Area school goes bush with local curriculum

Issue: Volume 98, Number 3

Posted: 25 February 2019
Reference #: 1H9rQz

Tramps, kayaking and rat trapping are all part of the local curriculum at Tapawera Area School, south of Nelson.

For all students at Tapawera Area School, experiencing the wilderness on their doorstep is a priority. The age range at the school is 5 to 18, but even the new entrants have many opportunities to take part in outdoor learning, and the senior students get the chance to help protect a threatened species in the wild.

Principal Kelvin Woodley says for many of the students the outdoors is in their blood and they aren’t thrilled by being inside a classroom all the time. So having a slot in the week when they can get into the outdoors – for example, by kayaking – gives them a lift. Sport and outdoor education keeps them engaged in their other studies.

Kelvin says, “It is more than just fun – it’s a rich learning experience. Our focus is academic, not just practical, and there is no doubt that outdoor ed contributes to NCEA success as the students learn better when they have opportunities to use academic knowledge in a local context.

Kahurangi National Park is close by, as are many tramping tracks. Groups of up to 20 students and teachers, as well as parents who provide support, tramp in the mountains for up to three days.

“When they are out there, the students are learning about the environment, map reading, contour lines, weather, science, geography, working as a team. They are picking up valuable skills such as how to build fires, cook meals and put tents up.

“[Tramping] also involves teamwork, decision making, following instructions and overcoming difficulties, and persistence. Those valuable skills can be taken through to the rest of their studies and the rest of their lives and relate to all of the key competencies: Managing Self, Thinking, Relating to Others, Using Language Symbols & Text, and Participating and Contributing.”

Senior outdoor education student Jed says, “I love mountain biking the most because we can have a choice of activities we complete. This year we’ve been able to choose to do the Old Ghost Road on the West Coast. It will be great.”

Tramps in the mountains can be for up to three days, during which students develop skills related to key competencies.

Community helps inform local curriculum 

Kelvin says there has been a growing focus on outdoor activities over the past 8–9 years to reflect community priorities and the expectation of parents, which has come through clearly in community consultation. “They expect that the school will provide access for their children to take part in things beyond the classroom.”

To help build a relevant local curriculum in an outdoor environment, the school must ensure that all the students can take part. To do this, all the equipment is supplied, including tramping boots, kayaks and climbing gear, so they can all take part safely in activities that suit their age. The programme has grown over the past eight years and is led by the school’s permanent outdoor education teacher.

“White water kayaking, for example, is costly and requires vehicles with roof-racks, which the school has, and we aim to make these options as available as possible, regardless of a family’s finances.

“The school cannot pay for things such as trailers, vans and kayaks from its bulk grant, but the resource is out there in the community if you seek it, and we are very active in doing so. For example, we’ve had tramping packs gifted to us. Some of these donations have been sufficient until we could fund new equipment of our own.”

There’s strong support and partnering relationships within the community; local farmers allow access to their land and a kayaking business helps out with many activities, including kayaking instruction.

The youngest students do bush walks and river activities, and the opportunities expand as they get older, ranging from camps in school grounds to camps in the mountains, and then options such as kayaking and rock climbing in Year 7 and up.

Kelvin says being outdoors cultivates an appreciation of the environment amongst the students, and student voice plays a large role in what they decide to do. The seniors have also helped pass skills on to and support younger students in tuakana teina relationships, as the younger ones seek to improve their skills in demanding activities such as kayaking.

“Outdoors activities are a tool for student engagement and every school location in New Zealand has potential for unique opportunities.”

Tapawera Area School’s top tips for teachers

  1. Survey the local community for available outdoor teaching sites.
  2. Try to keep costs down by using local resources/venues.
  3. Apply for funds from organisations like gaming trusts etc.
  4. Choose teachers whose specific skills and qualifications match the requirements of the activities (such as white-water kayaking or climbing).
  5. Don’t be put off by the ‘over-cautious’. Cover the safety issues and do it anyway!

Taking part in the Predator Free NZ programme 

Periodically, students go rat trapping, setting traps as part of DOC’s efforts to protect native wildlife, specifically the whio (blue duck), against rats and other pests such as weasels and stoats.

Years 9 and 10 students recently spent a day rat trapping in the Wangapeka area, which is part of the Kahurangi National Park. They collected 25 rats from traps on their day trip, then reset the traps. 

Student Angus says, “The reason we do this is mainly to protect our whio. Unfortunately they are very vulnerable, so numbers are few, but the trapping is sustaining the duck population. I loved the day and I’m very keen to go trapping again.”

Kelvin says this presents a rich opportunity for learning. “The students are learning – from and with role models – to understand their community as a system, apply their learning in authentic contexts, experience belonging and be recognised by a wider community.”

For information on how schools can help the fight against predators in our environment, visit Predator Free NZ’s(external link) website. 

For schools and kura Local Curriculum Design Toolkit | Rapua Te Ara Tika

The Local Curriculum Design Toolkit | Rapua Te Ara Tika(external link) presents the most useful resources and tools available to support teaching and learning through quality local curriculum design, assessment and aromatawai practices, and reporting to students, parents and whānau.

The Ministry wants to highlight quality local curriculum design in practice throughout 2019. If you want to tell your story, contact

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:15 am, 25 February 2019

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