Talking Tree hill is that magical space where imagination, education and childhood come alive!
Based on beautiful Waiheke Island and nestled into 18 acres of farm, bush and forest this creative outdoor educational facility is home to childhood possibilities and dreams. It's authentically ‘child like’ and robust in its vision for educational change. We simply look at the whole child, and what that child needs to thrive.
Talking Tree Hill is an ‘enhancer’ to the school curriculum and to families' choices around educating their children. We offer 1 day schools, online programmes, professional development, research, holiday and after school programmes around creative nature based experiences. It’s a social enterprise on purpose. And 2020 has meant that this purpose has been challenged non-stop as a small locally owned zero waste business! But we know how important this concept is, and how much we want to support children, parents, teachers in schools throughout Aotearoa with mind, body and planet health.
It’s time to re-generate education and talking tree hill is all about that!
A little background...
Me (Kirsten Simmons) is the visionary behind this innovation. My career has been dedicated to the arts,science, creativity and mind/body health of children, teachers, schools and the planet. I grew up on a farm in South Canterbury and my love for the nurturing power or the outdoors started here. After 20+ years of teaching, travelling and (my biggest job) of being Mum I knew it was time to do things differently. So I developed Talking Tree Hill...healthy children - healthy planet. These simple words form the basis of how we can all thrive now and in the future.
I came back to New Zealand after teaching in England, Italy, Taiwan and Singapore and had some realizations. I had taught in many places and spaces, been part of numerous projects with amazing people. I wanted something different for my children's education.
I teach through a combination of different types of education: reggio, steiner, nature, yoga, Te Ao Maori and place based education. I’m influenced by Dr Seuss, the green school, many artists, and the amazing early childhood document Te Whariki. I realized it can all work as one. When we combine different parts of each pedagogy they reflect more of the whole-istic nature and style of how children learn. All these ideas, strategies, philosophies and interests experienced combine to create learning that compliments the NZ education system.
In Aotearoa we have an amazing curriculum for children to learn and develop. BUT it needs to be enhanced to add more creativity, and use our beautiful outdoors as another classroom or teacher. We have the most incredible resources at our fingertips and the most powerful way of learning through the whenua. So the Talking tree Hill ethos was born. And our research in action began.
The Talking Tree Hill ethos enhances and allows childrens learning to thrive through exploring and grounding the core competencies of the NZ curriculum through integrated meaningful play.
We focus on nature education, art, plant education, music, yoga/mindfulness, Te Ao Maori, story/drama and tinkering/making as tools to nourish children's growth. Everyone is creative, curious, explores and needs to communicate. We provide the space to do this.
In this overscheduled, media driven world Talking Tree Hill is that escape back to childhood where there is time to be an imaginer, and have educational freedom.
This educational freedom has become so important to children as often their busy lives don't allow time just to be. I see it with my own children and am super aware that this must be woven into my crazy life !
Children keep telling me they want more freedom to learn. Not structured into increments of time, but freedom to do it in their own way whilst still learning what they need too.
We have a daily blackboard practise that frames our educational flow for the day. The kaiko and children offer what they want to learn and teach - and where they want to do this on the property. We write this on the board and follow it...it's hugely empowering for all. Now, the continuous response each week? they ask for freedom...freedom to move, to talk, to express to create their own ideas. So we listen to that. We are continually blown away with what the children come up with in their learning, as kaiako we need to get out of the way of their learning, add to their curiosities with our own specialist skills. None of this is easy and has challenged my own educational values and beliefs at times but the results are undeniable. We are growing happier, more resilient children steeped in the knowledge that their own self worth is paramount.
It's an artform to teach and learn like this. And, I am continually grateful to the kaiako that surround Talking Tree Hill as they know how to make childrens learning fun, meaningful and meet the core competencies of the school curriculum at the same time.
We are dedicated to research in action. The space was built with children designing, creating and making the different areas of the property with the kaiako. This is also evident in our two year “Green Play Day” research project based in 3 schools on Waiheke Island. The project aims to get a “day of outdoor creative learning and outdoor classrooms” into every school throughout Aotearoa. The simplicity of the teaching and learning and advocacy of the creative arts, outdoor play and hands on experiential learning means children flourish in all parts of their learning. Look out for us online in February 2021 when we launch our next big project into primary schools throughout Aotearoa.
We hope when you read this you will come visit us on Waiheke for a day, or advocate to your child's school for more creativity, innovation and outdoor classrooms. We know that this style of learning is so important for the mind healthiness of our tamariki and kaiako and we hope you will join us to reimagine and regenerate education today!