By: Alexander Robertson
A Whanganui based kindergarten is taking education into the great outdoors, with learning taking place under the watchful eye of Mother Nature.
It’s all part of an initiative by Eco School, an organisation based on a European philosophy of nature learning which started in the 50’s.
Co-founder Dani Lebo started the school after she saw there was a demand from parents.
“The experience here is letting kids be kids, letting them learn at their own pace, letting them have questions, letting them explore those questions, and letting them take risks, and achieve tasks that they might not be able to,” Lebo said.
“I think it’s important because right now when our kids enter school they spend a lot of time indoors, they spend a lot of time at their desk and we’ve lost a bit of go-out-and-can-you-jump-off-the-stump.”
The kindergarten programme is called Nature Play where children are expected to get into the outdoors, rain or shine.
“I’m not anti-technology at all, but I would say what we’ve gained from technology we’ve also lost a little bit also.
“I think this kind of learning is also important because we’re giving kids the opportunity to be outside, feel the air and get exposed to real tactile experiences,” Lebo said.
In a world full of uncertainty she says, it’s important to show kids real risks and have them assess them.
“The key to developing resilient adults is helping them have confidence in their early years.
“Providing a space where they feel secure, healthy and able to take risks so they have the tools that they need when they face real risks in the future.
“So they can say ‘oh yeah, I saw that hill, I climbed it, it was really hard, and I did it’.
“They can draw on that experience and use that when they encounter other hard things in their life.”
Eco School has recently been awarded a $5000 grant from the Health Promotion Agency, allowing it to support other schools’ access to the learning environment as a learning tool and providing wet weather gear and transport.
It’s also been nominated for a $25,000 grant under the Conservation Innovation Awards through the World Wildlife Fund.
“We found that a lot of teachers, when [kids] start getting into primary school age, they’re hesitant because they feel so pushed by the curriculum, so part of this grant is to connect nature play back into their curriculum and to do some professional development around that.”
Source: NZ Herald