Last term, a small group of eight Dreamers from Te Kura o Otangarei, were able to experience an alternative way of learning – in nature. Year 4 Navigator Rose, heard of the ‘Nature’sCool’ opportunity which is run by Safe Outdoors NZ on the grounds of the local Huanui College, and thought it would be an eye-opening experience for her Dreamers. However, at $60 per day per child, Rose needed to put together a funding proposal to be approved by the CEO and then receive permission from the Principal. Everyone saw the value in the opportunity, and the Dreamers began participating in the programme for a full school day (9am-3pm), one day per week, stretching across 8 weeks.
The Safe Outdoors NZ team have created a programme, which provides kids a kind of alternative school day. It’s an opportunity to learn in nature and from nature – a vastly different environment to the classroom, one which has its own set of risks, challenges and advantages which these Dreamers don’t get to experience on a day-to-day basis.
Through Nature’sCool, the Dreamers were able to get involved in a variety of activities which helped them to understand and nurture their individual connection to the land. The activities included building campfires, cooking over campfires, engaging with animals – such as 23 piglets (when they were freshly born), chickens, eels and horses – building huts, whittling, building bridges and swings, learning about plants, being creative with paints (painting leaves, stones etc.) and discovering and exploring bush areas, to name a few. For the Dreamers, these were jam-packed days in a new and refreshing environment. And Navigator Rose immediately noticed that the new surroundings created positive outcomes for the Dreamers.
“I observed that the kids were so calm and engaged for an entire day. And they really showed their strengths and interests in the alternative environment.” says Rose.
For some kids, it was a break away from the traditional learning style. Instead, they were provided a stress-free environment, full of creativity and often with child-led learning. This was one of the pivotal reasons that Rose was so keen on getting her Dreamers into this nature programme. Rose identified some Dreamers who have low rates of attendance at school and that struggle in the traditional classroom environment, and wanted to support these kids with a different approach. For these particular Dreamers, there was an overwhelmingly positive response. Rose was able to get increased face-time with these kids on this one day which is hugely beneficial to the Student/School/Navigator relationship. For some of the other Dreamers who would struggle in a traditional classroom environment and would often have emotional peaks and troughs throughout the day, Rose began to notice a much more focused, relaxed and receptive temperament in these kids at Nature’sCool.
“It has been fascinating to watch how this one day per week has impacted the Dreamers person. I’ve seen a real connection that these Dreamers have to this day. They’re so invested in it. Even the teachers have noticed more engagement from these students.” says Rose.
Aside from being exposed to a completely new set of experiences, it was also an opportunity for these students to develop positive relationships with the programme facilitators. The Safe Outdoors NZ facilitators were made up of Luke Kirner (owner), Scott Gundesen (of SUP Bro) and Emma Craig (former ranger on Limestone Island). And Luke and the team have personally taken lots from the interaction too.
“It’s been so fulfilling watching the Dreamers during moments when they were bursting with pride after achieving a goal. Whether it was successfully lowering a teammate down the well without dropping them, cooking some yummy scones on the fire, or simply cuddling a piglet. The programme allowed for each dreamer to experience learning outcomes that were unique to them.” says Luke.
And these successful learning outcomes have been surprising to Luke and the team too.
“I was surprised by the Dreamers ability to learn new skills and then put them into practice immediately. An example of this was when they learnt how to tie quick release knots. After a very impromptu knot tying lesson, a couple of the girls later showed me around their ‘hut’ made from a tarpaulin, and in every corner they had used a quick release knot. I was also impressed by the perseverance shown, especially when using the ‘flint & steels’ to light fires, with some dreamers sticking with it for over an hour before succeeding.” says Luke.
Of course, Rose recognises that there needs to be a strategy to transfer these new-found skills back into the regular school environment. This said, there have already been observations by the teachers as to changes in the Dreamers, such as seeing more social engagement from shy students and those that don’t usually branch out in their friendships, to noticing kids being more engaged and positive, as well as the increased conversation it has created, both at school and at home.
It is well documented that spending time in nature is good for your wellbeing. Research has shown that spending time in nature lifts people’s moods, decreases feelings of depression and anxiety, improves concentration, buffers against stress, makes lives meaningful, speeds recovery from tough times and reduces health inequalities related to poverty*. For relatively urban-living Te Kura o Otangarei Year 4 Dreamers, this natural learning environment was an opportunity to discover, learn, grow and connect – with themselves and their environment.
An enormous thank you to the team at Safe Outdoors NZ – Luke, Scott and Emma; and to Huanui College for allowing this programme to take place on their grounds. We’re immensely thankful for the supportive community we have around us.
Rose and her Dreamers are going to use Term 4 to reflect on the Nature’sCool programme and consider some strategies whereby the programme can be used to further positive outcomes for these kids. If you, or anyone you know, would like to consider sponsoring these Dreamers to continue their nature education, please contact Rose@ihaveadream.org.nz.
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