Inspiration for 2023: Learning with Te Taiao | Nature

Explore the possibilities for using nature as your classroom

This Spotlight includes ideas for kaiako working at all levels, from early childhood through to secondary education. Our 2022 national conference explored the theme of connection to place, nature and each other from a range of perspectives. The presentations we have highlighted in this collection are focused on supporting teachers to implement local research, effective pedagogy and authentic contexts into their learning programmes.

Listen to honest and inspiring stories from educators who are passionate about providing regular, integrated opportunities for ākonga to connect with te taiao and lead positive action for their local places.

A key theme that runs throughout these stories is the importance of establishing relationships with the wider community and reaching out for support from external providers. You can search for organisations and programmes in your local area by using the Providers section of our website, which can be filtered by region or context.

Grounding Learning in Te Ao Māori and Local Histories

Justice Hetaraka (Ngāti Wai) co-founded HĀ – History of Aotearoa in 2019, to develop education programmes that use art and indigenous pedagogy to teach local history. HĀ’s goal is for tamariki and kaiako to safely engage in our history and be empowered to contribute to our future with a deeper connection to the whenua and to themselves. She shares examples from their programmes and emphasises the meaning and importance of whakapapa to help understand the history of people and places, in order to move forward in an equitable, appropriate and positive way.

Benefits and Integration of Nature Based Education

Experienced educator and researcher Thea DePetris shares insights from her recent research with environmental educators across Aotearoa. Her presentation is a great starting point to set the scene for discussions with your colleagues, including an exploration of what is meant by 'nature based education' and 'nature connection', why it is so important and how to get started, with support from external providers and the wider community.


If you want to dive deeper into some of these ideas, Thea shared some useful links at the end of her presentation, including:

- Effective Approaches to Connect Children with Nature
, by Carla Wilson, Department of Conservation NZ.
- Children and Nature Network
resources from North America, including infographics on the benefits of learning in nature.
- Outdoor Classroom Day Muddy Hands Report
, with outcomes and benefits from programmes and events in Australia.

Early Learning Educators

If your early learning centre is investigating nature excursions, we recommend watching the short videos below (note these are not from our conference but have been shared online by Storypark and DOC).

- Imagine a Classroom Without Walls
- Dr Anne Meade, Daisies Early Education Centre | Storypark (7 mins)
- Benefits of Teaching and Learning in Nature
- Featuring ECE and schools from Porirua | Department of Conservation (3 mins)

You could also read the Environmental Kinship guide, published by experienced ECE educators from Aotearoa, Scotland and the USA.

Primary and Intermediate Educators

Bianca Woyak teaches at Burnside Primary School and facilitates hands-on environmental science projects with students of all levels, to explore and take action for their local places. Covering a wide range of examples, she explains how they got started, where teachers can find support and the joy of seeing students truly engaged with their learning. Bianca is grateful for the programmes and providers who have supported their projects, including the opportunity to combine professional development with student sessions through the fully funded Field-Based STEM programmes.  

Victoria Bernard works for Garden to Table and is also a primary school teacher. In her presentation she shares stories from schools around Aotearoa who are empowering students to view 'waste' differently and integrate all the stages of growing, harvesting, celebrating and recycling food and nutrients in their schools and wider community. Covering a wide range of learning areas, Victoria offers specific examples and easy starting points for wherever you are on your journey.

Secondary Educators

Kate Rivers teaches at Rangi Ruru Girls School and is joined by Year 12 students Harriette and Lottie, sharing examples of cross-curricular, student-led learning in the school and wider community. Connection to nature and place in adolescence should focus on opportunities for students to explore issues and places that are important to them, allowing for independence, empowerment and wellbeing benefits. These stories from Rangi Ruru provide a range of possible starting points for secondary schools to explore, with specific advice about timetabling, collaborative planning and other common obstacles.

You could also watch this recent talk from 14-year old Nate Wilbourne at TEDxNelson: The Importance of Connecting Youth with Nature

Resources