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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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Tuesday, 21 November 2017

A gift from Tāne Mahuta

Since the beginning of this term, we have had a selection of birds and nests on our central table at kindergarten. The children have enjoyed playing with the birds and listening to each bird’s unique call. From this provocation, we have had many nests arriving at kindergarten, a few hatched eggs that children have been finding at home and even a guinea fowl skull.

Wishing to extend the thinking of the children a little further, I made a trip to the Whangarei Central Library for some New Zealand bird books. When I shared these books with the children on the first day, we simply looked at all the stunning birds that call New Zealand home – noting how big they are, what colour their feathers are, observing any other interesting features and discussing if we had ever seen birds like these when we were out and about.

Because art is a major component of our planning and curriculum, our children at Mairtown are experts when it comes to observational drawing. After a day of simply studying the book and talking, I observed how children were gathering their own resources, picking a picture and beginning to draw what they could see.

Observational drawing is a tool we use a great deal at Mairtown. We see first-hand that when children are drawing an object whilst looking at it in front of them (even when it’s a picture in a book) rather than drawing from memory or imagination, this is when discoveries are made, and when children notice so many new things, often loving to point these findings out and share them with others.

The results of these observational drawings, are very stunning, almost breathtakingly so, yet the learning for the children goes much deeper than the finished product. Observational drawing fosters not only creativity but also cognitive development and creative thinking, it invites children to look very closely at things and to notice all the details. In turn it encourages children to make more intricate drawings than they do from memory alone, often leading to joyful discoveries. It is part of the process of ‘learning to see’ (Kolbe, 2009).

As the days have progressed we have been drawing (lots and lots) and making new discoveries. This is also a way for the children to share what they already know, and perhaps more importantly what they would like to know! I have observed how, as the children have been drawing their birds, how their creative thinking has really blossomed. I was amazed by the questions the children were asking, and then answering, whilst working together in small groups.

I am also reminded about the words of Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia approach to education, who felt it was important for the art studio to be subversive; a combination of both art studio and science laboratory. This is certainly evident in the small conversation below I recorded, as the children drew and talked about kiwis. Whilst the children are drawing, you can read how they are able to work through ideas, hypothesise, test theories and answer their own questions. Read this wonderful example of rich conversation as a group of children drew kiwis and shared their stories.

Brown Kiwi


Ezra: I know about kiwi’s, they live in a forest.
Piper: There are lots of kiwi’s.
Ezra: Yes, some have spots (Ezra is currently drawing a brown kiwi).
Me: The one with spots is called a little spotted kiwi, or a great spotted kiwi. The one without spots has a different name, its name is a brown kiwi.
Ollie (finds the kiwi’s in the book): Hmm, I see they look quite different (he begins to draw a little spotted kiwi) some of him is white.
Ezra: But I can still see brown and a little orange.
Piper: I notice the spots are brown and white, and on its head you get spots.
Ezra: The kiwi has a beak to peck stuff.
Ollie: And to protect themselves Ezra.
Ezra: Yes, to get away from predators!
Kobi (turning to explain this idea to me): That’s so no one can eat them!
Me: What else do we know about kiwi’s?
Max C: They fly.
Ollie: No they don’t fly, see they have no wings.
Ezra: Yes, no wings, I haven’t drawn wings, only feathers!
Ollie: I know they have a good sense of smell.
Me: Why would they need to be able to smell?
Ollie: So they can hear people.
Ezra: They need to be able to smell where the predators are.
Ollie: So they can know what the things are and so they know what they are going to eat.
Kobi: So, they may smell for other animals that like eating kiwi? So they can smell the cat,
when the cat is coming?
Ollie: Yes! Then they might use their beaks to protect themselves. My question is, the reason kiwis have these colours, is when they are next to something the same colour they can’t get eaten. We need to look after them, not kill them.
Me: So the kiwi is camoflauged Ollie?
Kobi: I know that word, it means the same colour.
Ollie: Yes, camoflauged, but we have to hope no one steps on them!

Pied Stilt

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

As we continued to work on our study of New Zealand birds, what happened next, came as a big surprise to everyone (including me!). As the teachers arrived into kindergarten one morning, lying on the step was a dead bird.

Because we had been studying birds for several weeks, but only being able to see the details of them up close through books, I was really keen to share this taonga (treasure) with the children. Children are natural scientists, full of questions and wonder, not at all as squeamish as we adults can be, yet I was still mindful to honour the occasion and role-model respect. Before I shared this beautiful bird, I carefully wrapped it in some fabric and placed it in one of our lovely boxes. We paid tribute to the bird by saying our ‘Mihi ki te Ngahere’ and I talked about the bird being gifted to us from Tāne Mahuta, who in Māori legend is Guardian of the forest, his children being all the birds and trees.

The children all sensed the significance of the occasion and were extremely respectful and very empathetic. They all wanted to hold the bird and stroke it, but showed care, consideration and lots of revere. We looked through our books trying to identify what kind of bird it was, the children took their time to look at each picture (and there were many) and look for similarities and differences. We soon settled on the blackbird page, and from further investigation we were able to conclude that we felt our bird was a young blackbird. As you may imagine, the conversation during this time was plentiful, rich and meaningful, many children wanted to contribute their thoughts and findings. Some of the topics we talked about included how the bird arrived at kindergarten and why we thought Tāne Mahuta gifted one of his children to us?

In Māori tradition, people and forests are vitally connected both were created by Tāne Mahuta the Guardian of the forest and all the resides in it. A magical realm guarded by lizards, birds and other creatures, the forest also provided Māori with the necessities of life (Roimata Macfarlane, 2017)

Here is some of the special conversation that took place.
McKenzie: Is it dead?
Max: Yes.
Freya: No I think its just sleeping.
Olivia: Is it a real bird?
McKenzie: Yes, yes it is! I think its dead cause its not flying.
Freya: But maybe its having a rest.
McKenzie: No it’s not asleep, it’s dead. I know cause it’s not flying and I’d wake up if I was asleep with me touching its wings, and it’s not waking up, so it must be dead.
Max: It has sharp claws.
McKenzie: It’s not a water bird (pointing to some in the book) as water birds have flippers for feet.
Max: And we know its not a seagull cause this one is brownie with yellow and black.
Me: Why do you think Tāne Mahuta gifted us this bird?
McKenzie: I think he took it from the forest, and put it on the step in your box with a lid on when no one was here, no kids or teachers, perhaps at night time. It’s cause we’re Tāne Mahuta’s friend.
Lucas: He wanted to give us a special present.
McKenzie: Or he gave it to a teacher, so when the kids came to kindergarten the teacher can show it to the children.
Freya: I think he gives us this present cause he thought we look at birds all the time.
Ollie and Archie join us for the first time, the other children explain what we know so far. 
Ollie: Ah, feel its wings, they feel like fabric, its beak feels like plastic and its leg feels like glass and its feathers feel like feathers.
McKenzie: And see, it’s claws have spikes.
Ollie: Yes, they do.
We go back to thinking about why Tāne Mahuta gifted us this bird.
Ollie: I think he wanted us to see what it feels like when we touch it.
Archie: Maybe Tāne Mahuta gives birds to everyone? Hmm, yes that is the truth!
Me: What shall we do with Tāne Mahuta’s bird when we have finished looking at him.
Ollie: We must be very careful with him, we should pop him in a precious place. If its dead the skin will start to come off.
Lucas: We will have to bury him in the cemetery.
Ollie: Yes, lets bury him and I’ll make a present so it’s special.
McKenzie: That’s like Father Christmas, he gives presents to us as we are special to him and love him. We are giving presents to the bird cause we love him, the bird is special to all the teachers and children.
Ollie: Tāne Mahuta will be happy about how we have looked after his bird.

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)

And our special morning ended with the children burying the bird at the back of kindergarten with rose petals and special pictures they had drawn for it. I can’t help but agree with Ollie, I think Tāne Mahuta would be very happy about how the children of Mairtown took care of his precious bird.

Learning such as this is so very magical. When children are left to their own inquiries and creative thinking, and we as teachers follow their lead (rather than take over), we can see just how much the children take charge of their own learning. I can only imagine how empowering this must be, as they have clear ownership over what they feel they need to, and want to, learn more about. I can’t help but get excited when I’m working with children in small groups and listen to them telling their stories, working out their ideas and inquiring as they have done (in just this small example of some of our bird study). The learning the children are each undertaking here is so personal to them as for each of them the learning will look different, each will be asking their own questions, then each will be researching their answers in different ways. Such a very valuable aspect of learning, and one that I feel honoured to be a part of as an early childhood teacher.

Song Thrush

‘Children who respect the environment feel an emotional attachment to the natural world, and deeply understand the link between themselves and nature, will become environmentally literate citizens. The task of environmental education for young children is to forge the bond between children and nature’ (NAAEE).


Hei konā mai,