Tuning in to natural cycles together

| By Enviroschools Te Upoko o te Ika a Māui

Hinepūtehue, Atua associated with hue, and the sounds that can be made with. Soothing, settling, calming qualities.

Ecosystems, activators, and accumulators

By the end of the day students were tossing around words like alkali and acid, nitrogen and carbon, photosynthesis and ecosystem, activators, and accumulators. They were buzzing with knowledge and enthusiasm and so were the parent helpers.

“This has filled my cup again,” said a parent helper at the ‘Tuning into Natural Cycles’ event for Wairarapa Enviroschools.

Other parents messaged teachers after school telling them how their children came home buzzing from the day at South End School in May 2021 where they had been learning in the outdoors with enviro leaders from other schools across Wairarapa.

Enviroschools lead teachers identify a need

Wairarapa Enviroschools teacher hub in 2020.

When, in 2020, a group of lead teachers gathered together to share their ideas for what-next in the Wairarapa Enviroschools network, they knew they wanted to ‘fill their students’ cups’.  They knew they wanted their students to develop deeper understandings of the natural world and ways we can work with it. Even more importantly, they knew they wanted opportunities for their students to feel inspired and part of something bigger.

“There’s a lot on the shoulders of our young environmental leaders as they run projects and practices, learn to work with nature and with each other, and strive to be part of making a difference for a liveable future,” says Enviroschools Community Facilitator, Gill Stewart. “We all need to feel energised and supported.”

Enviroschools and Earth School collaborate 

Gill Stewart, Enviroschools Community Facilitator, got together with Emily Neubauer from Te Kura o Papatūānuku Wairarapa Earth School and a beautiful collaboration was born.

Wairarapa Earth School is a charitable trust working out of South End school in Carterton that aims to foster a passion for science and technology through hands-on, garden-based learning. This is a great fit with Enviroschools as we work towards supporting a network of schools and early childhood centres to develop a whole school approach to sustainability. Both organisations have empowering students as a core guiding principle.

Gill and Emily decided to run an event at South End School on Outdoor Classroom Day in May 2021. The aim was for the students to develop some deeper understandings of natural cycles in a garden context and then to take home and apply what they had learned. It was also an opportunity for the Wairarapa Earth School students to share their deep knowledge and skills with their own age group.

Emily coordinated a team of garden experts, young and older, to facilitate a series of workshops at the school. Gill gathered together enviro-leaders from Enviroschools across the Wairarapa.

A day of learning and inspiration

The team from Fernridge share their mahi of working with natural cycles in their school.

The day involved a series of workshops in each of 3 pathways.










The day began with schools sharing their own mahi of incorporating natural cycles into learning and action. This was followed by a series of workshops involving natural cycles. There were 3 pathways that students could take, each pathway made up of 3 workshops.

Making furniture polish.

In the Pollinator Pathway, the students explored the emerging food forest looking for pollinators with a ‘Sculpture Trail’ quiz designed by the Earth School students. The Earth School students also demonstrated how to shelter and care for bees and provided an opportunity to make furniture polish from the beeswax.

The parents were impressed by the knowledge of the student leaders and participating students extended their knowledge of pollinators to include birds, moths and hoverflies.

Lachie from Opaki school enjoyed making furniture polish from the beeswax. “It was cool to make something easy and that has multiple uses,” he said.


The Plant Power Pathway involved students investigating how we can work with plants in a way that enhances their natural powers. The first workshop revealed a “Fruit Tree Guild” – a way of grouping plants that will attract pollinators, plants that deter grass and can be used for mulch, and plants that attract us with tasty treats like berries and rhubarb so that we will do the mulching and caring for the fruit tree.

In the second workshop students used some of those plants and others from the food forest to make delicious organic green fritters.

The Earth School students were knowledgeable and skilled with the bees.

Making furniture polish.












In the third workshop, with special guest expert Amanda Taylor from the House of Science and her Climate Change Kit, the students measured out how much grass was needed to sequester enough carbon for 1 person for 1 day just to breathe.

“Did you know each of us need 2.3 sq m of grass for one day to breathe oxygen or 7 trees for a year?”

Learning about lasagne composting techniques.

In the final pathway, The Future is COMPOST, it was all chemistry and action –  on a large scale as well as small. Students learned about things that activate a compost pile (like worms, lime, soil, peat, ash ) and those that decompose like Fungus, Bacteria and Invertebrates (FBI)! The students made compost in a jar, they made a compost lasagne in situ in the food forest and learned how to change the acidity of their compost if they needed too.


Buzzing and ready for action

By the end of the day students had the concepts embedded. They were grateful, excited and ready for action as were their teachers.

Amanda Joliffe, teacher from Masterton Primary School, appreciated the rich experiences the students were given. “The MPS children arrived back with massive grins,” she commented. 

Soil chemistry workshop.

All the students went away with plans to implement ranging from getting bees and chickens, to making compost and creating outdoor classrooms. Wainuioru School, who have just started a large-scale tree nursery to support community planting, plan to look into how they can make and use compost to improve the soil the trees grow in. Fernridge School students are going back to make a logo for their Envirogroup like the Opaki leaders had. They also wanted to count trees and start planting. The Opaki Enviro-leaders have started a lasagne compost in their garden area. They spoke to some beekeepers in their community and are working on an outdoor classroom.

These experiences not only inspired the students but the parents who attended with them. The Opaki parent we mentioned above who felt their “cup was filled again” is now running a weekly garden group with 5 dedicated students.

Beekeeping expertise shared.

 A valuable experience for collaborators too

Both Emily and Gill agreed it was a win-win for them. They each valued the opportunity to plan and work together rather than on their own. Emily was able to focus on the activities and preparing her students for teaching because Gill was organising the communications with the schools and taking on the administrative aspects. They will run a similar event next year and are currently working together on a conservation week project to collect student voices to share with the community.

They both felt rewarded when Nicki from Opaki School let them know that her younger Enviro-leaders are asking to get in on the learning.

“They want opportunities to share knowledge and lead the school in action for the environment too.” – Nicki from Opaki School

And a future leader has emerged.

A student from Opaki School said, “I usually get distracted with my work but I didn’t because I was outside and doing something. I actually enjoyed it. I ground flour that we used to make fritters. I also like learning about how many trees or grasses you need to make enough oxygen for one person.”

Since attending this day and reflecting on his learning style, this student is taking a step up into leadership in the Envirogroup.

Banner image: Students from across the Wairarapa gather at South End School for a day of deep learning outdoors.