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Learning in nature

More than 120 primary school students enjoyed a “magnificent” day at Eastwoodhill Arboretum on Wednesday.

They are in the Aurora Foundation's programme for gifted and talented children. The day had been planned some time ago but kept having to be delayed because of Covid.

Aurora Foundation Trust executive director Sunny Bush said the key focus of the arboretum visit was to provide a “spectacular extension opportunity for them to enrich their learning among the beautiful trees”.

It was a magnificent day, albeit a wet one, in a soothing setting, , Ms Bush said.

A total of 123 students from 19 primary schools, includng Wairoa and Nuhaka, attended the programme.

“The reason we ran such a big event this year was because we got held up by Covid-19 in Term One.

“We felt the programme would benefit children's wellbeing.

“Eastwoodhill is a sanctuary of thoughts, with all the trees, the arboretum and lovely walkways. It is a calming area.

The day out covered science and arts, with a creative writing programme for 43 students, and a national science programme with 80 children, focusing on conservation and sustainability.

Ms Bush said the programme was a great opportunity for the children to make new friends from various schools.

Aurora specialist creative writing teacher and trustee Sherrill Beale said the aim for the retreat under the trees at the arboretum was to “collect seeds (words) to grow into plants (poems / stories)”.

“The students were encouraged to collect as many words as possible, using their senses and trying to be specific and descriptive. Not just, seeing a green tree, for instance, but noticing the cold, rough bark of the nikau.

“The drizzly weather altered the programme a little, because we couldn't stay out under the trees as long as I had wanted, to experience seeing, smelling, hearing and touching — even the leaves didn't crunch.

“We also couldn't lie on the grassy area in the sun, absorbing the atmosphere while writing.

“However, once we were back under the dry shelter, we were able to share some of the seeds/words we collected and some students' descriptive writing.

“The drizzly conditions might have stuck the students' notebook pages together, but it didn't dampen their spirits and I look forward to our second session where we can grow their seeds into plants.”

Aurora chairman and Motu School principal Paul Cornwall, who was with the natural sciences group, said the way arboretum curator Martin Weaver explained to the children about various native trees was fascinating.

“He gave a really good analogy about how you see animals from all around the world at a zoo. In the same way, at an arboretum, you see trees from all around the world.

“He spoke to the children about why each tree was significant and how important it was to restore them.

“The kids really enjoyed being in nature, seeing colourful leaves and picking them up. They had a free space to explore nature.”

Mr Weaver said the programme traditionally focused on creative writing and using the arboretum as an inspiration for the students.

“This year Sunny decided there was an opportunity to bring together scientifically curious kids to explore the arboretum, so I took them around, showed them various native trees.

“I told them about the sense of global tree conservation — why trees were threatened and endangered, a little bit of biology, and some of the stories of trees we have here.

“The kids were pretty engaged; they enjoyed the nature and space to walk around.”

Nuhaka School student Kaelan Dalgleish (12) said his favourite part was the beautiful setting.

“I really enjoyed reading all the signs on the trees to find out their names and whether they were classed as exotic or native. Eastwoodhill inspired me and my writing.”

Another Nuhaka student, Luke Taylor, (12) said it was his first time at Eastwoodhill and he enjoyed watching the leaves blowing and hearing them crackle in the wind.

“I loved seeing the trees in all their different shapes, sizes and colours.”

Matawai School student Iris Jones said she had a calming and peaceful experience at the arboretum.

“I loved walking through all the trees. It reminded me of walking through the bush at home on our farm.

“I loved playing around with new words to describe the leaves. It was great fun meeting other kids and getting to know them.”

Matawai student Isabel Redpath said nature helped her to think and the arboretum did not seem as ordered as a garden.

“It was more natural. I felt freedom because there was so much space. It was a special experience. I would love to come back.”

Aurora Foundation is a registered charitable trust established in 2016 to deliver a higher learning programme to gifted and talented primary school students.

BACK TO NATURE: Aurora students enjoyed learning more about sustainability and conservation at Eastwoodhill Arboretum on Wednesday. Picture by Paul Rickard
INSPIRED: Some of the 123 Aurora learners at Eastwoodhill Arboretum yesterday. The rain didn't stop them enjoying their visit, which inspired the creative writing group and those studying sustainability and conservation. From left, Alec Whittingham (Makauri School), Tamati Kawhana (Riverdale), Papazann Brown (Waerenga-a-Kuri), Frank Donaldson (Central), Campbell Hulme-Moir, Baely McLean, Brooklyn Morete and Maxim Hindmarsh (all Makaraka). Picture by Paul Rickard.