"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)
(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.