Under the warm rays of Tamanuiterā, the sun, tamariki at Springlands Kindergarten in Blenheim gather together ready for their weekly hikoi (walk) to McKendry Park – a place where these young people have become comfortable to explore, discover and play. As they pass through the neighbouring Enviroschool, Springlands School grounds, they wave and say hello to familiar faces and then arrive at the large open space. The park is spotted with multiple plum trees and has a small stream (Murphy’s creek) running down one side.
Recognising the importance of connecting with nature and the benefits it offers, kaiako at Springlands Kindergarten decided that they wanted to integrate more of this into their programme. They identified an opportunity to access a nearby green space, McKendry Park. Within a short walking distance from the kindergarten, either through the next-door kura or around the block, it seemed like the perfect place to visit regularly.
The kindergarten began using this green space as a destination to get out and about whilst also considering its potential for further learning and action. It also gave them the opportunity to connect with their community and build relationships. Passing through the school and interacting with people from the nearby retirement village added to the value of these excursions. It also prompted some of the kaiako to undertake Professional Development in Nature Play education.
Knowledge gained from this professional development was put into practice and resulted in tamariki being empowered to identify hazards and make choices relating to risk-taking in their exploration and play.
The kaiako discuss the purpose of the trip before leaving for each hikoi. This helps with preparing to take appropriate resources with them – such as clipboards and pens or balls. It also helps to select which tamariki will go, based on their needs and interests.
On arrival at McKendry park, tamariki help conduct a safety check, making sure it is safe to explore and play. The pathway that loops around the park is known to them as the “boundary” and is “lava” (not safe to go on). They also take responsibility for picking up any rubbish that they come across. They have an understanding that this harms Papatūānuku. Tamariki are then empowered to lead their own play and are able to explore freely whilst there.
Tree climbing has become an integral part of this experience – tamariki have the knowledge of how to select a “good” climbing tree. Using the technique of identifying branches that are no smaller than their own arm, they make decisions about where they can safely climb. Other rules apply such as keeping three points of contact on the tree at all times.
In the summer months they harvest plums from the park trees. These are taken back to the kindergarten and turned into jam or shared with the rest home residents and whānau.
By visiting McKendry Park all year round, tamariki have been able to observe changes in the environment through the seasons – from the bare trees to the pink blossoms and leaves and finally the sweetness of a ripe plum picked freshly from the tree.
Tamariki work together and problem solve – moving big branches or taking turns climbing in the trees. Friendships have formed and personalities developed. Their imagination runs wild as they go fishing from high on a tree stump or hunt for possums. Their creativity has flourished with the opportunity to use natural resources and draw what they see in this special place. Even behaviours that are challenging in the kindergarten environment seem to disappear whilst here.