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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Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Our Wonderful Christine: An interview about her research

Last year our wonderful Christine embarked on a research journey. This came about when she was awarded a Dr. Vince Ham eFellows scholarship from CORE Education. Her journey was intense and it kept her incredibly busy throughout the year. After many months of sorting out ethics and reflecting on a great research question Christine came up with her title, ‘Where do stories live? Building oral language through storytelling in an early years context.’

While working alongside our kindergarten children, Christine began to thoughtfully integrate her research into her day to day practice. ‘Where do stories live?’ or ‘does this have a story?’ became familiar questions that the children soon became very responsive to. The stories that were being told by the children were meaningful, delightful, heavy, interesting and they were a true representation of how the children were thinking and feeling. Recording the children’s words was powerful. Along with this culture of storytelling that Christine was creating came the rich use of oral language. The importance of ‘storying’ and story telling has now become the focus of our kindergarten and subtly underpins many of the happenings during our days at kindergarten.

Christine is an incredible practitioner, who has a desire to strive for excellence in all that she does. Her motivation is contagious and she is constantly inspiring our teaching team and our community with her work. Her passion for high quality education is also sort after by other professionals across the educational sectors, both nationally and internationally. Christine has now finished her research for her Dr. Vince Ham eFellowship, however her journey to develop a deeper understanding and knowledge around building oral language through storytelling in an early childhood context continues daily.

“Desire is the key to motivation, but it's determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal - a commitment to excellence - that will enable you to attain the success you seek.” 
-Mario Andretti-

I feel immensely proud of Christine and feel thankful that I get to work alongside her at Mairtown Kindergarten. I know that the Northland Kindergarten Association also value the work that she achieves as well.
Below is a link to an interview that Christine had to discuss her research http://edtalks.org/#/video/christine-alford
 Please take time to watch, enjoy and appreciate. Click here for a link to her published findings from her research.

I feel that the quote below sums up Christine, as excellence in all she does is a given.

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” 


Thank you Christine for being such an inspiration and role model for me, as well as many other individuals out there.
Kindest regards


Thursday, 25 May 2017

All my treasures

Recently a book titled ‘All My Treasures; A Book of Joy’ by Jo Witek illustrated by Christine Roussey seems to have captured our children’s imagination.  It is such a beautifully written book, that places emphasis on treasuring memories, rather than materialistic things.

Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory  (Dr Seuss)

Treasured memories are the kind that make you smile when you think of them, and when reading the book it’s hard not to relate to, especially the part of relaxing and having a sleep in on a Sunday morning! It is wonderful how treasured memories, can bring you joy and happiness when thinking about them. 

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”  (Thich Nhāt Hanh)

On the last page of the book the story tells “When I open my box and look at my treasures, they sparkle like stars and fill me with joy.  What about you?  What is in your treasure chest?”, this was wonderfully thought provoking for our children.  Some at first just wanted to fill the box with ‘things’ without thinking fully about the significance to link to a joyful memory they have.  It was great to see over time how the ‘things’ were replaced with items or drawings that have a special representation of a joyful memory.  While working with our children I could literately see them thinking and then see their faces light up with a smile when thinking of their own treasured memory.

Here are some of our children’s stories/thoughts about their joyful treasured memories to place into their own treasure box:

Arlo:  I draw my whole family ‘cause I love all of them, Evie, Mummy, Dad and Theo.  All of my family are my treasure.

Sandinsa:  I’m making rainbow treasure, when raining there’s rainbows it’s good.

Isla T.:  I’m drawing the sun ‘cause I like playing in the sun and I’m drawing my Mummy ‘cause she makes me happy.  This is the sea and sea shells and they make my Mum happy.  There’s heaps of shells in the sea and my Mummy will find them all.  Now I’m drawing my Daddy ‘cause he likes playing with Mummy in the sea.  Now Gussy he makes me very, very happy.

Basuru:  Actually I’m going to draw somebody who is on the swing who I love to play with, it’s Fernanda.  I love books actually I like my Dad and my Mum when they read to me.  My favourite food of all, strawberries, they make me want to eat more!  I’m cutting them so it can fit in my memory treasure box.  Now I’m drawing a chicken don’t you know I love chickens ‘cause they give me fresh eggs.  I love, love eating fried eggs.

Gracie:  I’m going to draw hearts ‘cause I love playing with my family on the beach.  I love playing with my sister with beads so this bead makes me think of that.  I’m drawing the beach ‘cause I love the beach.  I’m putting my beach in my treasure box and then my heart.  I love playing at kindergarten actually on the swings thats going in my box too.

Mia:  I like going to my friends house Raina and Immy.  I play on the trampoline.  I even have a movie.  I watched Moana I loved it.  I liked the movie and I like my friends.  I love my family and my cat, I always give William a kiss, my Mummy a kiss, my Daddy a kiss and my cat a kiss and myself a kiss.  I blow a heart to yourself and put it under a t-shirt.

Zoey:  Here’s a rock and a shell, we go to the beach at summer time and once I went to a beach with a playground.  I draw a big heart ‘cause I like hearts and sparkles and I love my family.

I believe children need to learn about and experience all the different emotions to become socially competent in life, and I love how for most of our children what brings them joy are moments with other people rather than ‘items’.  Feeling and expressing joy is a very valid emotion and one that Childspace describes as; Joy is the emotion of great delight and happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying.  We express joy when we exhibit keen pleasure and elation using both verbal and non-verbal language.  (Childspace)

When children learn about different feelings and emotions I believe it helps them become independent, resilient, confident and capable lifelong learners.  Something I have really loved about this journey so far is how our children value and find joy in the simple things in life like playing with siblings, spending time at the beach or even being read to.  All are priceless treasured memories that will stay with them for life.

“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”  (Chinese Proverb)

Mā te wā

Friday, 12 May 2017

Small Group Inquiry – Discovering the Metamorphosis of Tadpoles to Frogs

Who doesn’t remember the magic as a child, of watching the transformation of tadpoles slowly turning into frogs. At Mairtown we were lucky enough all of last term to have had some tadpoles to look after. It hasn’t been an easy journey at times, we have had a few deaths (!) but it has certainly been a great learning experience for all of us. This post tells a story of our inquiry together.

When our tadpoles first arrived, thanks to Kelsey and Lachlan, most were small with no legs. Rather than immediately tell the children what they were, when I’m working with children in small groups, I like to encourage them to inquire, to ask questions, to answer these questions, to tell stories and work out the ideas that are flowing through their minds. This is the basis of inquiry based learning, and one that I love and value as a teacher.

We have found at Mairtown that the most authentic learning comes from experiences that are guided by the children. We don’t have ‘themes’ that we push into our programme, rather we observe what fascinates the children together and with them we negotiate the next steps of learning.

When the tadpoles arrived, Lachlan who had brought them in was clearly enthusiastic, and it was his enthusiasm and current knowledge that soon drew a small group of other children wanting to share in the experience and learning. Rather than announcing they were tadpoles, the first thing we did as a group was to discuss what we saw. My questions for the children, to encourage their deeper thinking were ‘What do you see? What do you think? What do you wonder?’ As we worked together I documented some of the children’s ideas so we could re-visit these together throughout the inquiry.

As always, I supplied some close-up photographs of tadpoles to further provoke the children’s thinking, as well as having access to the live tadpoles in front of us. As the children started to reflect and share their ideas I was ready with an assortment of materials for them. Loris Malaguzzi the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach to education felt it was important for the art studio to be subversive; a combination of both an art studio and a science laboratory. This is evident each time I work with children and provide tools for their exploration - whether it be clay, paints, pen and paper – these media are helpful for children when working out their ideas, hypothesizing, testing theories, answering questions – and also a way for them to document and record their own learning.

‘Documentation also enables young children to see their own thought processes. When children speak, write, draw, build, or dramatize their ideas, they are making their thinking visible.’ (Salmon, 2010)

In this recent work, the children worked with white paper, black vivid and at times dye. Here is an extract from their initial thinking in the first week of the tadpoles arriving (early February 2017).

Me: What do you see?
Elsie: He’s got a tail and a body.
Tilly: And a little head.
Elsie: And a tiny little mouth. The tail goes waggle.
Tilly: And there are little stripes on the tail.
Elsie: It shakes its body; the body is like an olive.

Me: What do you think about this animal?
Tilly: I think it will turn into a snail.
Elsie: If that happens it’ll have to lose its tail.
Willow: Or maybe it’ll turn into a snake.
At this point, Lachie arrives and being the expert he is on tadpoles, tells everyone ‘They are tadpoles, I have them at my house’ – but Lachie didn’t tell everyone what happens next!

Me: What do you wonder now that you have heard they are tadpoles?
Elsie: I know that tadpoles turn into frogs. I wonder when it will be a frog, will it need a bigger pond? I think it will be a frog in one week.
Archie: I wonder will it grow more. Will it grow 3 or 4 legs?
Tilly: I think it’ll be 2 legs at the front and 2 legs at the back and then it can jump.
Archie: Do they bite?
Milla: No, as they don’t have teeth – see, I can’t see teeth. They do look a bit like fish though.
Archie: This is what will happen. It’ll get more legs so it can turn into a frog and then go ribbit ribbit.

During the weeks following the arrival of our first tadpoles, we had a little challenge! Some of our tadpoles died; but again, this opened up lots of dialogue for the children to think through. And each day I encouraged any children who wanted to learn more about tadpoles into our small group discussions. As the first few days progressed the children soon realised we needed to find out more about how to care for our tadpoles. On the children’s advice and guidance, we searched the internet for questions we thought may help us provide a safe environment for the tadpoles, and also collected some books from our local library.

When thinking is part of their routine, children become alert to situations that call for thinking (Salmon, 2010)

Looking through the books, many children observed and pointed out how our tadpoles looked different to the pictures. Of course, as the days went by, we all began to notice some changes happening – 2 legs turned to 4.

Lucas: Look, look! That one has 4 legs, some still have 2.
Piper: It’s trying to jump out, it’s trying to get out. We need to be careful…don’t touch it
Elsie: His legs are folded up, they are getting bigger. They are having a growth spurt. Now it’s bigger I can see they don’t have noses so they don’t smell. Perhaps when it turns into a frog it will smell.
Zoey: How does the tadpole know when to turn into a frog?
Elsie: Because it’s got a good brain.

Our inquiry learning continued to develop and develop. More children joined in our discoveries, while friends who had been interested from day one, shared the learning they had learnt to date. One thing I love about engaging in inquiry based learning, is that as teachers we are simply following the students lead in their desire to find out more about their world. The children inquire, they ask questions, and together we find out and think through some of the answers. What is wonderful to see is how the children take charge of their learning, it empowers them and they have clear ownership over what they feel they need to, and want to, find out more about. Perhaps one of the most important factors of inquiry based learning, especially in an early childhood setting, is how our children know they are supported and hence feel capable.  For each child of course, the learning will look different, each of them asking their own questions, then each of them all researching their answers in different ways. Likewise, the understandings that they discover are shown in a way that honours them and their individual learning needs. For instance, some children will love to sit and discuss, some may draw, others create stories, some will use clay, whilst again others may introduce this new leaning into their imaginary and dramatic play.

By the end of February more changes were happening. One of our tadpoles changed green and became a froglet.  We had to think about the environment for our emerging froglets, knowing they would be frogs soon, and again more research took place into how we should care for our froglets. The observations of these changes led to great thinking from the children.

Our tadpoles in their tank

Elsie: They don’t have tails now, the patterns on its skin is getting bigger.
Archie: No look, they still have a little bump for a tail, but it’s mouth is bigger, like a happy face.
Milla: And its body is more square now.
Makenzie: Next time I come to kindy it will be a big frog.

Then of course, just as Makenzie predicted, our first froglet turned into a frog, soon followed by the other froglets. This opened up a whole new level of care for us as we needed to feed the frogs different foods.  Through our research, we had discovered that whilst froglets need no food, as they absorb energy from their tails, when they become frogs they need an assortment of insects to eat. This job the children took very seriously, and we spent many hours a week catching fruit flies (from our worm bin with our homemade fly catchers) and hunting for passion vine hoppers and small beetles. Many children caught bugs from home and brought them in for the frogs to eat.

A tadpole with 4 legs

An annotated drawing of our frog

What did surprise all of us was watching how the frogs ate. We all assumed they would stick a long tongue out to catch the flies, but this isn’t what we observed in practice.

Milla: I was wondering how the frogs tongue gets so long when it comes out.
Archie: Is that what happens when they eat flies? I haven’t seen it happen yet.
Fernanda: Yes, they have big long tongues.
The watching began after this conversation – it was several days until we were lucky enough to see a frog catch a live fly.
Arlo: It did it, it has a pink tongue, but it’s not big, the fly came to the frog’s mouth and snap, it got eaten – it was so exciting.
Juno: I saw it, the fly was on the frogs nose, then frog opened its mouth – fly gone.

A tadpole with 2 legs

A frog

As children listen to each other’s ideas and see each other’s work, they have opportunities to learn that there are different points of view. Through exploring a topic in different ways and from different perspectives, they expand their understandings’ (Kolbe)


Unfortunately, towards the end of the term, the day came when, after we had been discussing how we could catch even more flies for the frogs (they were growing much bigger and needing more food) that the children decided the frogs should live in a pond so they could catch their own flies. This was such a thoughtful response from the children, and a decision that everyone was happy with.  So, late March, two months after they joined us as very small tadpoles, we farewelled our frogs into one of our children’s ponds at home. We hope they continue to grow big and who knows, maybe next year we may even get some of their tadpoles back at kindergarten.

A froglet

Hei konā mai,

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Sarah, our beautiful Nature Programme Coordinator

"The early childhood years are vitally important for laying the foundations of being environmentally responsible now and in the future (Hughes, 2007). It is through the interactions with the environment that children shape their life long attitudes, values and patterns of behaviour towards the natural environment (Wilson, 1996). It is vitally important that educators, parents and communities provide ample opportunities for children to interact with their natural environments in order for them to develop respect and care for the environment." 

Over the past six years Mairtown Kindergarten has been through a journey of establishing, running and leading the way in terms of Nature Based education in Northland through our Nature Programme. This Programme began in June 2011 after our teaching team won a Kauri Scholarship through the Northland Kindergarten Association. 

The team utilised this money to research and set up a programme that would enhance and support our nature based education that we were providing within our kindergarten, by bringing our attending children into the community and local bush, Mair Park.

Over the years this programme has become an integral part of who we are as a kindergarten and a point of difference from other early childhood services in the area. Our programme brings so much joy to the children and families that attend, as well as providing all that are involved, with rich and authentic experiences emerged in the natural environment. This is something that as a teaching team we feel very passionate about and we would like to continue to make our Nature Programme viable so that many more children and their families in the future can experience it benefits.

There are many factors that make our Nature Programme successful, from passionate forward thinking teachers, to having access to a beautiful park, as well as having great support from our kindergarten community in the form of parent helpers etc.

However, one of the most integral parts of the programme that helps make it, is our wonderful Nature Programme Coordinator, Sarah Nathan. Sarah is the back bone to this programme. In her role as Nature Programme Coordinator she is the continuous person who is always there (the teachers do four weeks about).
Sarah’s role enables her to foster a smooth transition for each teacher who is joining her, filling them in with what has been happening over the previous weeks and where the children have been enjoying visiting which in turn has a great flow on effect for the children. 

Sarah has proven to be a wealth of knowledge for us all while spending time with her in the bush. She speaks often to the other teachers, the children and the parent helpers about the history of Parihaka and Mair Park. 

She has a gentle but deep passion for this Nature Programme and this is evident in her dedication to make each visit to Mair Park a great experience for all involved. In her role, she has supported many children and their families over the years, helping instill a love for nature and helping our kindergarten community realize and appreciate what a beautiful place we live in and how lucky we are to have places like Parihaka and Mair Park on our door step.
Sarah has played a huge role in encouraging our children to respect and appreciate nature. She has a great focus on promoting sustainable practices, helping the children take ownership of this local treasure and celebrating all the beautiful moments and memories that are created while we are in the bush.

"Children and nature go together - or should. Recent studies document the importance of introducing children to the natural world, beginning in the early years. Their social, emotional, and physical health depends on this exposure to develop. Humans are hardwired to need nature—because we are part of it. In some communities, children lack access to nature and the freedom to explore local flora and fauna. How can children care about nature if they haven’t experienced it firsthand? Adults must do what they can to ensure that children have those opportunities." (Condie Ward)

For Sarah’s role to be viable each year we need to source funds to pay for her time and effort. We have been very lucky and very thankful that over the past 3 years we have been successful in receiving COG’s grants. These grants have had such a positive flow on effect for our kindergarten and on the local community. Many of our children that experience our Nature Programme then want to take their family and friends into ‘their’ local bush. This is just one of the positive effects that the Nature Programme has. One of the goals of the Nature Programme is that we want our children to feel a deep sense of connection and ownership with the natural environment, as when this happens, they are on their way to becoming mindful eco-literate citizens within our local communities.
"Effective environmental education programmes need to be personally relevant to the everyday lives of children and youth, and what is in their ‘own backyard’. It is important that programmes are directly related to the local context and give learners a chance to ‘explore and experience what’s around them’. Environmental educators need to reintroduce learners to their local area by exploring and experiencing it, by learning about it and celebrating it. By doing so, environmental educators help learners develop a sense of wonder and a sense of place."
(Department of Conservation NZ, 2011)

We are so thankful that we have been able to successfully run our Nature Programme all these years now. We are also very thankful to have Sarah in her role as Nature Programme Coordinator and we are also very thankful to have received the COG’s grant once more in 2016 to fund Sarah in her role. We hope that this programme continues for many more years to come.

Haere rā,