The start of this week was Arbor day, which also fell on World Environment day. Many schools and organisations have signed up with https://www.treesthatcount.co.nz to promote their planting projects and add to the target of 4.7 million trees to be planted in 2017 - one for every New Zealander! Because it was also a holiday in New Zealand, our school completed its planting project in the week before Arbor Day.
Since the earthquakes Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery has been on a temporary site on the outskirts of the city. For the past six years we're been putting in lots of plants including natives, edibles and wildflowers. An unplanned result of turning what was an empty paddock into gardens, is that the frogs from the neighbouring pond have started coming into the school grounds to shelter and find food. The children love hearing the frogs and occasionally someone will find one and carry it around attracting lots of attention and children interested in some close-up observation.
When our school returns to the city at the end of 2018, the land, except the native planting along the fence line, will be returned to a paddock, with all our plants removed and re-homed. We've started making long-term plans for our frogs by increasing the planting along the fence line and looking at ways we can create areas for them to shelter in and find food once we're gone.
This week we added 160 natives plants, courtesy of Trees for Canterbury, to the ones that were planted six years ago, when we first arrived on the site. The children were surprised that the large trees and bushes they play in now were the same size six years ago as they ones they were planting. Many seemed to realise the long-term significance of what they were doing.
What looks like just a line of trees to the adults at school, is a wilderness to the students. There are well worn trails and evidence of their play throughout. One of the wee boys in my Garden Explorers group loves the trees along the fence line, which he calls 'The Forest'.
This week I was privileged to receive an invitation from him to view his 'house'. He proudly showed me the way to the entrance and showed me inside. As he started showing me around I recognised the look on his face from times when people have stopped by my house unexpectantly to find me with dishes all over the counter or laundry piled up - happy to have guests but unsure how they'll view the 'lived-in' look. He looked slightly embarrassed to show me his 'living room' and then mentioned that it was a little 'messy and rusty' and that he really needed to tidy. When we'd established that a little clutter was fine in a house and that he hadn't really been expecting visitors anyway, he went on to show me his TV, which was a gap in the trees where he could see the rest of the playground, his hallway, bedroom and even a backdoor. He also disclosed that it wasn't just his house but also his workplace and that his job was fixing dead robots.
What might look like a jumble of materials and could easily fall prey to adults tidying and carrying out Health and Safety tasks, was actually a carefully crafted game which he went back to every break time.
I love how our school has allowed students access to this planted area. There have been damaged trees and smaller ones that have been unintentionally trampled but the benefits have far-outweighed the negative and the majority of the plants have grown so tall now that the children's play doesn't impact them.
There's a movement that states, 'nature can take it', outlining the importance of children getting off the trails, exploring and yes, occasionally damaging nature. There's the belief that conservationists, environmentalists, scientists, artists and others are created by this direct and sometimes messy experience of nature - a love affair developed by direct and unstructured experience.
This week, Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery added to the goal of 4.7 million trees to be planted this year in New Zealand, but also worked towards helping our frogs and perhaps, unintentionally, our children's connection to nature.