A funeral for horses… an example of a learning story.

Learning stories are a magical tool in the world of early childhood education. It is through them that we perpetuate the ‘notice, recognize, respond’ cycle that is so fundamental to our emergent curriculum. Learning stories can come in many different forms and guises, from the briefest observation to a longer more reflective story complete with pictures.

Here is an example of a longer story, in which I am really trying to reflect and de construct the behaviour I noticed. My role in events was very much an observed, I was not part of the play. I had such an enlightening time observing and these three children used play to grapple with some big ideas about life and death.  It could be so easy to underestimate the true potential children have for thinking about big ideas, and how play is their manner of expressing them and working them through. However, if we shake of pre-conceived notions, and just sit and watch now and then, we may be rather surprised and how deep our small children really can go!

A funeral for horses

Sometimes when we take to the time to observe and consider the play of our children, we discover that they are ruminating on some really big concepts and ideas. 

Today it was big concepts like death, ritual and the permanence / impermanence of death that worked it’s way through Bonnie, Kauri and Lauren’s sandpit play.

The sandpit is a wonderfully popular part of our Playcentre, and provides a veritable blank canvas for so many different imaginings, ideas and activities.  Quite often, things are buried, and either retrieved soon after or left to be rediscovered at a later (sometimes much later) date. Animals are a popular choice for burial. Today, however, was the first time I witnessed our tamariki conceptualizing their burying of the animals (in this case, horses) as a funeral. 

I noticed that Bonnie, Lauren and Kauri participated in this, and they began by digging a grave for one horse, and covering over the top of it. Lauren had declared it dead, and it needed to be buried. There was no formalities or role playing around having a service, the children instead spent a good deal of time shaping the sand on top of the horse into a tomb like structure. They did this by hand and were quite particular about it, making swirls and peaks. 

Kauri then joined, and made an even bigger monument using the sand castle bucket. He decorated it with foliage a top, and Bonnie brought the second horse close to the grave. It seemed to me that she was making the second horse pay it’s respects, so to speak.  

Kauri then busted down his monument, and the horse arose from it’s grave. Bonnie declared it to be alive again, and our tamariki carried on with the rest of their sand play.

I found it interesting but not surprising that the concept of death was being incorporated into their play. Kauri has recently started asking me questions about death and dying, and piecing together the bits of his working theory on this. Some pieces come from his new found information that the eating of meat means the death of an animal has had to occur, some from his interactions with the worms and bugs and discovering that they perish if not treated right, and some from our discussions about not living forever. It is most certainly a working theory in progress.

I was intrigued to see the rituals of burial and monument making and decoration with flowers that the tamariki were exploring. There was no formal ‘service’ or the such, which suggests to me that the tamariki have a general idea about what happens to things and people that have passed on, but possibly not have concrete experience with a funeral (such as attending one) to draw upon. I can only speculate about Bonnie and Lauren, but I know Kauri is lucky enough to not have to had attended a funeral yet. 

In the end, the horse was resurrected, which suggested to me that the idea of the permanence of death is one that is still being considered and worked on by our tamariki – I know that Kauri sometimes struggles to understand the idea of permanent death, which is not surprising – it is a big topic. I answer his questions about it best I can, but find it difficult at times. 


-Leala Faleseuga


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End of session ideas

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Being a parent-run co-operative centre comes with  it’s fair share of tidying and cleaning. When session is winding down, it is the parents and guardians who take responsibility to pack away, clear up and clean up, leaving things fresh and new for another session, another day.

However, what do we do with the children?! Some aren’t ready to pack up, some are tired, some are hungry. Often it is helpful if we can gather them (or as many as will come) together to leave the parents free to attend to their tasks.

This lends itself as a perfect opportunity for story time, or music time, which are two very popular options at our centre. Generally there will be one parent or maybe the session co-coordinator, holding court with a grand selection of books to be read aloud, or some songs to sing and instruments to play. It is a nice way to wind down and close the session for the day,  some tamariki will even finally find an opportunity to delve into their lunchboxes for the first time all day, as they’ve been far too busy with playing!

Last week we tried something a bit different, and it worked a treat also! One of our centre members had downloaded and printed off some wonderful ‘Nature Treasure Hunt’ cards from Sparklebox (a great trove of free educational resources) and we used them for the first time.  The cards had nature themed items to hunt for, such as make a triangle with twigs, find five pieces of bark, find three orange flowers etc. They were wonderful in that they combined the excitement of hunting, with the educational opportunities of exploring in nature, and the numeracy, literacy and math skills needed to know how many flowers were needed, or what shape a triangle actually was etc. It also provided chances for children to work both independently or cooperatively, the choice was theirs.

We handed the cards out to our tamariki, and they enthusiastically gathered their treasures. They took the tasks very seriously, and were really proud of their achievements when they found what they needed. They worked together at times, or asked an adult for help if need be, and it kept them occupied while centre was tidied up! A success on many levels i’d say, and an activity that we will most certainly return to regularly, and extend upon.

Nga mihi,


A belated welcome to 2014!

I took a little summer hiatus , but now I’m back ! We’re settling into the new term and the new year here at Woolston Playcentre, there are new faces to welcome 🙂 and old faces to farewell 😦 but tis the cycle of Playcentre! Today on session we had messy play with paint and squeegees , ice and water play, stamps , collage, mask making , and our usual array of favourites like bikes, slides, blocks and gardening. We had lots of fun!













An early summer harvest!

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It’s officially summer here in Aotearoa……*just*. Our garden is offering up bounty already though! Our tamariki love to forage and pick in our gardens, and always put their harvest to good use someway or another!

-Images by Leala Faleseuga / @kauri

Radio New Zealand: Is formal education starting too young?

RNZ: Is formal education starting too young?

If you follow the above link, it will take you to a wonderful interview in which Dr. Sebastian Suggate and Helen May discuss the efficacy of National Standards and formal learning at a young age.

This is a wonderful interview for many reasons, well worth a listen. In the context of our centre, it really adds weight to our belief that everything our tamariki need for their early development and learning, can be found right here within Playcentre.


A fabricated play-space….

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Here are a few images from one of our sessions last week. There are photos from  here and there, but a clear focus on what was going on inside the make-shift tent out on the deck. Hence why I christened this post ‘a fabricated play-space’… haha. Very clever.

On this day, we had our usual blend of activities for our tamariki, from the play-dough, to paper craft and creature creating, to the tree biscuits, to all the outdoor favorites (swings, slides, vehicles – trajectories and movement!!!).  Just another wild and wonderful day at Woolston Playcentre.

However, we also had something new, in the form of a wonderful make-shift construction on our deck. Swathes of gauzy fabric were wrapped, hung and draped, forming what ultimately became a rather ethereal looking tent. On the floor went some newly acquired bean bags, and our newly covered cushions, along with a selection of blankets from the play-house inside. Oh how cosy it was, and beautiful too, with the riot of pink and red fabrics hanging from above. I should know as I spent a lot of time in this fabricated play-space, observing and participating in the play that was going on. I must say, it was a magical space, there is something special about being outside, in a  a handmade fort, the sky peeping through the patches of material. The children just bubbled with all sorts of wonderings and imaginings, I felt privileged to be allowed inside their creative space!

Two sisters were first to occupy the tent, and they made the rule that it was shoes off before you entered the realm. This custom was dutifully and respectfully adhered to by children who entered later. Their play revolved around sleep, I can only assume because the space was so cosy, and the soft furnishings and blankets invited rest and sleep, and were reminiscent of beds. However, they also morphed into animals, sleeping puppies and kittens, and at a later time they darted in and out of the tent, returning newly attired with costumes and wings, further embellishing their newly created world.  At one point another boy joined in, and he slipped rather seamlessly into the world and play that the sisters had created. He too played at sleep and sleeping, and the whole atmosphere was calm and rather restful. I daresay I could have nodded off in the comforting embrace of the cocooned material.

I loved observing how the children interacted with this new space, this fabricated play-space so to speak. They furnished, what was essentially some material and cushions, with a rich narrative of play. When subsequent children came and interacted with the space, they all seemed to co-operate and participate harmoniously in its use.

Isn’t it amazing to realise how little our children really need to spark their imaginations and start a narrative of play? In this case it was material and cushions.

It is easy to get caught up in the consumerist side of things, adverts imploring and berating you to buy, or daresay your child will miss out and be marginalized! But really, if we think simpler, use what’s at hand, recycle and re-use… it’s better for us all (and the environment).  We put our faith and trust back in our children, and know that they have all the tools they need to create, imagine, wonder and play!

On that note, have you ever come across tree blocks, or as we call them, tree biscuits? The can be purchased, but are also rather easy to DIY. Our ones from centre are so versatile and popular, and were just made by cutting tree branches into sections. They can either be left natural, or oiled, or varnished, maybe even painted. The possibilities are limitless.

-Leala Faleseuga 2013

-All images by Leala Faleseuga / @kauri 2013


Food for thought

Leala Faleseuga

Leala Faleseuga

This quote speaks to me as is reminds me that there is always something new to be learnt, explored, discovered and expanded upon. It fits well with my idea that the zest for exploration should (ideally) never stagnate in a person, it teaches us so much and leads us to so much learning, so many discoveries, life lessons, epiphanies. To become a life long learner, an explorer, a maker of connections, a thinker of ideas, we have to set a wonderfully rich foundation for our tamariki, and for me, this quote fits perfectly into the ethos of Playcentre. We are seeking to empower our tamariki with the knowledge that they are fantastic learners and thinkers, and giving them the tools and means to use their knowledge and innate curiosity. Sometimes, as adults, we just need to get out of the way a bit, so not to hinder the wonderful explorations that are constantly occurring!

Not everyone is lucky enough to be encouraged to autonomously discover the world when they were children. However, this quote also speaks to me of hope, and that it is never too late to reclaim the wonder of your world, reclaim the right to explore it and revel in it, to never cease making discoveries and learning.

I came across this wonderful quote via this equally wonderful book: “How to Be an Explorer of the World” by Keri Smith.

-Leala Faleseuga

-Image by Leala Faleseuga