Bringing Nature Into The Classroom

Conference participants (front, from left) Penni Taketa, Gina Medrano, Sandra Garcia, Marci Whitman and (back) Jerri-Lynn Walters. Coco Zickos photo

Teachers dedicated to early childhood education are sharing ways to help connect keiki to the place they live

Bringing nature into the classroom was the focus for educators at Hawai’i Association for the Education of Young Children (HAEYC) Kaua’i chapter during this year’s conference.

Volunteers including JerriLynn Walters and Gina Medrano helped preschool teachers unite last month at Kaua’i War Memorial Convention Hall to ascertain information on how to use the environment as a learning tool and become even better at what they do.

“This is where we live. It’s important for children to form a connection to where they live,” says Walters. “It gives them a sense of place.”

At “From Kalo to Keiki: Growing Up in Hawai’i,” teachers of children ages 3 to 4 were split into two groups that delved into topics from fish ponds to making poi smoothies.

The Waipa Foundation participated by creating activities that focused on mountains, land and sea. Teachers even had an opportunity to mimic a fish pond, calling attention to predators and other facets of aquatic life.

“It’s best to teach teachers how we want them to teach children,” says Medrano, “so we wouldn’t just put them in a workshop and expect them to listen to us talk all day. We have to give them opportunities to move and talk and sing and do.”

Teachers also participated in activities such as leaf lei-making and painting with lauhala.

“We know that young children learn in a very different way,” says Medrano. “It’s important that young children have an opportunity to do, not just to listen and see, but to actually do hands-on, minds-on learning.”

Perpetuating Hawaiian culture in preschool curriculum is of utmost importance to Medrano and Walters.

It’s important that children are exposed to this idea of culture,” says Medrano. “We hope that teachers leave with some real concrete ideas of how to bring this into their own classroom.”

Every year, HAEYC Kaua’i chapter holds a conference where a different topic, such as culture, music or nutrition, is chosen.

The organization was founded in Hawai’i in 1972 and is a branch of the National Association of Education of Young Children. The goal of HAEYC is to bolster the quality of early childhood programs up to age 8.

“It’s really important that teachers who are in the classroom have continuing development in education,” says Medrano, who works for East Kaua’i’s Tutu and Me Traveling Preschool. “We want to make sure that HAEYC is doing our part to serve professionals who work with children. Our goal is to make sure there are opportunities and that they continue to be excited about what they do.”

“You kind of get stuck in a rut sometimes, so it’s nice to have new ideas, new perspectives and the ability to bring a lot of quality things to children,” agrees Walters, who also works for West Kaua’i’s Tutu and Me Traveling Preschool.

And the early childhood years are so critical.

“It’s the foundation for life skills,” Medrano says. “The awesome part is that they are so enthusiastic and eager to learn new things and they learn at such a

quick rate, it would be a shame to not provide them with these opportunities to learn.”

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