The Early Childhood service of Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu, New Zealand’s correspondence school, was looking for a bridge between new technology and what they knew all children needed to learn, through hands-on, full sensory experiences. Storypark fitted the bill perfectly.

Being an educator and a parent I was intrigued as to how Te Kura managed distance, and connected and engaged with their young learners.

I jumped at the opportunity when Jenny Hayes, Early Childhood Service  Manager and Annie Malir and Lena Muller early childhood teachers, kindly agreed to spend some time with me talking about their experiences of distance teaching, and how Storypark is being integrated into their work.

I’d like to share what I have learnt with you.

 

In a nutshell, how does Te Kura’s programme  work on the ground ?

Annie and Lena explained that each family completed a questionnaire about their child’s interests and passions and their family’s aspirations.  From this learning goals are developed, and resources are sent out to families. Families observe their child’s learning and report back to Te Kura, this is assessed and the cycle starts again.

Te Kura use multiple media and communication channels in their work with families. Paper based, a free telephone number, email, Skype and of course Storypark!

 

So what is Te Kura like?

Coming into Te Kura is not your usual early childhood service experience!

Instead of sandpits and child height tables I entered a contemporary office with teachers working away on computers, assessing, planning and communicating with their learners via the internet.

Here is Lee Jenkins working on Te Kura’s Storypark community page.

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Rows of shelves line the office with NZ and international books and boxes with Postings are being readied to be sent out – keenly awaited by learners and their families.

Check this out….. this lucky child has some clay in their Posting!

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A lot of Te Kura’s resources are made in-house, based on learners interests and changes in curriculum.  Biculturalism is a key part of Te Kura’s programme.

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How about Te Kura’s community of learners? Who are they?

Te Kura’s 600 early childhood learners used to be predominantly families living in rural isolation. This has changed somewhat over the past few years, for example, when both parents take up paid work in town and children go into daycare.

There are now more urban families.  With New Zealand’s Ministry of Education’s push to increase early childhood education uptake, in certain circumstances Te Kura can now also provide to families who are close by a Centre but are unable to access it.

This, I learnt, was for a multitude of reasons. It could be because families have many children and cannot logistically get to a Centre, those living remotely who prefer to home school their children to 6 years, children with special needs, children who are in hospital and children who for cultural reasons are not attending a Centre.

There is also a number of itinerant learners.  Those children whose families move around a lot due to the nature of their parents work.

In addition to this Te Kura is a key player in mulit-agency intervention. Te Kura through Storypark has had a big impact in ensuring that all these agencies are on the same page and working in unison to support the child.

Wow. That really made me think.  I had to redraw my mental picture of all Te Kura’s learners doing water play in a creek on the farm!  But also, more seriously, I felt thankful that we have a service like Te Kura in New Zealand that can meet the diverse and specialist needs of these young learners and their families.

 

What challenges do Te Kura’s teachers face with remote learning?

Te Kura works to empower families to educate their children.

The programme the teacher plans is implemented by families, who then provide the information which teachers use to make an assessment.

A few families do not have the capacity to help their children, even to assist their children to open the Posting.  Other families do not provide enough information to enable teachers to assess children’s learning adequately.

Some resources are sent directly from a warehouse to families – this can prove frustrating as the wrong things can be sent out.

 

And the final word goes to teachers, Lena and Annie. What impact are you seeing for Te Kura, and Te Kura’s learners from using Storypark?

“Our programme empowers parents to be the learner and the teacher.  We like to work to their strengths.  Storypark really helped with that. And for them to have a record with what they are doing with their kids is really special”

“the biggest effect is the children’s participation. They can see the importance of what they are learning. The immediacy too. The children can be more involved. Previously (with paper based systems) writing up children’s learning might have been done at midnight when the children are in bed”

“We respond to families needs and time availability e.g. shearing is a busy time of year.  Storypark helps us understand what happens in a child’s life. We’ve learnt so much more about them. Writing up stories wherever they have been (i.e. on holiday) is easy with Storypark.”

Many thanks Lena, Annie and Jenny for your time.

Find out more about Te Kura’s early childhood service or contact Jenny Hayes 0800 659 988 ext 8699.

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