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Forest school taking root

Mania Kindergarten visited the forest school in May. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

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It is hoped Wairarapa children will soon be swapping walls for trees and whiteboards for flowing streams as the Wairarapa Forest School nears its official opening.

For the past two years, Hella Coenen has taken school and early childhood groups through her 97 hectare Mikimiki Rd property, where children learn to love the outdoors.

Hella Coenen

Coenen is getting quotes for a health and safety consultant with a view to launching the school officially from early spring.

Coenen, who spent 15 years as an early childhood teacher in Hawke’s Bay, said forest schools had become a hot topic.

More than 5000 people signed a petition in support of enabling outdoor education licences to be issued for early childhood providers, and it was presented to parliament last week.

“I think the aim is getting children to love nature before getting them to save it,” Coenen said,

“There’s so much that they hear that is worrying now, but to be a part of that natural environment that is loving and safe makes a huge difference.”

Like the native trees growing on her property, Coenen’s idea for the Wairarapa Forest School took root many years ago.

“It was seven or eight years ago that we had a visitor from Denmark, who came to stay, and she’d started an open-space early childhood centre in Copenhagen.

“My experience as an early childhood teacher meant it was almost a natural progression.”

Groups of children learn to whittle sticks, cook damper, build huts, and fairy houses, look for koura [fresh water crayfish], learn about horse care, and cut up vegetables for their lunch.

The forest school also teaches pupils who pass through to identify and plant native trees, produce art and weaving, and it also integrates te reo in many of its activities.

Coenen said that in everything the children do there is an element of play.

“They’re either doing the activities or playing.

“There’s a bog, they’re able to dig, or there’s a climbing tree.

“After two hours the kids have done a bit of everything, then we say karakia, have soup and then there’s a story related to the seasons.”

Coenen said forest schools had a whole extra column added to their health and safety plans which outlined the ‘risk benefits’ kids will encounter.

“The normal bumps and bruises and cuts and the odd broken bone is all part of learning, really, [but] we try and diminish that by removing that wood or something that could fall out of trees.

“The kids are always monitored by us, but a few risks can be good.”

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