Nurturing tamariki in nature

Issue: Volume 97, Number 19

Posted: 25 October 2018
Reference #: 1H9n50

Nestled behind Arohanui and Harinui Early Learning Centres is Ngaherenui, a great forest where children explore, discover and connect with nature.

On a two-acre rural property situated on the edge of Kerikeri and Waipapa, two childcare centres welcome children into an environment focused on and inspired by the local ecosystem.

At the front of the property is Arohanui, catering for children aged three to five years. Directly behind this is a shared outdoor space with chickens, lambs, ducks and fruit trees. Harinui, the centre that children aged three months to three years attend, is set deeper into the property and precedes Ngaherenui, a shared bush space.

Each centre has its own play area, but children come together in the two shared outdoor spaces. At this time of year, they bottle-feed lambs while the trees in the ‘Food forest’ begin to blossom.

Ngaherenui, meaning ‘big forest’, was transformed four years ago from a paddock into a wilderness area where children could explore freely and safely.

Parents’ childhood memories

Manager and owner of both centres Fiona Thomson says inspiration for the area came from consultation with whānau.

When asked about their childhood experiences and what was important to them growing up, many parents talked about being outside and of memories such as playing in the stream with cousins, catching eels and walking through long grass.

Children can take risks freely and safely in Ngaherenui

“It was lovely to have those conversations and that was what we wanted to inspire for these children, in this generation, growing up,” she says.

“It’s about giving them those authentic experiences in nature and connecting with papatuanuku, that’s what’s really important to us. Having the children feel like they’re the guardians of the land, they’re the kaitiaki. Just the wonder of watching trees change and jumping off logs and making huts and freedom to explore with your friends and with your kaiako around you.”

Along with trees, rocks and logs, Ngaherenui has a flying fox, a stream and a fire pit to bring children and whānau together. Regular gatherings are held throughout the year, while a yearly overnight camp is held at Ngaherenui for the older children from Arohanui and their parents.

“We’ve created a stream and it’s got a holding tank of water. We can just turn that stream on as the kaiako wish so the children can play in that running water. We’ve got a fire pit there for the cooking of kai, roasting of marshmallows and especially making bonfires when we have our celebrations with our whānau. Sitting around a fire at night is pretty magical. We’ve got a whare there that we have for a sheltered area and also a place of gathering. We don’t take any toys down there so it’s just playing in nature.”

Valued learning through Te Whāriki

The expectation is that each early learning service will use Te Whāriki to weave its own local curriculum of valued learning with children, parents and whānau.

Whānau gather at Ngaherenui for various celebrations throughout the year.

“In  Te Whāriki Strand 5: Exploration/Mana Aotūroa promotes care of animals and living things and developing knowledge about the patterns and diversity to be found in the natural world,” says Fiona.

“We want our tamariki to be active explorers in a rich environment that develops all their senses.”

To research how the area could be adapted to best suit the needs of the children, Fiona attended natural phenomenon conferences in Whāngarei, listened to talks about forest kindergartens in Scotland and looked at Te Whāriki.

“We take inspiration from other philosophies and teachings, but it’s place-based learning, it’s about our tamariki and whānau, our kaiako, our environments,” she says.

“Manaakitanga and whanaungatanga are really core principles for us. It’s about creating that really special environment for our families.

“Lots of New Zealanders have grown up with our really rich environment and that’s what we want to give to these children.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 2:58 pm, 25 October 2018

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