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, 21 February 2018

Our first Nature Programme for the year

It was our first nature programme for 2018 and I was lucky enough to be the teacher rostered on! We had 7 new children starting on this day and all of them seemed quietly excited when they arrived at drop off. I too was feeling excited but also nervous about how the morning was going to play out with so many new children to transition into the programme all at once.

With such a large group of new children starting we made sure we talked a lot about the Nature Programme with them prior to this day. We showed them our Nature Programme Day Book and held a special meeting to discuss some of the important rules and also some of the exciting things that we could do. I think these happenings leading up to the first Nature Programme were one of the key components of what turned out to be such a wonderful and pleasant day in our local ngahere (bush).

As we entered the bush I felt a sense of peace come over the group. The walk down the path was at a slow pace and the children and adults stopped to notice some of the beautiful happenings that were taking place amongst the leaves and the trees. In particular all the colourful and interesting fungus! Then as we entered the clearing known as the meadow the children ran around playfully, rolling around, jumping off things and playing games with one other.

The morning continued in this fashion, the children flowing in and out of bursts of excited and energetic play and then engaging in quieter and more softer experiences. As I checked in with the children during the morning, asking how they were feeling and if they were enjoying this time in the ngahere, they all responded with positive reflections of how they were having such a wonderful time, saying things like, “I love the Nature Programme.” And “I can’t wait to come back, there is cool things in this bush. I love the sliding in the mud and finding the cada (cicada) shells.”

“Nature is important to children’s development in every major way—intellectually, emotionally, socially, spiritually and physically.” (Kellert, 2005).

It was such a beautiful and energising morning and it left me reflecting once again about how much I value this programme that we have been running for the past 7 years (thanks to the ongoing support that we have had from our kindergarten whānau, and also the COG’s grants that we have received over the years to pay for our Nature Programme Coordinator wages).

“Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones.” (Larson)

As a teacher, and also a parent of young children who have been and are a part of Mairtown Kindergarten, I feel blessed. It is so good for the soul to be able to connect with our local bush within our kindergarten programme. Every time I am the rostered teacher on this programme I leave the bush feeling rejuvenated. I feel that the same must be true for the children involved. Although the programme can be physically demanding and you do end up feeling tired, you also leave feeling balanced.

I also love that the nature programme creates many opportunities to help us all stop and appreciate nature and all its beauty. Each time we enter the bush we notice and recognise changes that have taken place. It helps build an appreciation for how special and unique mother nature is and we always talk to the children about how we need to take care of nature, reminding us all that is such an important part of our world and we need to look after it. At Mairtown we believe that it is so important that our children create connections with Papatūānuku, the earth mother, and it is a priority in our programme both at kindergarten and on our Nature Programme (obviously).

When you are immersed in nature “You remember that you are connected to all living things. You feel that you belong to this Earth. That you are part of the community of nature. You are made of the same substance, and that you are no better—and no worse—than that bird, that tree, that other human walking up the trail.” (Abrams, 2014)

I feel that our Nature Programme is playing a small, yet significant, role in helping build our children’s eco-literacy and in doing so they are developing positive attitudes towards nature and all it has to offer. It is our hope and desire that these connections made with our local park will instill a life long love for nature and all it has to offer our lives.

“Our efforts to build a sustainable world cannot succeed unless future generations learn how to partner with natural systems to our mutual benefit. In other words, children must become “ecologically literate.” (Orr, 2005)

As always, I am looking forward to my next adventure in the ngahere, and in particular seeing what wonderful experiences the children have been exploring since our last visit together. Our Nature Programme is a part of our kindergarten culture that I just love and treasure.

Nāku noa, nā,

Monday, 5 February 2018

Capturing Children’s Emerging Thoughts and Ideas (Thinking about Sunflowers)

When preparing our environment for the beginning of term 1, we collected some beautiful sunflowers, with long curvy stems from a local grower, and placed them in the middle of our kindergarten room.

Sunflowers are an amazing flower, they seem to hold a certain power to capture, mesmerise and fascinate children. I can only wonder why; perhaps it is because each flower was taller than all our children, or perhaps it is their sunny, almost face like heads? Nevertheless, when the first day of term arrived, and our children enthusiastically entered Mairtown, I noticed once again how many were immediately drawn, almost instinctively to the stunning sunflowers.

For many of our returning children, on seeing these beautiful flowers, they began to do something we value greatly at Mairtown, they began to draw what they could see (observational drawing). This type of drawing is a tool we use all the time, and the children at Mairtown soon become comfortable and familiar with doing (and also seeing others) engaged in this wonderful method of learning.

 When students draw pictures of things they see, it enhances their observations of these things (Haydock)

Another aspect of learning that I value hugely as a teacher are ‘thinking skills’. When working with children, I always aim to support each of them in their own thinking. Nothing excites me more when I’m working in a small group and I see and hear children explaining things to one another, offering creative ideas, suggesting alternative interpretations or devising a plan; that is when I know they are all engaged in the language of thinking.

It is when children are thinking that they are more likely to show commitment and interest to their work or play, this is when they find more meaning as they begin to make connections between home, kindergarten and everyday life, and perhaps most importantly they begin (with lots of thinking practice) to display a positive attitude towards thinking and learning. An attitude that demonstrates they are open-minded, not closed-minded; curious rather than bored; and interestingly that they have just the right amount of appropriate scepticism, for instance of not being satisfied with ‘just the facts’, but wanting to understand more, rather than being gullible.

I know I will have written this before but, what I believe is critical, is encouraging children ‘how to think’ as opposed to ‘what to think’. Gone are the days in education that children should believe something because a teacher told them too, rather in today’s ever-changing society it is important to teach children to ask questions, to analyse information, to recognize facts, to be critical in their thinking processes – a skill that they will use successfully throughout life.

So, how do you teach children to be critical thinkers. There are known to be three steps. Expect it: We encourage children to defend their ideas and to answer their own questions as they wonder. Model it: As a teacher, I role model my own thinking and often say to the children ‘I don’t know the answers, but let’s play around with some ideas’ to show that it is the thinking that is more important than the answer. And lastly reward it: When good thinking happens, I always praise it ‘I Love how you are thinking really hard about that idea’.

So how does this all relate to our beautiful sunflowers? We are still very much at the beginning of our work with these amazing flowers. Some children, as I have mentioned are using drawing to help with their thinking, others come to join in discussions that are taking place, while others quietly examine the sunflowers with their senses, looking and smelling – but hopefully I can encourage all of them to start to think deeply about the flowers.

Some tools I use when working with the children to encourage thinking are some simple questions: What do you already know about sunflowers? What can you see when you look at the sunflowers? What do you think? and what do you wonder when working with the sunflowers?

Beautiful sunflowers from HydroHealthy
With these questions, you can almost visibility see the children’s thinking progress. As the children talk to me I can often see how they are making connections between new ideas they are having and their prior knowledge. It also encourages them to take stock of their friend’s ideas, to puzzle some of their thinking through and to reflect back on what they are learning.

As I mentioned we are at the very beginning of this work, and as always, I will be guided by the children as to the next steps of their learning. I will continue to work at the children’s pace, listen to their interests and curiosities and allow the children over the next few weeks to guide where our thinking and inquiry will take us.

However, I would love to share with you a little bit of our early thinking to date, along with some of the stunning art work that is being produced along the way.

Me: What do you know about sunflowers?
Lilly: I know they are a flower
Matthew: And they are yellow.
Basuru: I know they have lots of seeds in the middle and the leaves are green.
Ezra: I know lots as I have planted sunflowers at my place with grandmamma. You start with a seed, then it’s in the dirt. They need sun.

Consider art as a ‘thinking tool’   (Robertson,2000)

Me: What do you notice as you look at the sunflowers?
Basuru: I notice there is a white thing in the middle of the seeds, I wonder what that is? And I notice they have spikey things coming out the back, and when you touch the stem it feels like salty.
Max: The stalk is spikey.
Ezra: No, it’s not spikey its soft. And I notice this one must have drowned because it all downy (the flower was beginning to die) and that these have no seeds, they are different to the ones at my place. And some are taller than me and some are not.
Freya: I notice there is black in the middle, with little spikey points around it, and there are leaves hanging and they are in a vase of water.
Matthew: I notice it’s a circle and the petals are like bananas and the leaves are really big with lines on them.
Max: I notice the drops of water (in the centre of the flower).

What do you think when you look at the sunflowers?
Max: Well, I think about that water. I think it has the water from the water up the stalk, up to the petals and up to the face.
Alfie: I’m thinking they make me feel happy as they make me smile heaps.
Aya: I think that sunflowers can make you feel too. I feel excited and a bit happy when I see sunflowers and I think about all the sunflowers that have been picked.
Nika: I think about them being all yellow and why?

Me: What do you wonder?
Freya: I wonder why that bit (points to a part where a leaf has been cut off) looks all yucky, but the flower looks pretty?
Lachlan: Why does it look sad?
Basuru: I wonder lots. I wonder why inside it’s a pattern I think, like jewellery diamonds. And I wonder what’s under that middle. And I wonder what these things are on the leaves (the veins), they look like a rib cage and I wonder why they always follow the sun?
Lilly: I wonder if sunflowers are dangerous?
Alfie: I wonder why the petals are a little bit down, I think it might be the wind, and I wonder what the lines in the petals are, I think it might be for water.

 Wonder is an important motivator for life long learning (Wilson 1997).

I hope that you too can see the power of thinking and how this assists children in their ability to deepen their knowledge and to make connections and discoveries about the world in which they live. Who knows where we will take our sunflower work next? This will all depend on the fascinating wonderings of our children.

A huge big thank you to HydroHealthy for supplying us with such inspiring sunflowers. Nicola and Murray run a wonderful local business selling lots of delicious homegrown and homemade produce. Check out their Facebook page here.

Hei konā mai,