Country atmosphere and animal contact provide rich experiences

Issue: Volume 98, Number 3

Posted: 25 February 2019
Reference #: 1H9rRP

A Hamilton early learning centre gives children daily opportunities to interact with a variety of animals and other livings things, such as worms and insects, as part of an independent learning environment that is close to nature and feels like a second home for the children.

The yells and calls of gibbons at the nearby Hamilton Zoo can be clearly heard at Tots Love Country Early Learning Centre, but it is just part and parcel of the varied opportunities for the 30 children to be in touch with animals and nature. 

Manager Phillipa Carroll says, “The country atmosphere can create a positive, nurturing, whānau environment. Our community embraces kaitiakitanga, caring for and utilising our natural environment, and manaakitanga, caring for others – with play being an integral part of children’s learning.”

All ages play and learn together, so there is no transitioning from room to room for tamariki. They are also free to climb trees. While clambering through tree branches, four-year-old Amelia says of the centre, “It’s small and it feels like a family, and I know everybody, and I like that.”

Promoting children’s health and caring for themselves is part of the wellbeing | mana atua strand in Te Whāriki. Exploration | mana aotūroa is also visible through tamariki taking responsibility and caring for the living world.

The centre has many pets, and daily activities include collecting eggs from chickens and using them for cooking and eating during kai time. Growing vegetables and fruit, and harvesting and eating them, is a regular part of the programme.

The pets are a kunekune pig (Miss Polly), goats (Chocolate and Fish), a calf (Muesli), budgies, a rabbit (Mysti), a cat (Cookie) and chickens. The children feed, talk to and care for the animals and, in doing so, they develop a deeper knowledge and understanding within mana atua of how to nurture and respect living creatures, including worms in the ground.

Through natural processes, children have learnt about things such as life and death, as when Coconut the goat had triplets, but one of them died. 

Natural environment

Phillipa says tamariki benefit from a spacious, well-planned natural environment with a large grassed area, including a hill, in which they can explore, experiment, discover, imagine and create. In winter they are offered the choice of bringing raincoats and playing in the rain. In the summer they can play in togs and use a water slide, or explore the stream in the shaded secret garden.

A carpentry area has been specially built for the centre, with child-sized tools such as hammers and chisels, so they can hammer nails, cut wood and hot-glue things. 

Tamariki have a variety of interests and are all free to follow their passions, whether it be carpentry, reading, water play, family play or dressing-up, as well as a wide range of other experiences. 

Ages range from five months to six years, and Phillipa says, “Because we are small, we get to know each of them very well.”

There are no designated literacy or maths corners, as these subjects are integrated into everything, reflecting one of the principles of Te Whāriki, holistic development | kotahitanga. In keeping with this approach, teachers aim to build on social skills, knowledge of the wider world, and oral language.

“We provide many opportunities for building confidence, independence and resilience,” Phillipa says.

“We find that a lot of this learning is happening through fostering relationships based on the traditional concept of tuakana teina. This is derived from the principles of whānaungatanga and ako, which are evident in our mixed-age centre and our commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

“In a fast-paced world, the whānau setting and natural environment has a lot to offer tamariki through real-life interactions that can’t be experienced via a book or screen.”


BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:10 am, 25 February 2019

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