Child-led, Play based Outdoor Learning & Adventure
As a kid I would bike down to the river after school and spend hours fishing for trout in one of NZ’s clearest waterways - Te Waikoropupu stream in Golden Bay. Now 20 years later, I can still vividly remember many of the lessons learnt on those outings. Electric fences forcing me to be big and brave if I wanted to explore the next pool, apologising to angry farmers, favourite lures lost and saving up to buy new ones, removing rubbish and dead cows from my river, crying over broken rods and lost fish, laughing at those that deserved to be lost, and during the bike ride home with a fish to show dad. I remember the colours in the long grass, gunshots from the adjacent rifle range, the dust from the road, the willow blossoms in the wind and the heat of the tarmac beneath my tyres. I was ok at school, but those memories, charged with sensory and emotional overload, I can remember far more clearly than any classroom lesson during that period. In fact I am struggling to remember any classroom wisdom from that time. In technical terms - one might call this ‘movement for learning’ - this being the association of a memory to particular senses and / or emotions. Neuroscientists have identified specific parts of our brains associated with memory that are stimulated given different sensory or emotional functions (i.e: smell / taste, fear, joy, love). This means we can fire our children’s memory pathways on purpose and furthermore, there is a myriad of longitudinal research that links these types of environmental interactions to quality of life as an adult.
My love for the outdoors and instincts to protect it was born on that river, but it was not only that, it helped me to discover who I was and my place in the world. I was lucky to have these natural influences so easily accessible, and to have parents who let me visit it alone. The vision of Nature'sCool is to provide an opportunity for young people to spend time in these rich environments and to gain a connection with the natural world and with themselves during free-play and inquiry-based learning that sets them up for a wonderful, fulfilling life.
Our philosophy is inspired by authenticity, nature, nurture, connection and empowerment.
We view tamariki as whole beings who are naturally inquisitive about the world around them which inspires our kaiako to provide ample time and space for tamariki to explore, engage and inquire. Following the interest of the tamariki allows a focus on the process of how the learner perceives themselves during this journey rather than the end product. A free-play approach gives each tamariki a chance to direct their day through their style of learning and their growing needs, furthermore nurturing their well-being and emotional competence. By taking all of these strategies into rich sensory (outdoor) environments, the tamariki are also provided with endless opportunities to connect with and learn from Papatūānuku.
Our guidelines are derived from celebrating how our ancestors lived. Each individual playing an important role in creating a symbiosis with people and with nature to form the essence of a 'tribe'. A balanced form of accepting and providing.
"A day at Nature'sCool"
Group discussions are interwoven throughout the day, which allow the tamariki to reflect on the days beforehand, experiences they may wish to share or current seasonal observations. These discussions often lead into exploring in-depth themes about the world around them and how they are a part of it.
The 'tribe' then run a vote of how we as a group will get to the bush base. At times the tribe are busting to get straight to bush base, other weeks they want to take alternative routes which lead us into deeper parts of the bush, exploring the swamp or the kahikatea forest which can take all morning!
Once at bush base the tribe disperse themselves playing on rope bridges, tree swings, exploring the awa, whittling sticks, building huts, painting, crafting with clay, tree climbing, cooking and at midday its fire lighting.
The tamariki who are interested in lighting a fire are to collect their own dry tinder, prepare their fire and attempt to light it with a flint and steel. We prepare kai together, encouraging healthy eating and sourcing some of the food that is within our environment or gardens, soups, stews, fritters..sometimes its warm scones and honey! For those who were not interested in the above activities but want to partake in eating the shared kai, offer their help in cleaning up the dishes. This portrays the concepts of working as a tribe or in symbiosis as nature reflects, everyone plays an important role.
For the rest of the afternoon the tribe decide if they want to stay at bush base having free-play, go further afield exploring or a group game to end the day.
Kaiako record the days adventures for the tamariki and their whānau to reflect on together.
The role of the kaiako in a free-play environment
As tamariki and nature are our guide kaiako will provide provocations according to the current interests of the group and seasonal influences. These will support the meaningful engagement of the learner which is proven to be necessary for deeper learning and critical thinking.
Kaiako will also be available to support tamariki during decision making about what they choose to do for their day and regarding safety. We place high value in tamariki assessing their own risk and encouraging them to discover their boundaries for themselves and others.
Kaiako understand the importance of promoting problem solving, resilience, self management and nurturing the emotional wellbeing of others and themselves. This can be observed during social interactions, fire lighting and crafting with hard materials, taking care of their personal gear, slowing down and finding quiet spaces to reconnect.
Kaiako encourage empathy amongst the group, respect for the environment, their peers and themselves. Our motto "Is it alive? let it live happily!"
Let the adventures begin!