Open Spaces Preschool – a nature rich community
At Open Spaces we build our curriculum around the natural environment. We believe that there is nothing more important than helping our tamariki develop a life-long passion for nature and the dispositions to seek out, appreciate and understand important natural phenomena in their daily experiences.
Our 'Kaitiakitanga: Walking with Tane'
programme is unique to Northland and part of a global resurgence in nature-based education that arises from concerns that children are losing touch with nature and that their relationship with things 'wild' is too often via a screen or from a vehicle, rather than first-hand. Rebuilding children's relationship with nature is a crucial step in fostering an ethos of kaitiakitanga for our environment – a curriculum area that educationalist Peter Moss describes as 'education for survival'. This approach to learning also links with educational theory which argues the importance of hands-on experiences for the early cognitive development of young children. We learn by being there and by doing it.
In nature, children get to use all their senses. They experience peace, solitude, beauty and wonder. They challenge themselves, they work collaboratively, they ask questions, they wonder, they think. We hope that the dirt they get under their nails travels to their hearts and ignites a passion that will endure as long as life lasts. In the words of nature education pioneer, Richard Louv, “if we are going to save environmentalism and the environment we must also save an endangered indicator species – the child in nature.” (Louv, 2005)
At Open Spaces we are blessed with many acres of native bush to which our tamariki have daily access. This 'outside classroom' is central to the learning of our tamariki here at Open Spaces.
Through play and moments of intentional teaching we strive to foster the spiritual, social, and physical development of tamariki. Our programme has four types of learning goals, those related to content knowledge, skills, dispositions and feelings. Through supported free-play, responsive teaching and intentional provocations, tamariki benefit from a holistic child-centered, emergent curriculum.
Environment-based education is shown to develop the foundations for social studies, science, language arts, and math. Children who play outside every day, regardless of weather, have better motor coordination and more ability to concentrate in problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision-making. Self-confidence, self-esteem, leadership, collaboration, compassion are all developed in this type of learning environment.
Providing our tamariki first-hand experience with the natural world instils passion, respect and reverence for all life. We believe that all spiritual life begins with a sense of wonder, and nature is a window into that wonder. Periods of silence to listen, the touching of trees, reverence of living creatures etc. all help develop an ethos of kaitiakitanga.
We strive for our tamariki to be capable, competent, confident learners who are curious about the world around them, exhibit positive learning dispositions, values, and an ethos of kaitiakitanga. Through our learning programmes we hope to build a strong sense of place, a deep connection to Papatūānuku, and the courage to stand up for her.
In practice we provide:
- Space and time to just be.
- Active support of free play – responsive teaching when opportunity arises.
- Intentional provocations balanced with child-initiated inquiry:
- conservation work
- maintenance etc
- modeling observation, investigation and representation (the the use of tools, books, and art)
- nature walks
A more detailed exploration of our teaching practice is available.
“Curiosity alone is not enough for children to develop skills and promote their understanding and that adult guidance is essential for children to develop the skills of scientific inquiry” (Worth & Grollman 2003, p.27)
We are a community of learners and as such we seek to reflect how we naturally learn: by working collaboratively on shared interests and scaffolding each others learning. Thus small (maximum of 10) mixed-age groups are optimal. Here, more opportunities are available for children to assist each other and allow for greater levels of participation and problem solving. Small groups of children enhance self-confidence, encourage positive social interactions, and allow children to work through conflicts and come to resolutions without constant adult assistance.
The mixed-aged group reflects natural family settings and traditional ways of learning from more knowledgeable siblings. We believe that in promoting tuakana-teina, younger children will benefit from older children’s' language, scientific, mathematical, social and problem solving abilities which enables deeper, more complex learning. For older tamariki, teaching younger children gives them opportunities to understand different perspectives, gain leadership skills and model pro-social behaviours.