Ka tū ahau ki ngā tahataha o Okareka. Ka tiro ake au ki te maunga whakaruruhau, ko Tarawera.
I stand on the shores of Okareka. I look up at the protective mountain, Tarawera.
Ko tēnei taku mihi ki ngā tangata whenua o te rohe nei.
I acknowledge the indigenous people of this land.
I wehe ōku tīpuna mai i a Kotirana me Engarangi, ā i tae mai ki te Wairarapa. Kua tau taku ngākau ki Rotorua – ko tēnei tōku kainga inaianei.
My tīpuna departed Scotland and England, arriving in Wairarapa. My heart has settled in Rotorua – this is now my home.
Ko Donald tōku pāpā, ko Diane tōku māmā.
Ko Martin tōku hoa tāne.
Ko Bryanna tōku tamahine.
Ko Gayle Croft ahau.
Tēnā koutou kātoa.
Ko te pae tawhiti whāia kia tata
ko te pai tata whakamaua kia tina
Pursue the distant pathways of your dreams so they may become your reality.
My pathway as an educator has always been linked very closely to Papatūānuku and the natural world. The importance of connecting tamariki with nature is something I have always been passionate about and that passion has been the driving force behind a lot of my mahi.
I began my teaching journey as a primary school teacher, heading off on my OE soon after qualifying. I spent the next two years teaching in some rather challenging London schools, where the entire outside space consisted of a concrete pad. It upset me to see these children struggle in an environment that seemed almost completely devoid of nature.
I returned home to Aotearoa and not long afterwards I welcomed my beautiful daughter into the world. Becoming a mother drew me into early childhood education and so began my dream to create an environment for children, which allowed them to be immersed in nature. The idea to create a nature-based early childhood centre came from a weekend away with other teachers, pondering the question, ‘If you could create your own centre what would it look like?’ My daughter, Bryanna was at the heart of all my answers. There would be trees to climb, chickens to feed and huge gardens to grow plants in and to explore. It would look and feel like a home.
Tiaki, which opened in 2008, was established with the over arching philosophy of “Walk softly on the Earth” and it was here that I began to turn my nature-based, ‘home away from home’ dream into a reality.
Over the past thirteen years, Tiaki has evolved and grown. We have built a strong relationship with Ngati Te Roro o Te Rangi our local hapū, established a successful place based education programme, developed a vegan menu our tamariki and whānau love, and have been committed to our para kore/zero waste kaupapa.
These changes and developments happened over time through fostering a collaborative, distributed leadership style, following our hearts and by not being afraid to disrupt the ordinary and routine.
In 2018, I took a break from work. I wanted to travel again and I wanted to spend some time doing things I’d always wanted to do but was always too busy to. I challenged myself to complete the Coast to Coast race with my husband. This involved running, cycling and kayaking across the South Island from Kumara to Christchurch, over Arthur’s Pass. When we entered the event, we had absolutely no idea if it was possible for us to complete, learning the intricacies of road biking and gaining a white water kayaking certificate were just a couple of the challenges we faced. What the journey taught me is that when I am courageous, if I persist when things get hard and when I trust in those around me, incredible things can happen. I am finding that in growing these dispositions, it is helping me to be a better teacher.
We then travelled to Europe. We visited family in England and spent four months WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. My love of gardening was reignited over there.
During this time I also visited and made connections with educators and centres who also understood the need for tamariki to connect with nature. I spent days in the forest with other educators just as passionate as me about quality education and saw that children all over the world find similar wonder in nature. I attended a four day study tour, N.O.M.E (Nordic outdoor models of education) in Denmark and then flew to Chicago to support my colleague who was presenting at the World of Wonder (WOW) conference, sharing Tiaki’s place based education journey.
I returned to New Zealand refreshed and inspired and ready to share the mahi that we do with others. We have now presented at a number of conferences throughout Aotearoa, on place based education, nature play, para kore and vegan kai for kids. Sharing our experiences and supporting others has been very rewarding.
Tiaki has been awarded the Health and Well Being prize in the Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards and has also been acknowledged through receiving the Innovation Award in the UNESCO Awards in Global Citizenship Education.
My pathway has now lead me to ELP, where I am very excited to have the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience and continue to learn alongside other passionate educators.