportunity to really put the training into practice in context.

Fast forward almost a decade from when Penny and Amanda completed their training and there are many Australian Forest School leaders. Trained both in the UK and Australia, with a variety of training providers. The problem now is how does this “fit” in an Australian cultural, environmental and educational space?

Sure, the Forest School program is wonderful! However, it is just that a “program” with a highly structured set of routines and practices that need to be followed. Adding to the confusion, is our understanding of what and what does not constitute a “Forest School”. Can we learn from the program – absolutely YES! Is it the be all and end all – absolutely NO!

Outdoor Connections prides itself on utilising Forest School practices as part of a very large puzzle of training, experiences and culture. In our holiday and homeschool programs we adapt the training to our very Australian settings. In our teacher PD programs we broaden and theorise this practice into a sound Australian place-based outdoor learning pedagogy. Ours is one of many QUALITY Australian programs that is responsive to place, taking into account childhood development, local community and culture.

What do we really think about outdoor learning/ nature play etc etc etc (insert term here)? Australia trust yourself! We have amazing outdoor educators, nature play practitioners and superb teachers. Look towards OUR culture and environment, explore the links to the valuable Indigenous culture in your area. Value local knowledge and be responsive to place.

Is outdoor learning suitable for Australian schools? You bet!! The early childhood community has embraced it and primary schools are catching on. Outdoor Connections is extremely proud to be able to offer accredited training for teachers. Last weekend in the blazing heat and then rain (so south coast weather!) our group of teachers were super keen to see the spread out outdoor learning in Australia, using place-based pedagogies to inform their practice.

The ever insightful Dr Mark Leather, from the UK started rumbles a few years ago that there was more to outdoor learning than Forest Schools, so he wrote a paper on the topic. He then called for experts in the field to respond to his thinking.

For those of us interested in the academic opinions of Dr Amanda Lloyd and her two PhD supervisors Associate Professor Tonia Gray and Dr Son Truong … here is their response, Place-based outdoor learning: Moe than a drag and drop approach. (Unfortunately, it’s a subscription article so you’ll need to be in a library system to access it… but I suspect those interested will have their means to grab it).

In a nutshell …. Amanda, Tonia and Son say ..

The Forest School movement offers children valuable outdoor experiences; however, pedagogically it is under-theorised and lacking research in diverse contexts. As a result, it has at times become a “drag and drop” program, which does not necessarily acknowledge local place, environment or culture. Alternatively, place-based outdoor learning is examined as a place-responsive approach, where a year-long outdoor program was implemented and evaluated in an Australian primary school. Place-based outdoor learning is a broader integrated approach that is interconnected with place, curriculum and learners. It re-envisions a perspective on outdoor teaching to individualise meaningful learning in nature, within specific contexts.

Whatever you think about the issue, in the end really the message is simple. Go outside, take the kids with you and have fun!

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Outdoor Connections at the National Outdoor Education Conference

In April, Amanda is headed down to the National Outdoor Education Australia conference. She is presenting on our popular holiday activity programs; the who, what, where and why. The conference program looks great! Dr Bob Brown is a keynote speaker, as is Dr Mark Leather, from England, who will be presenting on the very topical area of Forest Schools – outdoor experiences similar to our holiday program.

Amanda and Penny are two of Australias’ very first Forest Schools UK trained instructors, (yes you read that right and somehow they both landed in Gerringong a town of 3000!). We are very proudly two of Australia’s leaders in the nature play field. Our holiday programs are all centred on connecting children to the local environment, building resilience in nature based play and the social connections between the group. To the children themselves, it is just simply a great day out! (Albeit a rather tiring day for some).

Amanda is very keen to present sound based evidence about our holiday programs, and as part of this would like to hear what our parent community think about our programs.


Your responses would be greatly appreciated. If you would like to pop over to the conference website you can find it here http://www.noec2018.com




Celebrating our 1st year of Outdoor Connections

As we gear up for our Summer Holiday sessions starting on Monday, Amanda and I reflect on our first fabulous year in business. We launched on the 16th of January 2017 and have fitted in lots of outdoor holiday fun since.

Of course with a year having passed, we are in the process of reviewing and reflecting. And Penny has been making a whole new set of hi-viz tags for the kids to wear. Other groups kit the kids out in mini hi-viz vests but we find these pretty hot and they aren’t a road crew after all…..  is it just “crazy OH&S” again?? This is something we do re-assess and reflect on. Safety and our policies are a fundamental part of our business development and we can only offer outdoor play, the very nature of it being, well, a little more risky at times, if the underpinning principles are well planned, all risks considered and mitigated. With the hi-viz kit, we can see at a glance on the beach or public reserves who is with us and where they are. Some kids love the “uniform” so much they have taken them home at the end of the day. The last set were made of recycled bedsheet and some fluro rip-stop nylon from a past venture into kite making. This new set will hopefully see us out for another full year.

We are yet to do a full interrogation of the booking system to count up how many children have come out with us for the day but we are confident it’s a good number. And we have been very encouraged by the repeat customers. Thank you!! We have some expert nature-players coming out with us now! So we have to thank each and every family who have given us a go and sent their children along for a session or even 10. You have also provided the best advertising there is, word of mouth. For this we are very grateful and we will be sending all families who have booked a session with us this year a discount code for future bookings so please watch out in for our email. Plus, those who have booked 10 or more sessions so far will receive a further discount.

Moving forward, we want to see our little business grow. We are so lucky our local area has so much to offer our children and we love getting out there with them. So if you have enjoyed coming along for the ride with us this year and have any thoughts about what we could do differently, better, other things we could offer that your kids will love please let us know. We would love to engage the older age group too as we are finding few over 10 years are joining us. Perhaps we need to target some sessions by making the age group 10-14? 12-15? If you have any insights let us know via this form:

As 2018 unfolds we are heading into a new sideline which is Professional Development for Primary school teachers. Amanda has worked extremely hard to get her courses on Outdoor Learning and curriculum, focussing on English, Maths, Geography and Nature art outside, as well as a course on how to maximise the potential of school grounds for outdoor learning, accredited with the Educational standards body NESA. So wish us luck with this. Any teachers amongst you can find more info here.

Thanks for reading this far, for all your support in our first year. We hope to see you in 2018.

Penny & Amanda – Outdoor Connections23032915_662913793912261_5248851243927107432_n




Christmas Nature craft

School has but a week to go and then Christmas is around the corner. Quiet moments are few and far between at this time of year but if you do have some time and inclination, here’s a really fail safe and easy Christmas craft idea. I tested it last week at the Women’s Outdoor Adventure expo and had enthusiastic responses.

Before you start you need to go foraging for natural items that will leave a good impression. Gum nuts and Casurina seed pods are good for stamping and rolling. Casurina needles make lovely linear patterns and Banksia leaves are great for zig-zaggy impressions. Firm leaves work best, some fern fronds can look lovely too.

Bicarb dough is easy to make, soft and pliable to use and bakes a lovely clear white.


  • 1 cup bicarbonate of soda
  • 3/4 cu cornflower
  • 1/2 cup warm water. Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl. In a saucepan, stir the dry into the water. Stir over a low heat until it comes together as a soft dough. Keeps in a ziplock bag  in the fridge for days.

Take a small handful of dough and roll out on a non-stick surface. Not too thin as you will roll further to make impressions. A bit thicker than you’d roll for biscuits. Then cover the piece with items that you want to make patterns with. Roll them into the dough. Stamp into the dough too – the ends of Casurina pods make gorgeous starry patterns, I’m sure you’ll make some great discoveries too.

Use biscuit cutters to cut out shapes and make a hole in the top somewhere with a bamboo skewer so you can thread string and hang them up later.

Line a tray with baking paper and transfer the ornaments to the tray. Bake in the oven at 100 degrees C for 1 hour. You can paint them once they have baked too. Decorate your home with lovely nature inspired decorations!

If you need some time to yourself in the first week of the holidays we are offering 2 days of nature play and crafts where we will be doing this activity. Wednesday 20th is a 3 hour morning session at Bonaira nature reserve in Kiama and Thursday 21st is a full day session at Seven Mile Beach. So if you don’t have time for Christmas craft,  Outdoor Connections are here to help!

Thanks for all the support in our first year of business. Amanda and I have had a great time and really appreciate how much our local community has got behind us. We look forward to more fun outside connecting kids to nature and memorable play experiences. Have a great Christmas everyone. See you in 2018!


Kids Speak – Why the Outdoors is Good for Me

As we plan the Outdoor Connections 2017-2018 Summer Holiday Nature Play Program I reflect on an article written for Wild Magazine earlier in the year. As Australia’s premier outdoors magazine it was a real privilege to be the children’s columnist for 2017 to write about kids in nature. Here is an article about our own holiday programs and what the kids thought of their day with Outdoor Connections.


Kids Speak – Why the Outdoors is Good for Me


Kids in nature. The benefits may seem obvious to ‘grown ups’ and they are widely reported on. But what’s going on inside the minds of children who have experienced these benefits directly? Do they realise the enormous potential of the outdoors for their development? During the summer school holidays, I spent a couple of weeks educating with Outdoor Connections at their holiday programs and  out what the kids thought of nature.

During the summer school holidays, I spent a couple of weeks facilitating kids’ nature play activities. With a flexible structure including shelter building, beach play, games, art and exploration, the outdoor model of vacation care is an emerging trend in Australia. At Outdoor Connections, the five to 12-year-olds are dropped off at 9am and collected at 3pm, somewhat dirty and recounting stories of adventure, and carrying some eclectic nature artwork to adorn their shelves at home.

As an educator, I perceive the benefits of kids being outdoors to be substantial. Watching them play in local parks using binoculars, discovering how to build beach shelters or rig up zipline in a tree reflects a day experiencing nature through exploration. When children recognise a bird, use natural resources in artworks or discover the habitats of sand creatures, there is a strong sense of children engaging in their environment.

However, the children themselves are ultimately the experts, so I decided to ask them what they thought the benefits of being outdoors were.

During a holiday program at Seven Mile Beach National Park, I found some experts digging in the sand. Nine year old Jorja tells me, “I want to spend more time outdoors because when you are inside you do not get to be active. You watch the TV and play the Xbox”. Perceptively, Jorja has voiced the same concern many experts have identified as a growing trend.

Research claims children playing outside are generally more active and develop gross motor skills. Alarmingly, the prevalence of myopia is increasing, with the perceived reason being our eyes are constantly focused on screens and not engaging our vision outside.

Jorja goes onto say: “The outdoors makes me calm and I can interact with the environment”. Spending time in nature promotes our overall wellbeing, including our ability to regulate our behaviours to be calm.

Siblings Hannah and Tom, take their mum straight back down to the beach at the end of the day’s program to show off their marlin sand sculptures. They are instantaneously connected to the place we spent our day. A connection to place is the beginning of a care and love for the natural world, a bond that can only truly be developed as we experience our environment. Interacting with the outdoors encourages deep learning about the places we visit, this is known to increase the environmental stewardship presented in later life.


For many children attending outdoor holiday programs it’s the newly made friendships that are their focus. Sitting in a tree tying rope, seven year old Harry tells me, “When I’m outdoors, I can make friends. When I’m inside my house there are not many people there, outside people want to play”. Next to him, nine year old Ben says outdoors he can “be with friends. I can build and play with my best friend”. These kids are connecting to each other as much as with the environment they are experiencing.

When nine-year-old Nathan falls out of the tree, he picks himself up and, after composing himself, continues playing. “I’m ok,” he mumbles and continues making a tree swing with rope. Taking risks is part of outdoor play, and having the resilience to carry on is one of the biggest learning curves. Nathan says, “I used to find climbing the tree hard, I still do. But I am ok now. I’ve worked out how to do it”.

From the kids perspective being outside is a good thing for them, it must be true – after all they are the experts. Grown up Wild readers already know why they go outside. The play children engage in is the beginnings of these engaging, fun and meaningful experiences for them. For the kids, outdoor fun is hopefully the beginning of a life spent nurturing their own health and spirit of adventure.



Article link: https://wild.com.au/people/kid-speak-outdoors-good/

Amanda Lloyd is an educational consultant and teacher specialising in outdoor learning. This is the second column she has produced for Wild, appearing in issue 158.

Destination Outdoors: Primary Teacher PD

Destination Outdoors: Outdoor Learning for Primary Schools

24th and 25th February, 2018.

Outdoor Connections is excited to be able to offer Destination Outdoors: Outdoor Learning for Primary Schools as a comprehensive course designed for educators. It is an Australian designed course specifically suited to the Australian and NSW curriculum documents. The course is suitable for Primary School Teachers, Primary School Executive Staff, School Support Officers – Primary (Early Childhood Educators, Special Education Staff and others are also very welcome – please get in touch if you have any questions).

Destination Outdoors: Outdoor Learning for Primary Schools is located in the beautiful natural environment at Gerroa, just 90 minutes south of Sydney. Get some teacher friends together and make a weekend of it! Or come along and meet like minded new colleagues. The beach, bush, enriching professional development and outdoor learning skills for your everyday teaching, Destination Outdoors: Outdoor Learning for Primary Schools really does have it all.

Destination Outdoors: Outdoor Learning for Primary Schools will contribute 10 hours of NESA Registered PD addressing 2.1.2, 2.3.2, 3.2.2, 3,4,2, 4.2.2 and 4.4.2 from the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers towards maintaining Proficient Teacher Accreditation in NSW.

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What to expect:

  • Indoor theory sessions to introduce place-based, experiential and constructivist pedagogies.
  • Practical lesson planning utilising the NSW K-6 Syllabus documents.
  • Outdoor sessions, immersed in nature where you learn the skills to teach outside the classroom.
  • To gain the practical competencies to program for and teach outdoors.
  • A collaborative, safe and supportive environment to learn new skills, share ideas and learn from industry experts.
  • Reading list for further info and research.

Course content:

  • An introduction to the outdoor learning; routines, games, resources, practicalities, weather, risk assessment and benefit
  • Curriculum modules; literacy learning and story play, messy maths, creative arts, geography fieldwork and nature play.
  • A guide to educational playgrounds for outdoor learning.




  • Approximately 90 minutes south of Sydney.
  • Gerroa Neighbourhood Centre – 37 Stafford St, Gerroa
  • Seven Mile Beach National Park – We are proud supporters of National Parks NSW and hold ECO Pass credentials to use their land.


Your instructors

The NESA registered course was developed by Dr Amanda Lloyd for Outdoor Connections Australia Australia 2017, she is an Australian leading expert in outdoor learning, Planet Ark Spokeswoman and keynote speaker. Amanda leads the Outdoor Connections Australia Professional Development Team, utilising her extensive educational knowledge. She is equipped with 17 years teaching experience, including time spent in leadership positions. Her impressive qualifications include a: Bachelor of Education (Primary), Graduate Certificate of Outdoor Education, Masters of Environment (Education for Sustainability) and Forest School Level 3 Instructors Training. Amanda’s PhD examined place-based outdoor learning in a Primary School. Her passion is assisting other teachers to implement outdoor learning in their programs.

Penny Sadubin has a distinctive set of experiences and qualifications that make her a vital component of the Outdoor Connections Australia Professional Development Team. She is an artist, landscape designer and educator. The landscape around us is the vital thread that links all of Penny’s work. Penny’s qualifications include a: Bachelor of Fine Arts (Painting), City and Guilds Garden Design, Vectorworks for Garden Design and Forest School Level 3 Instructors Training. Drawing on her varied experiences and qualifications, Penny leads the Creative Arts and Playgrounds workshops.


Costs & booking:

$495.00 pp

  • Cost includes: qualified and experienced instructors, a completion certificate, a guided bushwalk, day outdoor equipment use, craft supplies, first aid, hall hire, NPWS land fees, booking fee, tea and coffee (a real coffee from the Blue Swimmer for morning tea each day), simple BBQ and salad lunches* cooked in the National Park and an end of weekend celebration cake.
  • Bookings at https://www.trybooking.com/eventlist/teacherpd

*Vegetarians and other diets can be catered for, please let us know your needs.

Outdoor Connections are an inclusive organisation and we strive to make our workshops and sessions accessible to all. If you have a disability or particular needs please let us know your requirements so that we can take necessary measures to accommodate you.


Outdoor Connections Australia ABN: 56511427639

All enquiries via email please as we are often outdoors and away from good phone service. We aim to answer all enquiries promptly.


Study Day for Outdoor Connections

Last week Amanda and I jumped on the train to Sydney to hear Sam Crosby, Education manager at Centennial Parklands give a talk at the Royal Botanic Gardens on the Future of Outdoor Education at Centennial Park. Sam’s talk was a reflection on her own study tour to Denmark and the UK last year, sponsored by the Friends of the Gardens, to visit a number of Nature schools, Forest schools and Outdoor Kindergartens. It was inspiring to hear about how the link between outdoor learning and wellbeing is being researched in depth with the Steno Diabetes Centre in Denmark working closely with Nature schools to really measure the impacts of an active, outdoor based childhood on these serious diseases that are becoming so prevalent in our societies. Tumlelunden in Denmark and the Michael Hall Steiner school in the UK looked wonderful in their approaches and facilities outdoors.

The Forest School Leader training that both Amanda and I undertook in the UK is deeply rooted in the Scandinavian models of outdoor learning. I was reminded how Danish outdoor Pedagogues (a specific, highly regarded teaching qualification) teach, always mindful of hand, heart and mind. Physical and emotional connection to learning has wonderful impacts on the acquisition and retention of knowledge. We also had fun playing with sticks in the beautiful setting of the Botanic Gardens lawns! I think we did OK with the who can make the tallest tower challenge. Phew!!

Next stop for us was the newly opened WILDPLAY play space at Centennial Park. Sam has been championing this development for some time now and it was wonderful to see it in action on a Friday afternoon. I can’t imagine how busy it would be on the weekend. There are lots of wonderful details and inspiration here for nature inspired playspaces.  And so good to see this investment happening with a beautifully designed space in a high profile location in Sydney. One thing I particularly loved was the Eastern Suburbs Bankisa Scrub planting. Once section’s planting refers to an Endangered Ecological Community, or EEC. This Banksia heathland once covered the foreshores of the Eastern suburbs and it’s wonderful to see these specifically locally endemic plants being used for public planting. I’m sure they will thrive. And how excellent are the bamboo giant fish trap tunnels that wind their way through this section. We enjoyed being big kids for an hour before it was time to jump back on the train south.

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Inspired by nature: Art lessons outside.

Nature arts connect children to place as they learn about materials, plants, colour and develop creativity. Why not step outside and find some inspiration? The playground offers a superb place for teachers to implement their art curriculum lessons. With a large variety of materials the children are provided with an abundance of sensory experiences in a calm authentic environment. The K-6 Creative Arts Syllabus offers a myriad of opportunities to take the class outside and in Early Years it is an extension to the wonderful activities happening inside. Clay, leaves, sticks – what better materials to learn about colour, balance and tone. Or perhaps try an artist study of an ephemeral artist as a case study: check out the work of Andy Goldsworthy or our very own Penny Sadubin.

Or ….

  • Try using nature as a stimulus for drawing or painting,
  • Find out more about your local Indigenous community and incorporate Aboriginal art in your learning program
  • Experiment making natural paintbrushes and paint colours

The possibilities are endless. If you need some guidance the Outdoor Connections team are here to help. We offer NESA registered PD for Creative Nature Arts. Delivered in your setting as a staff meeting, we can tailor the program to your needs and where you are wanting to up skill. An after school PD with no powerpoint, data or improvement plans? Time to get creative skills to teach your students. It is a win win all round.


Get in touch with Amanda on amanda.lloyd@outdoorconnections.com.au


Local opportunities for parents of teens

Outdoor Connections mainly works with Primary and pre-school age groups. This doesn’t mean we won’t eventually run programs for teens – we’d love to. Meanwhile it’s heartening to have two individuals locally who are very much engaging with teens and how to nurture them through this intense stage of life. Support of teens by family and carers is vital even if all the signs are that they don’t need you, don’t want you, they still very much do, as much as they always have. And in ways that are different and yet seem very similar to when they were toddlers but can be even more fervent and infuriating. Testing the boundaries, testing our very love!

Maggie Dent is giving one of her popular seminars this coming Thursday 9th November in Kiama. Adolescence Unplugged promises to “explore the shift in raising children to raising adolescents, and what works and what won’’t”. As a parent of a 12 year old I’m keen for this kind of advice, so I’ve booked my ticket. Maggie speaks all over the country, if you are not local I’m sure you will be able to find her speaking in her insightful, commonsense and loving way near you. Maggie has many resources on her website; videos, articles and has published a number of books too. www.maggiedent.com

Monty Badami is a local Anthropologist, musician, wedding celebrant and Army reservist! Monty’s experience in exploring human rituals is extensive. He specialises in rites of passage and has developed a new Father and son camp that also aims to address the transition into adulthood and how to support teens through this while building the strong, trusting strong relationship that is so crucial. Monty can offer help with costs if requested.

Here’s Monty’s invite:

Do you have a son between 14-17 years of age? Do you want to bring out the best in your boy and address the physical, emotional and psychological changes happening in yours and his life in a safe and structured way?

This November (24-26) I am running a Father and son camp to help teens and their parents deal with the transition into adulthood.

Download more info on the invite to camp

Here’s to fostering great relationships with our kids. However most of us do feel like we are finding our way as we go with this parenting game. Which is why it’s so excellent to have knowledgeable people in our communities willing to share tools and insights to help us do the best job we can.