Stepping into the natural backyard

| By Enviroschools Te Upoko te Ika a Māui

Relationship builds between Konini School and Remutaka Forest Park

As part of their Bronze/Manuka Enviroschools holistic reflection in November 2020, the Konini students and teachers shared some of the wonderful things happening in their school grounds and their learning.  The Remutaka Forest Park kept popping up in conversations, with both teachers and students, and the Enviroschools team wanted to find out more about this developing relationship between Konini School and their nearby Remutaka Forest Park.

When we asked some of the teachers and students about it, we found the school had taken a range of steps to make the relationship ongoing and sustainable, demonstrating many aspects of what we encourage through the Enviroschools Programme.

Konini students are shovel ready when it comes to caring for their local environment.

Making Local Connections

Since 2017, students from Konini School have been testing the water at different rivers and streams in their area with support from Mountains To Sea Wellington. It was great to be able to do some of this in their local area, because situated in the Wainuiomata Valley, they are surrounded by natural areas – East Harbour Regional Park, the Wainuiomata Water Collection Area and the Remutaka Forest Park. With access to nature all around them, in 2019, they began re-visioning their school camp to take full advantage of these local areas using the Education Outdoor NZ resource.   

“Why head off to a place that has little relevance to the students when we have the Remutaka Forest Park and other amazing local taonga on our doorstep and which some of the students have never been down there?” –  Matt Pegg, teacher at Konini Primary School

COVID 19 – turning a challenge into an opportunity

Initial ideas involved providing the students with an overnight experience in the Ōrongorongo Ranges and including some conservation opportunities with DOC rangers and the Remutaka Forest Park Trust. But when COVID came, the prospect of overnight trips became increasingly difficult. Although the goal is still to hold a camp in the Remutaka Forest Park in the future, the teachers decided to make a start with shorter, more regular opportunities.

“Let’s just get the students down there [to the Remutaka Forest Park] and get to know and engage with the area.”  – Matt Pegg

Getting to know their place

Initially all years 4, 5 and 6 students did a two-hour bush walk in the park. This was able to be extended to students in years 1, 2 and 3 with volunteer help from a marketing company, OMD, that carried out “Do a Good Day”.

The younger children walked the track that was most suitable for their age and did activities such as building a bivouac, building dams with rocks and deconstructing them, nature art and taking photos of all the kererū. These activities got the children involved and motivated the parents. Many parents said they didn’t know the area was there and hadn’t realised how many things they could do.

Learning about what we can see in a healthy river.

Making this space their own by sharing with whānau.











Reallocating funds

Because they couldn’t hold their overnight experience in 2020, the funds were used to purchase 13 three-person tents.  Now there is the capability to hold overnight experiences in the Remutaka Forest Park in an ongoing way.  The camp cost (in the past $200/ student) will be significantly less with overnight experiences in the park and the experience will be more relevant as it takes place in the community in which they live.

Students and teachers love it

 The students love to go down and walk in the bush and get a bit muddy on tracks that aren’t well manicured. The teachers have commented that the students are engaged in trying new experiences in this natural environment – everyone exploring the beautiful bush, clear waterways and hearing and seeing native birds in the wild.

“The classes are named after birds and it was so great for Kererū class to see a kererū and for Kotare class to see a kotare. We also noticed that  being out in nature had such a positive impact on students’ behaviour and well-being – they were thriving.” – Sian, Year 4-6 teacher at Konini School

Making this an ongoing part of school life

Matt, the teacher responsible for Education Outside the Classroom (EOTC), says the school is building opportunities into their policies and curriculum for students to be in and to help the environment.  The school has introduced a long term EOTC Plan that includes an overnight stay in the local area in alternate years and at least 4-5 different localised EOTC trips spread over the non-camp years that are linked to the curriculum.

Staff have also created a fully localised “50 things we want our students to have completed by the end of year 6”. 50 things to do before leaving Konini

They have included a range of local experiences that in many cases are free. The hope is that the list goes on the family fridge and prompts conversations such as, “Oh we have nothing planned for the weekend, what adventure can we have today?” Families might decide to go to the Remutaka Forest Park or any of the many other adventures suggested.

Safety is always a concern so Konini School staff have created a thorough risk analysis form, which was a lot of work but now can be adapted for subsequent experiences and shared with parent helpers.

Matt says, “We have also localised our Mountains To Sea Experience. We are going to go and do snorkel lessons at the pool and go to Day’s Bay where there is not much life and then contrast it with life in the Island Bay Marine Reserve.”

Mountains To Sea have empowered Konini students to take action for their local stream.

Liz Gibson from Mountains To Sea Wellington has worked closely with the school to develop a restoration plan for the stream closest to them, Black Creek. This project has extended to include visits to Catchpool Valley in Remutaka Forest Park.

The visits have helped inspire the children to take action and change what their vision is for Black Creek. It has led to students taking the initiative to lead maintenance days where they are gathering rubbish, weeding, mulching and planting along the waterway.

The support that Mountains To Sea has provided has helped the children better understand the catchment process and how they can contribute to make their local awa/ stream healthier.

“It’s been really rewarding to watch the knowledge and curiosity of these students grow, as they ask big, detailed questions about their waterways and take action each year. It’s great to see them develop a better knowledge of their own natural backyards and the roles they each play in the community.” – Liz Gibson, Mountains To Sea.

Remutaka Forest Park – Our Local Place

With Remutaka Forest Park such a close taonga to Konini School, it will continue to provide countless opportunities for tamariki to further connect to their local green spaces. The school has encouraged the students to take on the role of caretaker and this relationship has been able to flourish with the guidance of the Remutaka Forest Park Trust (RFPT) who have been doing immense work in the Park for over 30 years.

Peter Cooper, founding member of Remutaka Forest Park Conservation Trust.

Peter Cooper, a member of RFPT has given his time and expertise to Konini School along with designating a small section of the Park which the students have been entrusted with. This area of wetlands has been cleared and students have taken trips out to the Park to plant trees and learn more about why the work that Peter does alongside RFPT is so important.

Having such a strong connection to their local space by caring for it, spending time in it and nourishing it is already having a positive impact on the students. In June Konini students from the middle school each planted a tree in this special area of the park.

“I like planting trees here because now I can come back and bring my family so we can see how it’s growing!”- Konini student.

Ka Rawe Konini School. Enviroschools Te Upoko te Ika a Māui have enjoyed learning more about your special place. We are sure it will continue to flourish with the care of such dedicated tamariki.

Students at Konini loved clearing bush and picking a spot for their own tree.