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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Thursday, 26 September 2013

Our Art Studio refurbishment begins

During the past month work has begun on the refurbishment of our Art Studio.

This structural enhancement has been on our directional plan for the past three years, and has been made possible through our hugely successful Art Auction Fundraiser (earlier this year) and a generous grant from Pub Charities.
Mairtown's original art sink area
The art studio is on the southern side of our building
As with all projects at Kindergarten, this refurbishment has been carefully thought through and planned. We consider the physical environment at Mairtown to be the 'third teacher'. In other words, our environment 'speaks' to children about how, where and what they can do in this space.

Two of our key considerations when planning for spaces in the Kindergarten is aesthetics and organisation. Our goal with the refurbishment is to combine the two.

Aesthetics is a term that can be defined as the 'critical evaluation' of a piece of art or a design, based on criteria that are seen as important by a particular culture.

Another definition views aesthetics as the appreciation of a pleasant and special sensory experience (usually visual, aural or tactile). However, as well as being pleasing to the senses, aesthetic objects or situations often involve other features 'that are pleasing to the cognitive faculties: repetition, pattern, clarity, elaboration or variation of a theme, contrast, balance, and proportion'. Inherent in this notion of aesthetics is the premise that aesthetic experiences are pleasurable and involve an emotional response from the spectator (Pairman & Terreni).

Thanks to a Pub Charity grant, one of the first steps in the revamp was the installation of a beautiful big skylight. Malcolm, from Northland skylights made a wonderful job of replacing an old vent with a bright, white, light filled space.  Our art studio is illuminated by the sun all day!

 Sunlight is vital for cognitive development and growth. Natural light is healthier, creates bright and inviting spaces and has varying qualities of illumination throughout the day (Pairman & Terreni).

Christine and Kate watch raindrops 'race'
down the newly installed skylight
The studio is now so well lit, that we can
 choose not to turn the lights on

We also organised for local electricians to replace our tube lights with studio lighting. These lights can be angled to generate attention, or to create shadows on our main studio wall.

This is our last week of term three. Over the break our new curved, wooden shelving is being formed by the team at Smith and Parker Joiners. We can't wait to have the new unit and shelving installed over the holidays. We look forward to sharing images of our revamped space with you all.

Good aesthetics result not only in an overall sense of attractiveness and beauty within a centre, but also gives pleasure to those who work and play in the centre, and to those who visit (Pairman & Terreni).
Ka kite ano

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Using collaborative learning to make an Egyptian sistrum

Extending upon last weeks blogpost ‘The possibilities of a stick’, we have continued to notice the different ways we use sticks within our programme at Mairtown.

Walking around my orchard at the weekend I came across some ‘y’ shaped sticks. After collecting several and introducing them to the children, we decided to make a percussion instrument - an Egyptian sistrum.

The pictures we looked at of sistrums, to be honest, did not look like they were made from sticks – so the children had to do a little bit of flexible and creative thinking.

The first thing we did as a small group was enter into some discussion. Initially we considered how we might decorate our sistrum – the general consensus was to use some paint – so we began.

Waiting for the paint to dry however required us all to be patient; we had to wait until the next day! Patience is a skill in itself, and although the children had to wait a whole day, this didn’t stop several checking to see if they were dry every few minutes!

The next day, we got together again and discussed how to add a handle. There was lots of ideas, sharing of thoughts and thinking in our discussions. Some children considered the possibility of painting a handle in a different colour, some felt we didn’t even need a handle, whilst others thought about wrapping something around the wood. The more we talked and contemplated our theories, the more we felt comfortable with questioning each others ideas, recognising other peoples views and finally negotiating what our plans would be.

In the end we decided to wrap some different coloured thread  around the base of our sticks to indicate that this is where we would hold our instrument. This in itself required more problem solving – how do we attach the thread? Tying a knot looked bulky, wrapping the thread without a knot didn’t work either as the thread kept falling off. Through our collaborative efforts however, we came up with the idea of one person wrapping the thread onto the stick, whilst someone else painted on a dab of pva glue to hold it altogether.

Collaborative learning in small groups aids the exchange of ideas, increases interest among the participants and also promotes critical thinking (Gokhale, 1995).

A whole day later – as we waited for the glue to dry – it was time to add the musical element to our sistrum. Using wire we carefully threaded on some bells, buttons and beads then attached the wire firmly at both ends.

After all this hard work, and all the waiting, it was eventually time to try the instruments out. Time for a sing-a-long!

Students that work together achieve higher levels of thought and retain information longer than students who work quietly as individuals. Shared learning gives students an opportunity to engage in discussion, take responsibility for their own learning, and thus become critical thinkers (Johnson and Johnson,1986; Totten, Sills, Digby, & Russ, 1991).


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The possibilities of a stick

Did you know that the stick may be the world’s oldest toy? Sticks are wonderful, they are open ended and full of possibilities. When children pretend with sticks, they cultivate their creativity and develop their imaginations. 

Children view sticks entirely differently to adults. This week in a whānau time, I passed a stick around a group of our children and asked them if they could share an idea for using a stick. Here is some of what they said: 

“You could play using them like a talking stick”

“You can glue things on sticks and use it as a magical wand” 

“It’s good for you to use it for a walking stick” 

“It could be a sword” 

“You could build a tree fort. If you put a leaf on it, it becomes a magical leaf wand” 

“You could tie a rope and it could be a fishing rod” 

“Play fetch with a dog. Play doggy who’s got the bone” 

When children play with sticks they improvise and let their imaginations take over. An everyday object supplied by nature can suddenly become a prop for endless play opportunities and learning. 

Sticks of all shapes and sizes are an important feature in our resources at Kindergarten. This supply is used by the children for construction, imaginary play, gross motor activities, tools, creative arts and supporting divergent thinking. 

We refer to sticks as resources termed 'Loose Parts'
Architect Simon Nicholson coined the phrase’ loose parts’ in the 1970’s. He believed that it was the loose parts in our environment that empowered creativity. 
Loose parts are items and materials that children can move, adapt, control, change and manipulate in their play. They have no specific set of directions and can be used alone or with other materials (Oxfordshire Play Association).

Playing with sticks can often be viewed with negativity from adults. In our quest for ‘keeping children safe’ it is easy to oversee the endless play opportunities which are perceived by children. 

When we are questioned about sticks from parents or other teachers, we suggest introducing big sticks into play first. Our theory at Mairtown is that big sticks require lots of co-ordination and skill to move about. Large sticks can also be heavy, transporting them requires children to be mindful of their movements. 

We also have ‘expectations’ around sticks. No running with sticks, and when carrying them, the safe way to travel is to have your stick at your side. 

The learning outcomes of stick play far exceed the risks; sticks are used daily at Mairtown, with very few reported accidents. 

Sticks can change our perception of something, thus turning a negative into a positive. The only way to overcome fear and worry around sticks is to use them.

As teachers we continue to be open to the possibilities of sticks throughout our curriculum. Sticks have moved from being a traditional outside resource to a valuable extension of the play and work which happens indoors as well.

Sticks of varying shapes, weight, sizes and textures have been offered as provocations for invention and design. Today frames and large pieces of paper were positioned alongside bowls and stacks of twigs and sticks.

Children chose to create both individual and collaborative pieces of work. The focus here is on the process of exploration and innovation. When the work is finished the canvas is cleared to allow someone else an empty space for being creative.

The best thing about sticks is that they are free and supplied everywhere in nature! Children will choose sticks over fancy toys. Give your child a stick and watch their imagination and creativity un-fold!

I'm going to finish with an inspiring (and slightly adapted) poem by Alec Duncan. We found this on the 'Flights of whimsy' website:

Hold this for me – it’s not a stick.
Really it’s a wizard’s staff,
And we will fight dragons together,
Heroes, side by side.

But wait – it’s not a wizard’s staff.
Really it’s a fishing rod,
And we will catch fish together,
And dangle our toes in the water.

No, no, you see  – it’s not a fishing rod.
Really it’s a shining horse,
And we will ride races together,
As the earth shakes beneath our hooves.

Oh, I know  – it’s not a shining horse.
Really it’s a hammer,
And we will build a house together
To keep us warm when the cold wind blows.
And the best thing – do you know the best thing?
Outside there are more sticks,
So many stories waiting to be told:
Let’s find out what they are.
We’ll write them together.
Nga mihi nui

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Embellishing Nature

On a beautiful sunny spring morning some of the children were intrigued by the provocation of small twiggy branches, beautiful tiny beads and sparkly glitter. This all came about when Kim brought in a cutting from her Muehlenbeckia shrub from home. This is a wonderful type of plant that has many fine interwoven branches, which when cut into smaller pieces look like tiny little trees.

We used some clay to make a base to stick the small tree like pieces into and the children then enjoyed threading beads on them. The branches were the perfect size for threading and were surprisingly supple considering that they looked so fragile. The children were able to bend and move the branches with ease and push the beads on with quite some force without breaking them. They also brushed on a small amount of PVA glue and sprinkled it with glitter.

The end result was these wonderful, delicate little beaded trees that are now on display in out art studio. Their beauty has already captured a lot of interest and created lots of dialogue between  children and adults alike.


“Creativity is contagious, pass it on” – Albert Einstein
Natural resources are all around us, ready for us to use to enhance the learning and development of our children. A simple cutting from a garden has been the catalyst for children to delve into a creative activity which was both captivating and delightful. All the children were deeply engaged in the process of carefully decorating their tiny trees.

This activity lead to one of our children, Taika, bringing in some beads from his Nana’s house the following day. He decided he also wanted to make a mini beaded tree. This time we used some sturdy Manuka cuttings. This captured the interest of other children and Taika kindly shared his beads so they could make their own beading trees.

When you combine the beauty of natural resources with the wonderment of lovely treasures like beads, buttons and glitter etc. It draws in children and provides them with endless learning opportunities. In the case of these activities they were able to utilise their fine motor skills, practice their pincer grip, develop their hand-eye co-ordination, concentrations skills, creativity, and use descriptive language – the list could go on and on.

“Including natural materials in the learning environment gives children opportunities to interact with nature. Mixing natural with commercial or recycled resources enhances the learning experience with appealing aromas, colours, sounds and textures. Natural materials provide children with a range of sensory experiences.” (Saskatchewan Ministry of Education)

These are just a few of the many activities that we provide at Kindergarten that promote the idea that nature supplies us with beautiful and intriguing things. Children are naturally curious, full of intrigue and inquisitiveness, we want them to have a real sense of wonder when they engage in our environment.  We believe is important to offer natural resources as provocations for thought and inquiry, we really value nature for not only its beauty but also the opportunities it creates for learning and development.

 “Early experiences with the natural world have been positively linked with the development of imagination and the sense of wonder.” (Cobb)
Written by Zair