Haere mai! Welcome to Mairtown Kindergarten's blog.

Nau Mai Haere mai. Welcome to Mairtown Kindergarten's blog.

21 Princes Street, Kensington, Whangarei, New Zealand

Phone: 09 437 2742

Email: mairtown@nka.org.nz

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Sunday, 15 November 2020

Obstacle Course Learning


It is amazing to think we have reached the halfway point in Term 4 already, but what a great time to reflect on the learning interests of our tamariki over the past 5 weeks. One repeated, enjoyed and developed interest for a number of our tamariki this term, the obstacle course, has remained a consistent favourite at Mairtown over a period of years. I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight the awesome learning tamariki gain as they engage repeatedly in this fun activity, watching, experimenting and taking risks; stretching themselves and each other during repeated experiences over an extended period of time.

Hanrahan and Duncan (2019) explain  children need ‘managed’ opportunities to explore and engage in risky play, as this will enable them to manage future risks independently and to develop an understanding of safety. Exposing children to a range of opportunities to engage in risky play promotes their ability to assess risk and learn how to self-regulate. The development of these skills supports children’s growing confidence to manage risks as they mature into adulthood. A positive outcome of a risky play venture can be the delight in overcoming fear and mastering a specific skill, whereas a negative consequence can be failure or physical injury. While skill mastery and overcoming fear are rewarding in themselves, failure from risky play endeavours also helps children learn to cope with disappointments, building resilience and promotes self-confidence.

Our obstacle courses at Mairtown are created using a range of loose parts, including A frames, planks, wood rounds, tyres,  ladders, jumping mats, boxes and a rope bridge. These are constructed, de-constructed and re-constructed in different ways and incorporating different features of our outdoor area. In this way they continue to provide challenge and variety while also promoting the establishment of a degree of familiarity and repetition, important for tamariki working towards developing their mastery of skills. A child must first learn fundamental skills before they can acquire speed, increased confidence, and mastery. It is through repetition that possibility becomes ability. Learning requires electrical energy to create neural connections. The less ‘automatic’ something is, the more energy is required to create the connection. In children, these neural connections are only beginning to be formed. Repetition is a necessary building block that allows them to strengthen the connections in the brain that help them learn (Montessori Academy 2016).

 Every time we watch tamariki interacting with an obstacle course, we see them analysing the various challenges involved, forming an assessment and making choices as to their strategies, their route, their speed, and the degree of risk they are prepared to experience at that time. It is wonderful to watch as they grow in confidence, moving with increasing speed and visibly growing in self-confidence, gradually using the resource in more complex and imaginative ways. It is especially rewarding to watch the learning cycle unfold as a skill or tactic is demonstrated to an uncertain tamaiti by their more experienced tuakana, who, after building their own skill level and self-confidence, then steps up to become tuakana to the next teina. The desired outcome of participating in risky play is for children to grow into adults who have competent decision-making and risk assessment skills and who are able to consider the wellbeing of others while celebrating their own endeavours (Curtis, 2010).There is nothing more exciting for a teacher than to see tamariki making you redundant!!


Gametime.com (2020) provides a great descriptor of the wide-ranging learning benefits of obstacle courses, which include…

Strength and Balance: When children encounter the obstacles in an obstacle course, they develop and enhance strength and balance. The strength and balance skills developed on an obstacle course transfer effectively to other sports like soccer or gymnastics.

Memory and Problem Solving: In life and school, kids need to be able to remember lots of information. While engaging with an obstacle course, children learn how to solve problems based on sequencing information and actions. Obstacle courses help children solve problems as they learn how to manoeuvre up, over, or through challenges They also learn how to adjust to changing conditions, and memorize the fastest way to progress through the course. These skills will help them throughout their life.

Sensory Processing: An obstacle course is a great opportunity for children to develop sensory processing skills. For example, they encounter linear (up and down), sagittal (side to side), and rotary (spinning) inputs as they run through the obstacle course. Learning these senses, and how to adjust to them, helps them develop motor skills, coordination, and adaptation.

Motor Skills: Fine and gross motor skill development is essential during childhood development. Fine motor skills help children learn how to hold a pencil or grip small objects. Gross motor skills help children walk, run, jump, and climb. Obstacle courses are the perfect environment for children to learn and enhance these vital motor skills that will benefit them for a lifetime.


Coordination: Complex coordination, sometimes called bilateral coordination, involves moving separate body parts at the same time to complete a task. Think about the many muscle groups and body parts required to climb over a barrier or weave through an agility obstacle. Obstacle courses provide a lot of opportunities for children to develop complex bilateral coordination. Developing these coordination skills improves overall health and fitness as well as supporting literacy skill development, helping kids for years to come

Another important aspect of our flexible obstacle courses is the opportunity they offer tamariki to become the constructors of their own learning environment. As tamariki become active participants in choosing the course’s components and location, and solving the various problems which are always faced in ensuring the course is safe, stable, challenging, usable and enjoyable for a range of skill levels, their sense of agency is enhanced. Keiki early learning (2019) describes a sense of Agency as being able to make choices and decisions to influence events and to have an impact on one’s world. To help build a child’s sense of agency, we should recognise that they are capable of initiating their own learning and empower them to make their own choices and decisions. Having a sense of agency in the early years is very much linked to each child’s sense of belonging. A sense of belonging develops when a child has developed trust both in the adults around them and the environment. Developing a trusting bond with infants and children is driven by our image of the child. The offering of choices and supporting each child’s sense of agency sends a message to the child that they are strong, capable and curious with capacity to make choices for themselves. Fostering each child’s sense of agency is more than providing them with choices. When children have a sense of agency they feel more in control of themselves and develop an understanding of their influence on the people and spaces around them. When we listen with respect to children’s voices, their words, and their ideas we model trust and collaboration showing them that they are heard and their ideas matter.


Our tamariki thrive on the challenge of making a course sit stable and level on our environments many uneven surfaces, the shared decision making around the possibilities, choices and order of challenges, the responsibilities of ensuring the connections are secure before the play begins, and the self-regulation necessitated when exercising those patient muscles as the wait for all systems to be go, and them negotiate their way co-operatively around a course being used at different speeds and in different ways by a number of tamariki.

In an empowering environment, children have agency to create and act on their own ideas, develop knowledge and skills in areas that interest them, and increasingly, to make decisions and judgements on matters that relate to them. (Te Whāriki 2017)

One of the natural joys of utilising our natural resources and environment as an integral part of our obstacle courses is that there are always those beautiful opportunities to stop, explore, discover and share ideas about their natural world as they move around

"No, look, It's an ant!"
"Hey, It's a spider!"

To sum up, I believe our obstacle courses reflect the statement within our Mairtown kindergarten philosophy statement, that literacy, numeracy, physicality, science, social science, and the arts are interwoven throughout our learning environment. We honour the holistic manner in which tamariki learn and grow. We support tamariki in developing their social and emotional learning through enabling then to experience the values of turn-taking, sharing, resilience, risk-taking and empowerment. And we in turn are filled with pride as we watch them grow and see themselves as the amazing learners we know them to be.

When children take risks they start to open up to the world and realise their capacity to shape it. There’s magic in that for them and us. (Karen Young, 2016)

 "This is so scary, it is the scariest bit but I can do it! Wow, this is so balancy, but I didn't fall down!" Nikau

"Do you want to watch me - this feels different, it is soft" Lennox

"I will fall...I did it - I can do it!" Jackson

"There's more than one way - I can go this way and they can go that way" Tori

"We need to make a jump here - I need to jump!" Owen

"How do you do this? Wow, I can do it. This is wobbly, I like it, I'm going to do it again!" Lennox

"You have to wait while they go past but then you can go again" Joash

"Wait, I'll check - Stable!" Taikura

Mauri tū,

Mauri ora

An active soul is a healthy soul

Mā te wā


Sunday, 4 October 2020

Celebrating Language and Culture


An ongoing goal held by our teaching team, is to ensure the knowledge and cultures of each of our beautiful tamariki can shine through, being seen, heard and honoured within our Kindergarten environment. Over the last term, we have been privileged as a kindergarten to celebrate both Uike Kātoanga’i ʻo e Lea Faka-Tonga/Tongan language week, and Te Wiki o te Reo Māori/Māori Language Week.

Underpinning our national curriculum document, Te Whāriki (2017), is the vision that children are

Competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society.

This vision implies a society that recognises Māori as tangata whenua and assumes a shared obligation for protecting Māori language and culture. New Zealand children are growing up in a society that comprises people from a wide variety of cultures and ethnicities. Te Whāriki acknowledges the educational aspirations of Pasifika peoples, and as kaiako we work in partnership with whānau, family and ‘aiga from all backgrounds to support tamariki in growing up strong in their individual identity, language and culture.

2020 marks the first time we have recognised Tongan Language Week within Mairtown curriculum, and we were proud to be able to make links with the funds of knowledge held within our Tongan whānau and finding authentic ways to celebrate Tongan language and culture within our daily curriculum. This honours values we express in our centre philosophy Inherent in our practice is our focus on being welcoming and inclusive of the diversity of all our children and whānau. We love to acknowledge and celebrate cultural diversity within our community, and value the opportunities that enable us to learn about different people, their beliefs and way of life.

In the paper Culturally responsive pedagogy in ECE, prepared for The Education Hub, Dr Vicki Hargraves states, Culturally responsive approaches emerge from an understanding of families’ backgrounds that connects families’ cultural heritages to the setting and effects more equitable opportunities for both children and families. Children’s cultural backgrounds are drawn on to determine teaching approaches, selection of materials and environments, and interactions with children and their families. Given that early childhood education experiences are the first experiences that children have of education outside the home, curricula and values that empower children’s identity and values, and uphold their rights, are of paramount importance.

We were so grateful to Maci and Paulie’s Auntie, who shared with us the finger play song ‘Mālō e lelei’, which introduces useful Tongan greeting phrases. We practised this at whānau time each day and the tamariki became very involved in learning the song, singing out clearly and strongly by weeks end. They appeared to enjoy interacting with the Tongan language, and the familiar tune and actions used in the ‘Where is Thumbkin’ finger game helped support their learning. In a similar way, we sang the Ma is white song but using the Tongan names for the colours, and again the familiar structure involved the tamariki quickly in using the initially unfamiliar words.

Our Pukapuka o te Wiki was the traditional Tongan story “The Mouse and the Octopus”, by Lisala Halapua. This story was traditionally used when teaching children the art of catching an octopus using a lure. The book was humorous, as the mouse plays a trick on the helpful octopus, and a steady number of tamariki chose to engage with it each day.

In our art area, we provided examples of Tongan Ngatu, or Tapa cloth designs. These engaged tamariki with their clear outlines and colour fill, and the methodology again had similarities with other art provocations and methodology we have used e.g. Hundertwasser. This built on the confidence and competence of the tamariki, while offering them a new perspective and insight into the Tongan culture.

During whānau time Tamariki engaged in discussion of the geographical location of Tonga and the annual migration of the Humpback whales from Antarctica.

What was particularly interesting was while on Monday none of our tamariki volunteered during group discussion that they were of Tongan identity, as the week passed there was increased sharing of their own experience of the culture, especially by one tamaiti. “This song came from my Auntie” “I have family who speak Tongan all the time at home”. It was very rewarding to see the ownership and pride in having this unique and special identity developing.

Hoko pe fai mo e fau – Joining together the hibiscus cord with hibiscus cord

To connect two strong characters or people, then they will be successful

Critical multiculturalism encourages teachers to assess and support children holistically through exploring and developing an understanding of the child's cultural background. Through working in partnerships with parents and supporting their cultural background teachers are able to support children in their sense of worth and belonging which promotes their overall well-being. One of Te Whāriki’s goals is for children to develop a sense of identity and belonging within their early childhood centre, as a positive identity and sense of belonging are an essential part of learning (Hargraves, 2020).

Māori Language Week came the following week, offering us a chance to celebrate something truly unique to Aotearoa New Zealand.
While you may not be a fluent Māori speaker, (or even want to be), the Māori language is still a part of who we are as a nation. (kiwifamilies.co.nz)

This year’s theme was 'Kia kaha te reo Māori’ — ‘Let’s make the Māori language strong'.

Strength for an endangered language comes from its status, people being aware of how to support revitalisation, people acquiring and using it and from the language having the right words and terms to be used well for any purpose.
— Te Taura Whiri i Te Reo Māori (Māori Language Commission)

This was a busy and emotional week for our kindergarten whānau, including within it the sadness of Susie’s last day with us, and the welcome return of Zair while Susie’s replacement is found.

Te wiki o te reo Māori provided a wonderful reminder to us as kaiako to remain naturally connected with all aspects of Te reo me nga tikanga Māori within our curriculum, practice and relationships.

Following our favoured approach of building on the existing understandings and funds of knowledge of our tamariki in order to support their identities as tamariki of the bicultural nation of Aotearoa, we followed the familiar pattern of working within the understood framework of our daily curriculum.

We shared the pūrakau ‘In the Beginning’ by Peter Gossage as Pukapuka o te Wiki. This pūrakau, describing the separation of Papatūānuku and Ranginui and introducing the Atua, their children, and their respective roles as kaitiaki of our world, is a favourite with our tamariki.

Sarah worked with the tamariki to create a Kākahu by working with harakeke to form moka, which was bound into a garment and then gifted to Susie, carrying our aroha and manaakitanga with her on her journey of healing following her surgery. In this experience, tamariki engaged with not only the technical skills, but also the traditional use of a valuable resource and the tikanga inherent within that.

Following on from our Ngatu art, tamariki then had the opportunity to explore traditional Māori designs within their art, and moved on to expressing both of these on pieces of wood, which we look forward to proudly displaying in our environment.

At whānau time, tamariki enjoyed singing’ Hoea te waka’, and ‘Ma is white’ – a song we can now explore using three of the languages within our kindergarten whānau. Perhaps this is something we can continue to build on further!

In the paper Culturally responsive pedagogy in ECE, prepared for The Education Hub, Dr Vicki Hargraves states, Culturally responsive approaches emerge from an understanding of families’ backgrounds that connects families’ cultural heritages to the setting and effects more equitable opportunities for both children and families. Children’s cultural backgrounds are drawn on to determine teaching approaches, selection of materials and environments, and interactions with children and their families. Given that early childhood education experiences are the first experiences that children have of education outside the home, curricula and values that empower children’s identity and values, and uphold their rights, are of paramount importance.

We are so proud of the inclusive way that the tamariki of our whānau explore and embrace the cultures and understandings which form our special Mairtown kindergarten whānau. These two weeks have shown us yet again just what amazing learners our tamariki are, and also serve to remind us of the richness which is within our community and the value to be gained from sharing our knowledge. We would love to continue learning more about the cultures of the individual whānau within our community.

Ko te pae tawhiti whāia kia tata, ko te pae tata whakamaua kia tīna!
Seek out the distant horizons, while cherishing those achievements at hand!

Mā te Wā