Haere mai! Welcome to Mairtown Kindergarten's blog.

Nau Mai Haere mai. Welcome to Mairtown Kindergarten's blog.

21 Princes Street, Kensington, Whangarei, New Zealand

Phone: 09 437 2742

Email: mairtown@nka.org.nz

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Thursday, 16 November 2017

Creating connection - “Where Do Stories Live? - Building Oral Language Through Storytelling in an Early Years Context”

At Mairtown we place high regard on professional learning. This is something that is very important to us as a team and we believe that some of the most powerful professional learning that we have engaged in over the years has been hands on experiences, in small groups and especially in ECE settings.

“the opportunity for teachers to participate actively and collaboratively in professional communities is an essential component of high quality professional development” (Borko, Jacobs & Koellner, 2010, p. 550)

With that in mind, over the years we have offered a number of hui, open days and workshops for other professionals. These have included workshops on our Nature Programme, the language of arts, engaging and inviting environments, how we support children for the transition to school and this week we hosted another workshop titled, “Where Do Stories Live? - Building Oral Language Through Storytelling in an Early Years Context”

This was workshop was put together and facilitated by our wonderful teacher Christine Alford who has done extensive teacher research into this topic over the years. We are so lucky to have her in our realms, and she will be the first to say that she is lucky to have the support of her team at Mairtown. Her journey has continued to bring new learning practices to the forefront for our team and there is now an authentic and rich story-telling culture within our kindergarten community.

This was an evening workshop where participants got to hear about Christine’s research and how this has influenced Mairtown Kindergarten’s thinking behind ‘Storytelling’. They were given ample opportunity to explore and engage hands on in our environment and they were able to take photographs to take ideas away with them. Documentation was available to view, along with print-outs of the workshop which included examples and reasonings of the importance of building oral language through storytelling, as well as worldwide research and quotes that support and verify the importance of this. Throughout the workshop there were also opportunities, both formally and informally, to engage in professional discussions regarding the kindergarten's programme. One of the most important aspects of the evening was that there was a delicious light supper provided.

“Drawing on the sociocultural view, shared knowledge is regarded as a basis for interdependent working and multi-professional learning in early childhood education. Shared professional knowledge can be seen as a central element in successful collaboration facilitating individual and collaborative professional learning.” (Melasalmi & Husu, 2015)

During the evening there was lots of reflection as participants unpacked how important telling stories is for oral language development, and how this looks within their places of work. The feedback was all positive and has inspired us to run another workshop in the near future. If you would be interested in attending this professional learning opportunity please contact us.

Being able to successfully run workshops like this is a credit to many factors, including but not limited to, teacher research (in this case Christine’s amazing journey), a passionate and hardworking teaching team, the supportive management collective at the Northland Kindergarten Association, all the wonderful tamariki and their whānau who are a part of our kindergarten community and also all the teachers from across the sectors who attend the professional learning opportunities we offer.

“To maintain a 21st century focus teachers need to be continually learning themselves. This means engaging in professional learning communities where educationally challenging discussions and sharing of practice occur. The exposure to new ideas and ways of teaching ensures teachers are continuing to learn and improve their practice.” (tki.org.nz)

We often feel nervous and overwhelmed when preparing and presenting, however we also find hosting workshops to be very enjoyable. Enjoyable in the sense that we get to connect with like-minded professionals, who are opening themselves up to new learning and creating time to be reflective on their current practice. We highly value this kind of connection as it often leads to a sense of unity amongst our community of educational professionals.

We hope to continue to connect with many more professionals over time and strengthen our practice as a whole, which inevitably has a positive impact of the children and their families that we all work with.

Kindest regards


Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Manaaki tētahi ki tētahi

After the last few weeks of settling in to my new role as a teacher at Mairtown Kindergarten, I have been taking some time to reflect on the importance of strong trusting relationships, along with a feeling of belonging and community.

Relationships are the foundation of our journeys through life. In early childhood, relationships are the building blocks upon which our Kindergarten functions. These partnerships or relationships are one of the underpinning principles of our New Zealand Early Childhood curriculum Te Whāriki and also of the founding document of our nation Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which our bicultural curriculum is based upon.

My own experience of arriving at Mairtown Kindergarten as a new face, into an environment where there are already friendships formed, a shared culture and knowledge, along with new rituals to learn, have given me the chance to understand how our children experience the transition to Kindergarten and acknowledge how they may feel during this process of building new relationships. Keeping this experience close to my heart will enable me to show care and empathy as I walk this journey alongside the many future tamariki of Mairtown Kindergarten.

Our Kindergarten Philosophy states:

“At Mairtown Kindergarten manaaki (care) underpins everything we do”

Relationships and partnerships, based on trust, respect and open communication are central to our philosophy. Kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face conversation) is something that we value immensely. When these genuine, authentic and reciprocal relationships are established, Mairtown Kindergarten becomes a safe and secure place for children, whānau and teachers”

I have been privileged over these last few weeks to experience our Kindergarten philosophy in action as I have been shown the most wonderful manaakitanga. This manaaki has not just been a token effort from one person, it has been felt like a warm cloak wrapped around my shoulders and is clearly embedded in the culture of our Kindergarten.

From the wonderful mihi whakatau to welcome me, the friendship and kindness so freely given by the tamariki as we get to know each other, the whānau who have all made time to chat with me and make connections, and my colleagues who have supported me, answered my questions, checked in with me and walked alongside me as I learn. The wairua of Mairtown Kindergarten feels good, and I am excited to become part of such a special community.

A beautiful koha aroha received from Isla T to welcome me to Kindergarten on my first day

As a teacher I am led by my heart, and I believe that by teaching from the heart, relationships will flourish. I was recently lucky enough to hear Professor Welby Ings speak in Kerikeri. He is the author of a book called Disobedient Teaching – Surviving and creating change in education. He did an interesting experiment where he asked all of the audience to think back to a teacher that really had an impact on them during their early years.

You might like to pause and take a moment to do this yourself before reading on and see if his theory is true for your experience.

It turned out that almost every person in the audience chose a teacher who impacted their life based on the way that teacher made them feel, rather than any facts or information they were taught by them. This highlights to me the importance of relationships, manaakitanga and heart-led teaching. It also reminds me of one of my favourite quotes which I think embodies the entire community of Mairtown Kindergarten.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, 
people will forget what you did, 
but people will never forget how you made them feel” 
– Maya Angelou

Ngā mihi nui, 

Thursday, 2 November 2017

What a surprise discovery on the nature programme

In Whangarei we have been experiencing typical spring weather, a little bit sunny, a little bit rainy and a lots of blustery gales.  It is the weather that makes our nature programme as we get to experience nature through different conditions year round, such as, squishy and muddy in winter to dry and hard in summer.

Last month when on our usual nature programme excursion we made a surprise discovery in an area that our children aptly name ‘The Meadow’, there was an enormous ti tree that had fallen and was lying on the grass.  We ran over for a closer inspection and it seemed even bigger, we all stood there staring at the tree, then wondered... what happen to the tree?  How did it fall down?  When did it happen?

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks”.  John Muir

This initiated a group discussion about what may have happened to the tree.  It was wonderful how our children seemed to put such effort into thinking about the tree and developed some great ideas that they were willing to share with the group, including;

Dre:  Someone cut it down
Ryker:  Thunder broke it down
Carter:  Thunder smashed it down
Dre:  I think the wind broke it down
Ryker:  It was a big giant that pushed it down
Carter:  Maybe someone swinged on it
Lucas:  I think a life cut it down
Dre:  I think a tiger cut it down
Nika:  I think the wind blew it down
Mayson:  It split
Isla:  I think someone cut it down or a hammer
Archie:  A chainsaw
Mayson:  Someone pushed it over
Archie:  I think a giant pushed it over

I loved hearing all the children’s theories about what may have happened to the tree, it certainly was an interesting start to our nature programme.  When we had a closer look at the tree and its split trunk, we were still wondering how it ended up on the grass, however there was the added bonus of it becoming the best adventure playground that nature has to offer!  So we began our explorations of the tree, by climbing, balancing, hanging, crawling, bouncing, jumping, walking and sitting on it. 

Carter had a great idea of getting the saw and other real tools that we carry on the nature programme out of our gear bags.  This was a brilliant idea as the tree provided many sawing options as there were lots of different branches to choose from - thin to thick.  The children were awesome with taking turns and sharing the saw with each other and offering encouragement to keep sawing when needed.  We spent a considerable amount of time, in fact most of our morning discovering new ways to explore the tree.

The weeks after the initial discovery, our nature programme children were keen to keep revisiting the tree and would spend the majority of the morning exploring it and all the challenges that it may bring, finding different ways to incorporate it into their play and seemingly enjoying all it has to offer.  I loved how some of the children would report back to me that the ti tree, that had provided so much joy, was still there. 

Last week when it was my turn to lead the nature programme (also it was the first time for the new term) we arrived at ‘The Meadow’ our excitement quickly faded for a little while as we realised that the tree had now completely gone.  We will miss the fallen ti tree and all the wonderful learning opportunities and experiences it offered.  That’s the beauty of the nature programme no two weeks are the same.

The natural world is a playground and place of discovery for adults and children alike, it is a place for adventure, exploration and imagination as well as generating a deepening care and connectedness with our environment. (Department of Conservation, 2011)

I am passionate about our nature programme and feel privileged to be part of it.  It is even more special when we get a wonderful surprise, like the fallen ti tree. It wasn’t only the children who enjoyed the tree, I also loved climbing on it.  It brought back all my own special childhood memories of climbing trees.  There are just so many benefits for our children, when they connect with nature.  The Department of Conservation states that many studies show the positive links between direct experiences in nature and children’s mental, emotional, and physical health and well-being.  The studies show that regular direct access to nature can; increase self esteem and resilience against stress and adversity.  Improve concentration, learning, creativity, cognitive development, cooperation, flexibility and self-awareness. (Department of Conservation, 2011).

Mā te wā

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Thinking like the artist Hundertwasser

Every year we enter into a special ritual of completing art work for calendars, that can be purchased by whānau (and make especially lovely Christmas presents). This is a lovely time at Mairtown, and one that I really look forward to.

In today’s world, there is so much emphasis reported on the quality of education, that many teachers may conclude that concentrating on art-related activities in the curriculum is unnecessary as well as too time consuming. There too are others, who see art as a break from the ‘important’ things that children need to learn. At Mairtown we engage in the arts daily, we recognise it as an extremely valuable aspect of our programme planning. We don’t see art as a 'rainy day' activity or set our children up to create art pieces that all look the same and follow the same process, instead we cherish the arts. When we offer children creative art experiences, we provide good quality resources and support children as they begin their learning in the arts so they are successful, competent and proud of their efforts and creations.

Whilst art is fun, creative, relaxing and imaginative it also can provide so much more for children. I see art as an additional means of communication for children and I have also observed how completing art can drive understanding in our curriculum, enabling children to construct their own knowledge, gain an appreciation for diversity, foster imagination and critical thinking skills, encourage storytelling whilst allowing children to openly express and share personal experiences.

We engage in art all year round, every day at Mairtown, but one of the reasons I particularly love supporting children, as they complete their calendar art works, is that I get to work with every child, one-on-one. I get to experience along with the children the wonder of looking and studying an artist – this year we used a favourite of ours, Hundertwasser – of engaging in the social aspect of looking closely, the in-depth conversations that take place, and then the sense of pride that is always so evident as children create, over several days, a piece of stunning art that is truly unique and reflective of that individual child.

One of the reasons we regularly use Hundertwasser, apart from the connection he has to the town of Whangarei (see here) , is his wonderful use of line and colour. Hundertwasser’s works are bright, colourful and inspiring. When I begin these art pieces with the children, we always begin by sitting and browsing through some of Hundertwasser’s creations in the many books we have. Invariably each child will be drawn to a particular piece, which we then focus our attention on; we look closely, we wonder about the story behind the picture, we dream and we imagine. When it comes to creating their own art pieces, staring at a white, blank piece of paper can be extremely daunting for many; I know as an adult that it is overwhelming as you wonder where and how to start. Questions go through your head such as ‘Will I be good enough?’, ‘What if I make a mistake?, ‘Will it turn out how I want it to?’, which is why I encourage all the children I work with to think like an artist.

Artists often take risks with their work since more will be gained by taking a risk than not. We expose ourselves to risk any time we begin a work of art (Mulcahey, 2009).

As a teacher, I see my role as one of support and I take time to reassure each child that has these concerns, especially those that are new to art. As I talk about thinking like an artist I share with children how creating art is risky, and that risk is a good thing. If you make a mistake, that’s ok, think like an artist and wonder what you can do next, what can your mistake become in your picture, it's ok to change your mind half way through your work, there is no right or wrong way to begin or to finish, and although art can sometimes be frustrating to make, you learn many things about yourself in the process. Thankfully young children listen to these concepts freely and willingly, they are non-judgemental and can happily keep an open mind about their art. Many of these stunning pieces I am sharing today started off as one thing, only to change into something else, and at times something else again, as the children’s drawing and/or painting progressed.

‘Children’s interest in making art is increased if adults encourage them to talk about art and artists – who artists are and how they make things.’ (Douglas, Schwartz and Taylor, 1981)

Here are just a few of the stunning pieces created to-date, along with the titles a few of our artists have named their picture. This process of working with all our children is lengthy but we are mindful to work in an unhurried manner, so each child is supported and feels valued in their work.

"As a child I dew like Raphael but it has taken me a lifetime to draw like a child." Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1873).


Cat Face

Lolly Pop Garden

I hope you have enjoyed reading just a small aspect of the wonder of art. I urge anyone reading to take time to explore the world of art with children. Listen to the children’s stories, follow their cues and their infectious enthusiasm; listen carefully, the children are the experts.

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see” Edgar Degas

Hei konā mai,