Kaitiakitanga: Children as Champions of Nature, for Nature
By: Brigitte Alamani (Head Teacher | Daisies Early Education and Care Centre)

Daisies is a family owned long-day education and care centre in Johnsonville, Wellington, that is licensed for 30 children a day. We are a mixed aged centre, catering from 9 months to school aged children. Our pedagogy embraces New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki (2017), and is inspired by Loris Malaguzzi, Magda Gerber, Friedrich Froebel and Lev Vygotsky in particular. We provide a complex curriculum that focuses on supporting and growing ‘thinking children’. Investigation is a feature of the Daisies way to teaching and learning.

Our philosophy states that Daisies is a loving, engaging, and pleasing place of learning for both Tamariki (children) and for parents and Kaiako (teachers). Sustainability is one of four core values that we live and work by. Since Daisies opened in 2008, we have continually sought ways the centre can operate sustainably. Our efforts were noticed, and Daisies was invited to join the Enviroschools ECE network in Wellington in 2015. We have recently become a Silver Enviroschool, the first ECE centre to do so within Wellington City (For more information on Enviroschools, please see http://www.enviroschools.org.nz/).

A personal story
I grew up in the city of Manila. Although I have memories of spending a few days in the province, where the air is fresher and the trees are greener, I personally have no strong memories of time spent in nature. Up until a few years ago, I admit, I did not care about nature at all. I did not care where my rubbish went, nor did I even consider that my careless actions were negatively impacting on our earth. Though I knew it was important to care for nature (because people tell me I should), I did not truly comprehend the significance of WHY it was important to care for it.

I joined the Daisies team in 2011. Daisies already had established sustainable practices then, to name a few, for example, we were providing a set of five cloth nappies per child to lessen our ‘contribution’ to the mountain of disposable nappies in the landfill. We were doing mahi māra
(gardening) with tamariki. We were also actively reusing, recycling and repurposing materials in any way we can. Kaiako continue to research ways we can practice sustainability, pushing boundaries of what’s possible. I thought, yup, I can do these too.

Then in 2012, we created the ‘Nature Explore Programme’. I thought to myself, now we have to take children out in nature?? As mentioned earlier, my childhood did not involve much time out in nature, heck, I was not a fan of bush walks (because – insects!). I was quietly worried about my participation in this programme. How could I teach children about nature when I am unfamiliar with it myself?

Teach adults what you want them to teach children
Before we could support children to develop a relationship with nature, Kaiako must develop that relationship with nature too. After all, you cannot teach what you do not know. Daisies intentionally focussed on building up teachers’ knowledge and resilience in nature first by organising a day and a half Professional Learning and Development Day at Riverslea Retreat, a place of nature wonder about 10km out of Otaki. Our agenda for this day consisted of hours at a time spent basking in nature, truly connecting with the birds and the trees then coming together, reflecting on what we learned (about ourselves and about nature), and planning strategies we could use to support children to learn the same. To say I learned a lot is an understatement. I consciously reconfigured my mindset. I began developing a relationship with nature. I finally learnt that actually, bush walks are good for the soul and insects weren’t that bad. Riverslea now holds a special place in my, and Daisies’ Kaiako, hearts. We come back to this magical place every year to rejuvenate our connection with nature.

Over time, all Kaiako, myself especially, have grown in confidence being all weather co-explorers of bush environments. Having good, well thought out systems and procedures help. As does motivation – Kaiako feel it is a privilege to spend several hours with a (rotating) group of only 4 – 6 infants (under 2 year olds), or 8 toddlers/young children, exploring and talking, and revelling in the physical, socio-emotional and leadership capabilities of the tamariki.

Intentional Learning Goals for Children
We don’t just “go out”. Kaiako asked right from the beginning, ‘if we were going to provide weekly excursions in the ngahere (bush), how will it benefit the learning and development of tamariki?’. Nature learning goals were created. Through our Nature Explore Programme, we aspire for tamariki to:
– Goal 1: Develop working theories and scientific knowledge associated with natural
environments (birds, plants, insects, stream life, land formations);
– Goal 2: Develop an understanding of spatial concepts associated with the outdoors;
– Goal 3: Develop a love of and sense of responsibility for nature; understand kaitiakitanga
(guardianship of nature);
– Goal 4: Grow in confidence as explorers and leaders outdoors – to strengthen their resilience.

Pursuing these goals nurtures the children’s ‘ecological identity’ (Ann Pelo). For them “…to delight in discovery and adventure in the bush; to develop skills for being outdoors; to learn when to speak and when to be still; to know joy, grief, reverence, astonishment and gladness; to embrace the comradeship of fellow explorers” (Pelo, 2013). Looking at Nature Explore through a bicultural lens, Daisies Kaiako want tamariki to act as kaitiaki (guardians) and develop a strong sense of kaitiakitanga.

Whenever Daisies groups are in the bush, Kaiako always have these goals in mind. The coordinator arranges Kaiako to go on the same excursions as their key children, so they can effectively support children’s confidence, and scaffold and provoke their thinking in outdoor learning spaces.

Experiences in the bush are intentionally linked back to the curriculum within the walls of Daisies. In 2017, our whole centre investigation explored the local maunga (mountain) and awa (river) through different domains – science, maths, the arts, literacy – and through different cultural lenses.

These experiences are documented fairly immediately to share with families. We are thankful to be signed up with StoryPark as this has allowed us to share children’s learning experiences literally in the moment, sharing our excitement with them as their child discovered and/or achieved something new and different. We upload photos and videos whilst we are on the trip using our smartphones and parents are given the opportunity to know what their child is doing, and learning about immediately. This method of sharing increased our level of parents and families’ engagement and involvement in our programme.

Their strong relationship with nature, nurtured over the last few years through our Nature Explore Programme, sparked children’s concern over the state of our local streets. There was rubbish everywhere and that is not ok! As kaitiaki, we must take care of papatūānuku. Daisies’ 3 and 4 year old tamariki proposed that we clean the streets by picking up rubbish near our centre, and dispose of it properly. In response, our ‘Clean the Streets’ Programme was established in 2014, where a group of 6 tamariki and 2 kaiako, armed with a reusable bag, and reusable gloves, walk around our block and pick up rubbish people leave on the streets at least fortnightly. We then bring this rubbish back to Daisies to sort – what can be washed and reused? – and dispose of properly in our own bins.

Through this particular programme, children act as champions of nature, for nature. No person is too young – our under-two year old children now engage in ‘Clean The Streets’ quite frequently, picking up rubbish along the way when they are out in the bush.

Do or do not. There is no try (Yoda).
Ah, wise Yoda. No matter how much you research and plan – though you must do this thoroughly for safety purposes – the best way to jump-start your nature education journey is simply to do. Caring for nature is not a thinking process. It’s the doing that will really make a difference. Embrace kaitiakitanga. Share this responsibility with tamariki. Grow them to be champions of nature, for nature. Get out there, strengthen that relationship with papatūānuku, and engage your whole being, body and soul, and fortify earth’s healthy future.

About Daisies
Daisies is a full-time early childhood education centre in Johnsonville, New Zealand. Founded by Dr Anne Meade, with daughter Linda, Daisies’ pedagogy is inspired by Te Whāriki, Malaguzzi, Bronfenbrenner, Pikler, Gerber, Vygotsky and Athey.

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