Bear Park X Enviroschools

What inspired you to get involved with the Enviroschools programme, and how does it align with Bear Park’s values and vision?

Enviroschools is a nationwide programme supported by Toimata Foundation, founding partner Te Mauri Tau, and a large network of regional partners. First established in 1993, Enviroschools now involves more than 1,000 schools and early childhood centres across Aotearoa, New Zealand.

It was wonderful to be invited to join the programme in 2022 as the Enviroschools Kaupapa so strongly and authentically connects with our Bear Park philosophy, values and vision. These collectively emphasise ecological perspectives of interconnectedness and the importance of nurturing people and nature through deeply respectful, meaningful relationships with the communities and environment in which we live.

Over the past years, as a group, we have been on a journey towards nurturing our ecological future and so Enviroschools offers us the opportunity to really embody this vision in all areas of our practice.

How do you introduce the Enviroschools concept to the children at Bear Park, and what kind of activities or projects do they typically participate in?

Enviroschools key concepts weave naturally throughout our programme as they are strongly aligned with our national early childhood curriculum Te whāriki and the inspirations that we draw from the Reggio Emilia approach.

Enviroschools will look different within each of our centres as it is responsive to their unique place and communities. However, across all Bear Park centres tamariki actively engage with their natural environment alongside kaiako in experiences such as planting edible gardens, caring for worm farms or simply finding joy in connecting with papatuanuku.

Indigenous knowledge and Maori perspectives are respectfully and meaningfully woven throughout all areas of our practice.

To promote sustainable practices and a culture of inquiry, our environments are carefully provoked with invitations for tamariki to creatively explore natural resources, and investigate the unlimited potentials of recycled materials to construct their own working theories about the world around them.

Through collaboration and working alongside one another as a group we celebrate diversity, listen to different perspectives and develop our understandings of empathy, social responsibility, manaakitanga and positive ways of being that nurture sustainable communities.

What kind of support and resources do you receive from the Enviroschools network, and how does this help you to implement the programme effectively?

The vision of creating healthy, peaceful, more sustainable communities involves bringing together many different skills, perspectives and resources that has been woven over 20 years to create a robust support model. We have our own Bear Park facilitators who receive ongoing mentoring from an Enviroschools National Coordinator who specialises in the early childhood education space. Our facilitators then guide and support the empowerment of teachers with the Enviroschools programme in each of our centres.

Enviroschools offer a comprehensive suite of resources that help guide us in our journey.

Our facilitators and key teachers are part of the whole Enviroschools learning community who regularly share ideas and initiative with one another, providing peer support and collaboration opportunities across the regional networks.

Can you share an example of a particularly successful Enviroschools project that Bear Park has undertaken, and what kind of impact did it have on the children and the wider community?

Over the past year all Bear Park centres have been involved in investigative learning with the shared intent of Awakening our Relationships with Rakau (Trees). We chose this focus as trees are a vital presence that sustain life in our community. We talk a lot about the importance of our relationship with trees, and so we felt it important to take time to encounter them with respect, empathy, affection and a nurturing attitude to really get to know them, and see trees as a living being that are in desperate need of our care.

Through their investigative learning many of our tamariki, teachers and whanau alike developed a deep sense of interconnection with rākau, either within our centre or within their wider community like a local ngahere.

Earlier this year we also responded to the needs of our communities following the devastating flooding in New Zealand. Many of our centres hosted events to raise much needed funds such as market day with tamariki selling honey from our centre’s bee hives. Creating artwork through these experiences children develop a strong sense of social responsibility, and opportunity to explore the impact of their actions on others and the world around them. They also develop the value of kotahitanga, the importance of working together to achieve a common goal and the value of giving back to their community.

How do you involve parents and caregivers in the Enviroschools journey, and what kind of feedback have you received from them about the programme?

Our Bear Park whanau share similar aspirations for their children to grow in a healthy, peaceful and sustainable environment so they are very supportive of our involvement in the programme. At the heart of our philosophy are relationships and partnering with whanau, so we invite them to contribute their different skills, knowledge, cultures and experiences. For example sharing cultural practices and celebrations that are important to them such as Lunar New Year, welcoming whanau to join us in connecting with our local community such as bush walks or up the maunga, or developing knowledge of sustainable practices through visiting initiatives like the zero waste project.

How do you ensure that the Enviroschools approach is age-appropriate and engaging for young children, and what kind of adaptations do you make for different age groups at Bear Park?

The Enviroschool principle of empowered students resonates with Bear Park’s image of the child as strong and rich in potential and resources right from the moment of birth. All tamariki are enabled to participate in ways that are meaningful to them.

What kind of partnerships or collaborations have you formed with local organisations, businesses, or community groups to support your sustainability efforts?

We have our own recycling centre where we share resources that kaiako, whanau and many local businesses donate to support our sustainable practice of reduce, reuse and recycle.

How do you see the Enviroschools programme evolving in the future, and what kind of new approaches or innovations do you hope to implement at Bear Park in the coming years?

Enviroschools is a journey, and as the journey progresses our knowledge, experience and practice increases in depth and breadth. We are committed to deepening our understanding of the Enviroschools kaupapa so that it is embedded in all aspects of our philosophy, vision and values.

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