The Enviroschools programme isn’t just for primary schools, we have one youth group and two early childhood centres signed up to the programme here in the Queenstown Lakes District. The way that I work with the early childhood centres is slightly different to how I deal with the others, but none the less, it is just as nourishing and rewarding.

Queenstown Montessori signed up to the programme about 18 months ago and the work they have done is incredible. Alex the key teacher there is amazing! She has some awesome ideas and translates them into superb action projects with the young people heavily involved in them, as well as their parents and other community groups within Queenstown.

After running our Reflection Process workshop earlier this year they were keen as mustard to reflect upon their journey and go for Bronze. I had a chat with Jan Cox, the person on the National Team who had designed and led much of this new process about how to go about reflecting with an early childhood centre. It seemed to me that it would be slightly different than the process we used with QPS a few months ago, but hopefully similar enough to be able to use that process as a successful guiding model.

After a couple of pre-reflection sessions with Alex, the day came when I was to visit Montessori and reflect with them about their journey. We decided upon a morning session so I could see for myself the way the young people started their day and then Alex and I could could find a space to reflect in.Finishing the morning with a tour of the centre and outside spaces with the students as our guides.

I believe that the principles behind Montessori and Te Whariki fit really well with the Enviroschools programme beautifully. This was evident from the moment I stepped through the door.  Greeted with a display of ‘Welcome’ in languages from across the world and a student roster board in English and Te Reo, showing fantastic support of the ES guiding principles Respect for Diversity of People and Culture as well as Maori Perspective.

As the students arrived there was a really calm and relaxed atmosphere in the centre. They checked out who was on duty for the morning, making sure that the hand towels were folded neatly into a basket and taking charge of preparing morning tea. I could hear a faint karakia being said by the two boys preparing their kai. The rest of the students made themselves comfortable on mats on the floor and at tables as they got on with some amazing experiential educational games. All of the furniture and games are made out of non toxic wood and are beautifully crafted together. It was such an inspiring place to be and I relished meeting these confident and articulate young people. There was a definite feeling of curiosity from them as to who I was, but they weren’t phased, quite the opposite in fact, they were very engaging and really wanted me to share their mornings activities with them.

I was having a wail of a time but I could tell that time was ticking and Alex and I needed to start the process. There is a fabulous break out space in the centre where we were to set up our Reflection Camp. This meant that we would have our own space but also be around the young people enabling us to share their energy. As Alex and I laid out the flip charts headed with the different guiding principles, time line, postIt notes and coloured pens, it wasn’t long before curiosity got the better of the students and one by one they came to join us.

I was foolishly under the impression that it would be just Alex and I that went through the time line, writing down information about the action projects and placing it on the corresponding GP. Sometimes I just love it when I’m wrong, we soon had a team of helpers who really backed up the evidence I being shown from the detailed scrap books that they keep. I was totally blown away with what they remembered about the projects. I’m not sure there could have been better evidence of true student empowerment than hearing about these projects directly form these young people. It was in their language, riddled with passion as they reflected upon them. It was obvious how much they love the work that they do in terms of Enviroschools and their education at Montessori, learning can be so much fun when it’s done in such and engaging an empowering way.

I heard about parent evenings and sessions where they brainstormed their visions for sustainable action projects within school. The students voice was also sought to back up these plans and then tweaked so the visions fitted everyone’s desires. Celebrations of different cultural events making the most of the nutritious kai that is actively grown, harvested, prepared & eaten at school. Tales of parents that came in to share stories about their cultures. The recycling systems in place, not only for materials but also for their organic waste feeding their worms to help feed their edible gardens. Boy oh boy are the edible gardens popular. Everyone loved growing veges, watching them grow into seedlings and then planting them out in the many planter boxes outside and witnessing them grow day by day into gorgeous vegetables. As they are harvested karakia are said and sung then everyone enjoys sharing them not only between themselves but with others invited to one of their many celebration days. I think I could go on for hours about all the amazing actions and learning for sustainability programmes that are in place here.

The flip charts started to fill up with post it notes and I had no trouble getting helpers to put the postIt’s onto the corresponding GP. One boy even figured out that it would be much easier to number the charts, so he picked up a pen and got on with it. Amazing!

With this part of the morning complete it was time for a tiki tour of the outside area. First stop, one of the many raised beds. Due to the time of year they were most definately dormant, but excited voices were telling me about what had grown there and what would be growing there again very soon. And with no veges to disturb it was definately time to play hunt the worm.

Their worm farm is next to the vege garden and it was hard for me to hear about how they were fed as pretty much everyone wanted to tell me the way they do it. So much excitement and enthusiasm for ensuring that their organic waste goes into the correct waste stream.

One of their most recent projects is to build a woven archway between two raised beds. The frame has been made from bamboo and the then you can see the start of the archway being woven from willow and secured with harakeke. If only I could find the time to make something like this in my garden. I’m also thinking that this construction method would make a fabulous raised bed frame.

One of the ideas to come out of the parent and student vision processes was to build a tree house for the young fellas to hang out in. A couple of Dads helped out with the construction and the results are awesome. As we stand at this end of the outside space, we can see a balancing beam made from reclaimed material and a window that has been placed into the fence so that the students can watch and feed the ducks that live on the stream that passes by their centre. There are swings from the trees made from old tires. What a place to start your education.

With our tour complete it was time to head back inside and have a discussion about the descriptive paragraph. Alex had already spoken with the students about what it meant to be an Enviroschool, the display of the wall was evident that they really got it. We went through the paragraph slowly and discussed the words and if they fitted with what’s happening at Queenstown Montessori……the answers were a resounding YES! Well done to you all for such fabulous and hard work along your journey towards sustainability, I think you are an inspiration to all.