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A blustery storm was the last straw for Kidsfirst Cotswold’s scarecrow. Already bedraggled and weathered from three steadfast years safeguarding the kindergarten garden, the strong winds toppled him over. Who would watch over the veggie patch now?
Haumia, Rongo, Tāwhirimātea and Te Ra the sun of course! Inspired by the Māori myth and legend creation story ‘In the beginning’ (by Peter Gossage), together the tamariki and teaching team decided these mighty powers of nature could now protect and preside over their treasured garden.
Each guardian has an important and well thought out role to play - Haumia with his knowledge of wild and uncultivated foods, Rongo’s agricultural skills, Tāwhirimātea with his ability to blow the cool winds and Te Ra’s beaming hot rays.
“With the children we designed, constructed, glued and painted our new sturdy wooden guardians to stand strong atop our garden,” says Head Teacher, Kathy Harford. “This creative project tied in really nicely with the children’s ongoing interest in exploring Māori myths and legends and with our up-coming play ‘In the beginning’ to be performed for whānau at our end of year party.”
The newly assembled Māori guardians of the garden would have their work cut out for them though with not only thriving rows of vegetables to look out for - but a bunny, two chickens, two rats, some worms and a puppy too!
“Pets have been a big part of our curriculum this year,” says Kathy. “There are so many therapeutic benefits to taking care of animals and some children who don't have pets at home get to experience them at kindergarten.”
Kathy explains the funny story behind Briony the friendly rabbit who mysteriously appeared in the garden eighteen months ago and became the kindy bunny after no one claimed her. “The kids named ‘him’ ‘Brian’ but after a vet visit they discovered she was in fact a girl - so the name was promptly changed to Briony.”
Briony often roams free from her hutch during the day to seek out a pat or nibble on this or that – but is less than impressed when Teacher, Kirstyn Cook brings her puppy dog Bentley to kindergarten for a play. Their delightful chickens, Speckle and Milky often go free range too – Bentley tries to play with them, but they give him a little peck or stare him down if he gets too close for comfort!
“We have two pet rats that we keep inside called Roxy and Willow. The children really enjoy giving them a snuggle, making them obstacle courses and bathing them. We also have our very own warm incubator to hatch fertilised chicken eggs that we get from a farm - at the moment we have quail eggs,” says Kathy, “Children are absolutely fascinated to watch them hatch,” and (when the little balls of yellow fluff emerge), “you can just see the delight on their faces.”
As the chickens grow they continue to amuse the children with their many-henny ways like cleaning their soft, white feathers with a dirt bath or laying eggs in funny, silly places - like under the harakeke (flax).
Over the weekends, there’s never a shortage of families happy to pop by the kindergarten to feed and care for the chickens and bunny, while the rats head home with a different family each Friday afternoon (in their smaller travel cage) to be looked after.
“Our pets really help with our bicultural principles of tikanga, taking care of our environment and teaching respect for the natural world,” says Kathy. “We practice sustainability by feeding our food scraps to the chickens and worms, and Briony makes short work of our apple cores.”
KIDSFIRST KINDERGARTENS ARE A NOT FOR PROFIT ASSOCIATION THAT HAS DEVELOPED AND MAINTAINED KINDERGARTENS IN CHRISTCHURCH, CANTERBURY AND ON THE WEST COAST FOR OVER 100 YEARS - AS THE PLACE LOCAL KIDS COME TO LEARN, PLAY AND HAVE FUN.