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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Monday, 31 October 2016

Tell me a dragon

Last term, many weeks ago now, we borrowed a book from our local library called 'Tell me a dragon', written by Jackie Morris. This book has inspired many stories over these weeks along with  some rather magnificent works of art. It is always interesting, from a teachers perspective, to observe what piques a child’s interest (such as this book), and we are so fortunate as early childhood teachers to take this interest and passion, negotiate with our children what the next steps will be and then watch the learning unfold.

For those that don’t know this book, it is beautifully illustrated with dragons, everyone in the book has their own dragon! The book describes many different varieties of dragons and tells a story in words and beautiful pictures as to why they are so special and enchanting to their owners. The dragons in the book vary from one that is as big as a whole village to another that is so small it can fit behind its owner’s ear.

Something I have written before, but springs to mind again as I write this, is just how important it is as teachers to listen and observe the needs, wants, interests and passions of young children. Instead of us dictating to the children what their learning on dragons would look like, as teachers we were careful to plan for learning with these simple questions in mind - Who is this child right now in front of me, What are their interests and learning intentions and, How as a teacher can I support and facilitate this?

Before we knew it, Mairtown was awash with dragons, with dragon art, and dragon stories. This was deepened even further when one of our children, independently arrived at kindergarten one morning with a clear plan. She wanted to create some more dragon art work (she was now an expert on dragons!) but in a 3-dimensional manner. As teachers, we observed something new unfold at this time; new ideas for creativity, problem solving, role modelling and lots of peer tutoring. Something beautiful happened, the dragons being created started to come alive in the art, and as the children worked on their pieces, over many days, they shared stories about their dragons with one another and their imaginations blossomed.

Art can bring imagination to life and give life to imagination’
(Dogra, 2010)

It appeared to me that when children went from drawing their dragons flat (in a 2-dimensional manner) to cutting them out, standing them up and placing them on a background they had also created – everything was different - yet special. By different I mean children saw new and exciting possibilities, possibilities they were not even aware of themselves when they began their work. A single tree turned into a forest, a flower into a colourful garden. This visual surprise spoke powerfully to their imagination (Kolbe, 2005).

The children spent days and days on their work, re-visiting and altering, adapting and tweaking their dragon habitats. From a purely cognitive learning approach this work was a challenge for many. It takes time to understand that when you enter the world of 3-dimensions you need an adequate base to make things stand up. Many children went even further utilising other resources available to them, creating dragons out of clay and re-found materials.

‘By exploring art, revisiting ideas and providing a range of media, a child’s skill in the arts increases, this in turn extends communication, vocabulary and critical thinking skills.’ 
(Ann Pelo, 2007)

Of course just like the original book ‘Tell me a dragon’ all the children’s dragons were enchanting and special to them, each with a unique story of their own. Here are just a few to share with you.

Capri ‘My dragon is a girl, her name is Lala. She lives in a house where she plays with cars. She breathes out bunnies. She’s a friendly dragon.

Evan ‘My dragon is a big dragon; it flies in the sky to visit the zoo. It visits the zoo as it eats elephants and elephants live in the zoo. In fact, it eats lots of animals, lots that live in the zoo!’

Milla ‘This is a fire dragon. He breathes only flowers and lives in his castle. He does it when it’s nearly dinner time as he likes to practice breathing flowers. His name is rainbow.’

Wolfgang ‘He is a happy dragon. He lives in a spiky cave with claws. My dragon flies and jumps and chomps. It eats vegetables, carrots, potatoes, and mushroom. It’s called Kate.’

Now many weeks later, we reach the end of our dragon stories (perhaps just for now). Last week I took a small group of the children who had created their dragon stories to the Whangarei Central Library where they had been on display for a library open day. Any trip is exciting, but the underlying theme of this visit was the empowerment the children received as they saw their work on display, being admired and valued by members of our community. The feedback we have received from the public about their talents and skills is very special indeed. Making public the children’s work and processes behind their pieces also acts as a form of communication to our local community, opening up a public conversation about what we as teachers (and our children) value about children’s learning and of course the importance of creativity and imagination.

In Albert Einstein’s words, ‘I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imaginations encircles the world’

Ngā mihi nui,
Christine Alford

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Celebrating our playpod

At kindergarten one of the busiest places would be outside at our playpod area.  It has now been over two years since our playpod was introduced and it is still very popular amongst our children.  When I reflect about the playpod, the first thought that comes to mind is how our children appear to be happy, joyful and engaged with their play.

For those who are unsure, our playpod is full of loose parts, including; cable reels, ropes, bungees, stakes, wooden boxes, cones, tarpaulins and wooden cookies.  These all have endless learning opportunities, for example; problem solving, divergent and creative thinking, taking risks, negotiation, cooperation, social interactions and use their imagination.

“When children interact with loose parts, they enter a world of “what if” that promotes the type of thinking that leads to problem solving and theoretical reasoning.  Loose parts enhance children’s ability to think imaginatively and see solutions, and they bring a sense of adventure and excitement to children’s play” (Daly and Beloglovsky, 2015).

I know for some teachers the indoor environment is viewed as the place where all the learning happens, whereas at Mairtown our outdoor environment is as crucial as the indoors.  We don’t view the outdoors as just a place to run and climb, it is another highly valued learning place where children can fully immerse themselves in dramatic play.  As I think about the playpod I feel that there has been a sizeable increase of dramatic play outdoors.

The thing I love about the playpod is all the creative thinking and dramatic play that emerges from the use of loose parts, for example the cable reels are often used for wheels to make a bus to go on an adventure to Kiwi North, or with the addition of a long piece of hose it is now a fire truck off to the rescue, or a piece of bark can be used in so many ways like, used as a chainsaw to chop firewood or used as a phone or even a remote for the television which is actually an old sink.  The opportunities are endless and I love how the children’s play develops and evolves over time on different days and with interactions with other friends as they share their ideas and work collaboratively.

“Loose parts encourage dramatic and symbolic play, indoors and out.  These materials offer children the chance to embody the worlds of their imaginations and create complex stories and scripts assisted by props.  Loose parts offer children opportunities to understand their past experiences and to engage in realistic, complex representations of their daily lives.”  (Daly and Beloglovsky, 2015)


As an early childhood teacher I know well how children love to transport items. This is the added bonus of the playpod equipment, with it being so movable, it all depends on the child’s imagination to where they construct or move to.  Recently there has been a lot of interest amongst our children in firewood and chainsaws, this interest is able to be incorporated into their play through using the large wooden cookies, a trolley, bungees and large pieces of bark as the chainsaws. 

It is wonderful to watch them full heartedly engage in their play by lifting loads of wood into the trolley which is carefully tied down with the bungees and moved to another area.  Another time I remember observing lots of playpod equipment being moved to a place behind our large boulder.  There I could see a large construction happening, I was informed that the road out to the beach has big rock cliffs and there are big rocks at the beach so the motor home needed to be next to the rocks.

“When children move objects, they learn about weight.  They compare and contrast the size and weight of an object and they estimate what type of container they need to move the item.  When children transport, they can determine the accessibility of the items they want to move.  They learn the concepts of more and less and enough or not enough.” (Daly and Beloglovsky, 2015)

When our children are involved in their play at the playpod it often becomes a very social place where they join in helping to construct or simply join in the play.  In the winter months we have a weekly fire which we use to cook with our children.  This is very popular amongst our children and is often reflected through them building a pretend fire made out of wood and fallen cabbage tree leaves, with the wooden cookies used as seats around the outside of the pretend fire, singing songs together and pretending to cook.  These moments are such social times that support our children’s sense of belonging, their inclusiveness, and their willingness to take risks.

Providing loose parts significantly enhances inclusion for all children and helps improve children’s relationships and self-confidence.  Play with loose parts increases children’s collaboration, negotiation skills, risk taking, conflict resolution, communication and problem solving.  (Armitage, 2009)

There are many benefits for children’s learning and development when they play with loose parts and the best thing is that most items in our playpod are free or cost very little.  I totally agree with research conducted by the Brainwave Trust Aotearoa where they state “Children do not need expensive toys.  Rather they need everyday opportunities to be imaginative and creative and to solve problems.”  This is so true and I can’t wait to see where the playpod play will develop next.

Ngā mihi, Susie