'Nature’sCool' is an Outdoor, Child-led, Free Play-based “Nature / Forest School” which children can legally participate in “One Day” per week as an alternative to traditional “School” (with permission from their principal). It is also open to Home-schoolers as a regular programme to compliment their existing education.


Safe Outdoors NZ Ltd is a small family business formed in 2018 by Luke Kirner (me). I have a background in Guiding (sea kayaking / dog sledding), but have spent recent years in charge of Outdoor Education courses in High Schools. The second half of Safe Outdoors is my partner Hilary Cooper. Hilary is a gifted and hugely experienced Early Childhood Educator and mother of our three amazing kids. She is a master in approachability and at empowering children to help them feel valued. Our good friend and senior instructor (Emma Craig) has a Masters in Science, and was until recently, the Ranger on Limestone Island / Matakohe. Emma is a much sought after kiwi tracker, and loves to share her inquisitiveness for flora & fauna with children.

Since October 2018, Safe Outdoors NZ has taken hundreds of happy children over to Limestone Island / Matakohe through our School Holiday Programme “Limestone Rangers”. It was through this highly successful programme, alongside our own parenting, that has led to our increased understanding of the need for a “One Day Nature School” in Whangarei.  

Why Child-led Free play?

Nature’sCool embraces the philosophy of Child-led Free play. This is however complimented by ‘Provocations’, that is - activities or resources introduced as an opportunity to stimulate child inquiry.  

Child-led free play is becoming increasingly recognised by a more “mainstream” slice of society as being vital to child brain development.This is largely due to the amazing work of Neuroscientists and Neuroscience educators (such as Nathan Wallis in NZ) who have challenged a common perception of play as being “a waste of time”. They suggest instead that child-led free play requires a far more autonomous and complex firing of cognitive pathways when compared to parent / teacher-led structured play. The research shows that “children under the age of seven do not really benefit from parent / teacher-led structured play, and children over the age of seven only benefit from 2.5 hours per day of structured play ”. In our opinion, the links between teacher-led structured play, and teacher-led structured learning are tangible. Basically, the message the neuroscientists are trying to get across is that the brain functions required to form imaginary worlds / characters and the language development required to take on the persona of both fictional and non-fictional characters are examples of free play significantly outweighing the brain functions required to remember the name of a colour, that “Boat starts with B”, or even that 2 + 5 = 7.

Why “Nature / Forest School”

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. 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. 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 instinct to protect it was born on that river, and boy was I lucky to have it so close, and to have parents who let me visit it alone.