Connections with Nature and Community Develop Together at Local Reserve

Teachers discuss water quality testing.

A nature connection movement is emerging within schools and early childhood centres in Wellington City’s northern suburbs. Sparked by a teacher professional development experience run by Enviroschools and the Porirua Harbour Trust, teachers and students are experiencing the benefits of connecting with nature and connecting with one another.

Benefits of connecting with nature

While learning outdoors is not new, it sometimes feels like a step too far for teachers in today’s busy world. However, with increasing evidence demonstrating the reduced stress, greater physical health, more creativity and improved concentration students gain from spending time in nature, it’s in every teacher’s best interests to connect with nature more often.

Sustainability Big Idea:
To develop the skills and to be motivated to take action on ecological issues, people need a strong connection with nature and community.

A natural opportunity

In October 2018, teachers from a group of secondary schools, primary schools and ECE centres all located in the same catchment, and therefore connected by nature, spent a day together in Seton Nossiter Park, a reserve just beyond their gates.

Many weren’t sure what to expect, but by the end of the day all could see the value of spending more time with their students in nature. They also recognised the bonus value of learning with others who work with students of different ages yet within the same community.

The day focused on giving teachers time and space to really slow and down and notice things.

Teachers heard mana whenua stories of the area through a whakatau hosted by Newlands College, the school adjacent to the park. They then spent time in the native bush following a series of sensory activities.

Tim Park from Wellington City Council and Micheline Evans from Greater Wellington Regional Council helped reveal opportunities for citizen science in the stream, for example testing water quality.

The teachers learnt about rongoā (traditional Māori medicinal practices), wrote poems or prose based on their experiences, found critters in the stream and used drama games to complement the science.

Learning about the history of the local community garden and nursery.

The group visited the local community garden and nursery and learned about it’s history with Amanda from Ngā Hau e Whā o Paparārangi. Teachers then explored, with another school or centre close to them, how they could work together to enable more learning time outdoors.

“I enjoyed being out in nature and revitalising my passion again”.

And what a great range of nature-based activity has resulted!

Newlands College Yr 9 students test the stream health in Seton Nossiter Park.

Since attending this day, science teachers from Newlands College have been ‘loving utilising the amazing resources that we didn’t realise were right here’ and including testing the water quality of their local stream in their Yr 9 science curriculum. Students have also formed an envirogroup.

Paparārangi Kindergarten are making regular visits to the reserve with groups of children, teachers and wider whānau. Groups have been identifying dobsonflies in the stream, collecting kawakawa for tea and making blackberry pie from berries collected in the gully.

Teachers say the whānau engagement aspect has been really exciting. Those participating in the excursions are expressing joy and reminiscing about their childhood experiences with the group.

Johnsonville School’s outdoor classroom in action.

The kindergarten and the school are planning a combined working bee to clear “the track that was” which goes from behind the school down into the reserve and will provide a more direct route for the kindergarten and the school students to access the park.

Johnsonville School were motivated to develop an outdoor classroom on their grounds – a designated natural area with some seating and lots of exploration spaces behind the classrooms. ‘It was just what we needed to inspire us to do it!’ said the lead teachers. They also put together a document sharing ways the other staff could take their students out more easily, with links to the key competencies of the curriculum and a comprehensive reading list. They have created a timetable for the outdoor classroom so all students get time outside during the week. The Enviro Group has assessed the challenges of the space and some solutions so that everyone can get out and enjoy the ‘different, quiet and relaxing space’.

Together the students and teachers are developing a strong sense of the whakatauki:

Ko au te taiao, ko te taiao ko au. I am the environment and the environment is me.