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Childhood centre’s focus on nature

Carey Morris [left] and Lauren Spicer are in the business of helping raise “free range children”. PHOTO/GIANINA SCHWANECKE

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Nestled in the foothills of the Tararua Range, a new early childhood education centre is preparing to open.

Located in the former family home of manuhautu [founder] Lauren Spicer, He Pounamu Early Nurture, has a point of difference.

The journey of transforming the home where she had raised her four children and lived for more than 20 years began in 2017.

She still lives on site, upstairs with her husband and youngest son.

“We aim to be fully bi-cultural,” Spicer said.

The centre is guided by the Maori concepts of kaitiakitanga [guardianship] and whanaungatanga [building relationships].

Kihautu [head teacher] Carey Morris has 17 years of experience working with young children.

She met Spicer while they were both studying and that is where their love for kaupapa Maori was born.

“Children raised in nature, who have happy memories growing up, become eco warriors,” Morris said.

“We are going to keep it as natural as possible.”

Outside there’s soon to be a sensory garden, with plants like Lemon Verbena, where children can engage their sense of smell.

An outdoor garden encourages children to graze, as well as teaching them more about where their food comes from.

“Studies have shown that children are more likely to eat vegetables if they get to pick it themselves,” Morris said.

“We don’t have a set time for eating but will be monitoring to make sure they are getting fed.”

A pet sheep, a small herd of milking goats, ducks, and chickens of all ages and stages encourages children to be comfortable around animals.

The property is surrounded by paddocks and there is a small river nearby where the children may go on regular field trips.

Children are encouraged to get muddy – shower facilities and all-weather gear are provided.

“We had some children visiting the other day and playing in the garden,” Morris said. “They started making a confidence course.”

There’s also a strong focus on sustainability.

The children’s playthings are made up of wooden pieces, homemade playdough, and other natural resources, such as Spicer’s collection of seashells and starfish from her mother.

There’s only a handful of plastic toys, and even these, like almost everything else, have been sourced second-hand.

“There will be more teachers than you would normally see [in an early childhood education centre], to watch and guide them,” Morris said.

Seven fulltime equivalent staff members will cater for up to 30 children, 10 of which may be under two years old.

Mixed age play will be encouraged.

There’s already been a lot of interest from those involved in getting the centre off the ground.

“People don’t want to leave when they come here,” Spicer said with a laugh. “Even the parents and older siblings.”

They hope the centre will be ready to open in February after being signed off by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education.

Expressions of interest are welcome now, and more information can be found on their Facebook page, facebook.com/HePounamuEarlyNurture/ or on their soon-to-launch website hepounamu.co.nz


  1. Awesome …Out To The Barefoot Crew … Wonderful Read …Children be our Focus … Most Awesome space and Amazing Time are had There Blessings . JF Naish , @EarlyChildhoodonStafford.

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