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Early childhood education in the outdoors in Aotearoa New Zealand
Indigenous Māori worldviews can give meaning and contextualized authenticity to forest school approaches in early childhood education in Aotearoa, New Zealand
This article draws on the experience and research of two scholars of early childhood care and education in critiquing the introduction of forest school approaches into early childhood education settings in Aotearoa, New Zealand. The article also presents and discusses critical early childhood scholarship relating to the emergence of the forest school movement in Aotearoa. An issue addressed in this scholarship relates to how the imported Scandinavian/European/UK models of forest schools might – or might not -- fit within traditional Indigenous Māori worldviews.
Distinctive features of Māori culture include a strong connectedness to place and a deep spiritual relationship with the natural world. These values are reflected in the national early childhood curriculum and the Enviroschools program. There are currently 1000 schools and 200 early childhood centers in New Zealand implementing the Enivroschools program. Preschool children attending Enviroschools participate in a wide range of sustainability-focused activities, such as food production, biodiversity enhancement, waste minimization, food production, and water conservation.
The authors express a concern about of how teachers traveling from Aotearoa to the UK to study Forest School pedagogy might return to perpetuate colonial legacies. Such legacies tend to romanticize ideals around the beauty of wild places and position humans as outsiders observing nature. Such views are not consistent with traditional Indigenous Māori worldviews. The authors’ concerns seem to be legitimate. They see little evidence of imported forest school models making pedagogical connections with the historical, cultural and spiritual meanings that forests and other aspects of the natural environment may carry. They are hopeful, however, that the adoption of the newly revised early childhood curriculum (Te Whāriki) will prove influential in making traditional Māori worldviews and understandings of the environment integral to the education of young children in Aotearoa. Such worldviews and knowledges can give meaning and contextualized authenticity to forest school approaches as they are introduced into Aotearoa’s early childhood educational system.