Kaimahi for Nature Connection Project reaches Te Tai Poutini tamariki

by Bree Arnott

Whenua Iti have recently run the first Tamariki Tiaki Nature Connection Programmes for Westport North, Westport South & St Canice’s Schools

The programmes are designed to connect tamariki to environmental sites of local significance by focusing on nature connection experiences that are fun and engaging for the students, but also align with the school curriculum to enhance classroom learning. The Westport students participated in activities such as grass whistle blowing, predator tracking, stream testing, tree planting, drinking bush tea and listening to a local Māori pūrakau (story) to help them connect with, and learn about, the very special Martins Creek Wetland.  . 

These programmes fit into the wider Kaimahi for Nature Connection project that received Jobs for Nature funding through the Department of Conservation (DOC) to provide nature connection experiences to as many tamariki and rangatahi in schools, iwi and community groups as possible within the Te Tau Ihu and Northern Tai Poutini regions. The programmes have received additional funding from Unlocking Curious Minds, as they are designed to spark curiosity and interest in local environments, weaving in both traditional understanding and matauranga māori wherever possible. “After all the time by our team to scope and design these programmes, it was great to finally put them into action and to receive such wonderful support from other local organisations and individuals to make it all come together,” said Dana, the Project Lead for Whenua Iti.

Rosey Joyce, the lead instructor from Whenua Iti who facilitated the programmes, was especially grateful to have the resounding enthusiasm and support for the programmes from locals who volunteered their time to be part of the programme days. ”It was fantastic to have Jenny Chandler and Pete Graham from the Westport DOC office, and ecologist Richard Nichol, contribute their local knowledge and provide welcome support on these programmes. Working in with others who are really passionate about their local environment here ultimately benefits the learning of local tamariki,” she says. 

Jenny agrees wholeheartedly as to the benefits of working together. “It was wonderful to see the primary-school aged kids of Westport so engaged and excited about their local environment. The Whenua Iti Instructors created an engaging and fun atmosphere where the kids were primed for learning. This type of collaboration between the outdoor education experience and skills of Whenua Iti and the local ecological knowledge of our DOC staff really helps deliver the best experience for our local kids.”

Craig Adams, a teacher from Westport South School, feels the place-based learning outdoors in this context was highly valuable to the children.

“The highlight was the connection between science and nature. Students were able to engage in experiential learning in environs right on our doorstep. Without a doubt, it is something we will look to engage in consistently to enhance our local curriculum.” 
– Craig Adams

Future programmes are already planned with Karamea School later in the year, as part of a whole school programme to connect with the Ōpārara Lagoon that they are kaitiaki of. The senior school will extend their learning to explore the Ōpārara River from source to sea. “We are looking forward to working together with Enviroschools and the Department of Conservation to share our knowledge and skills in the delivery of these programmes,” says Dana, “There is a lot of cross-over between our organisations in the education space, we all bring something different, and it just makes sense to collaborate towards achieving the best outcomes for learners and ultimately for the environment and community too.” 

In addition to the nature connection programmes, Whenua Iti are also working with secondary schools and local community organisations to offer other programme opportunities to the West Coast communities, including new holiday programmes based from both Westport and Greymouth, a new in-school adventure programme to help give rangatahi a boost and the existing Trades Academy programmes that are offered to West Coast Trades Academy Partner schools. “We are so much more effective when we work together with schools, community organisations and iwi who are already strongly connected with the community here as part of a collaborative effort to uplift local youth. Whenua Iti can bring highly trained and experienced instructors who are qualified to deliver outdoor programmes in a way that enables children to feel safe and supported enough to give new things a go. It’s through these shared challenges that we see young people walk away from our programmes a little taller,” says Mark Bruce-Miller, the General Manager at Whenua Iti.

Our team, instructors and admin staff alike, have had such a warm welcome on the coast whenever we have been, we look forward to having a regular presence in Te Tai Poutini to support the community by engaging youth and schools in the outdoors through a range of cultural, adventurous & environmental experiential learning opportunities. 

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