Thursday, 7 April 2016
Mairtown Kindergarten's Nature Programme: Five Years Running
At Mairtown Kindergarten we have been running a successful Nature Programme since July 2011. This involves 10 of our oldest children heading into our local park for the 4 hour session on a Friday. The children are dropped off and picked up from the Banff Street entrance to the beautiful Mair Park. This has become an integral part of who we are as a kindergarten, giving our early childhood service a point of difference.
Come rain or shine the children brave the elements and head out with a group of their peers, a teacher, Sarah (our nature programme coordinator) and a parent or whānau helper and have their kindergarten session in the bush. The nature programme has been set up to extend on our learning curriculum and provide the children with opportunities beyond what we can offer in our kindergarten. The local park that we have access to is made up of beautiful, dense native bush, full of kauri, manuka, puriri and punga trees to name a few. There are spaces that feel intimate under the wonderful tree top canopy and spaces that are open and airy. It also has the splendid Hatea River that runs through the middle of it. All this natural splendour is something that we appreciate greatly and enjoy during our time in the bush.
Our Nature Programme is about enhancing children’s connection with nature and all it has to offer. Learning is provided spontaneously and organically by Papatūānuku (Mother Earth) and the natural variety that exists in the bush, in addition to its ever changing seasons and endless opportunities for discovery, makes it the ideal location for genuine on-going learning.
“Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and full use of the sense” (Louv, 2008)
Every week that we go into the bush the experience is different. The children take the lead and in an un-hurried manner negotiate where they would like to go on the day. Our time in the bush is effected by many contexts, for example which children are in the group, which teacher is on the programme or what the weather is doing. Some days are full of trekking through the beautiful bush, busily finding spaces to explore, to climb, to jump from, to slide down as the children actively interact with the environment. While other days take on a slower pace, sitting down, quietly playing amongst the beautiful bush and taking in the environment. The time in the bush is invigorating for all involved, however it also leaves us a little exhausted by the time we get back to the top of the hill where our families are awaiting our return after a morning in the bush.
“The natural world is a playground and place of discovery for adults and children
alike . . . it is a place for adventure, exploration and imagination as well as generating a deepening care and connectedness with our environment.” (DoC NZ)
Our Nature Programme success is credited to the dedication from our community. To make this programme happen week to week we require at least one parent or whānau helper to join us to keep our ratios in check. We have a wonderful response from our families when filling up our roster of helpers from term to term. We are truly grateful for the ongoing support that we receive from our families.
Some of our kindergarten families have provided feedback for us as to what the Nature Programme has meant to them.
“There is so much to do and it is great that whilst the learning and exploration was self-determined by the kids they had very structured rules and guidelines that are obviously reinforced every week – I saw this as a great strength to the programme and to cement the children’s knowledge of safety and kaitiakitanga.”
“Our kindergarten is a pioneer in the Nature Programme here in the North. It is our point of difference- which in turn gives those children participating a gift that lasts a life time.”
We are also incredibly lucky to have Sarah on the programme every week in the role of Nature Programme Coordinator. This is made possible because we have been successful in receiving a COG’s grant over the past few years. Sarah’s role is invaluable and she is such an asset to the success of our Nature Programme. Sarah is the continuous person every week who is able to share knowledge about what has been happening, where the children have been exploring and what their interests have been.
Being out in community is another aspect of the Nature Programme that we hold dear to our heart. Our Nature Programme is promoting not only our own kindergarten in a positive light but also the Northland Kindergarten Association. We have had quite a number of children enrol at our kindergarten after they have come across our group in Mair Park. We have also had many families enrol specifically at our kindergarten to attend the Nature Programme after hearing about it from others in the community. We have had numerous early childhood educators from within our kindergarten association, as well as from other services in Northland and even as far afield as Australia, come and observe how we run our Nature Programme. This interest is an indicator of how worthwhile and forward thinking this programme is.
In the book ‘Learning with Nature: Embedding outdoor practice, Claire Warden (2015) acknowledges that, “Children need all the adults around them to understand why outdoor learning is essential for them. A practitioner’s attitude, understanding and commitment will be key to the development of child-led experiences. Adults need to harness the special nature of outside and be responsive to the day-to-day changes nature offers.”
We believe that time spent in the bush on the Nature Programme will instil a love of the outdoors in the children that experience it and support them in gaining a meaningful understanding of all the wonderful, magical, beautiful things that nature has to offer. For this reason we will work to make sure our Nature Programme stays the same and stays a part of our high quality early childhood programme at Mairtown Kindergarten.
“Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.” (Berry)
Posted by Mairtown Kindergarten at 10:53