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Paeroa preschoolers get back to nature

Tamariki Station is not your usual childcare centre.

Nestled at the base of a hill on the outskirts of Paeroa, the brand new purpose-built, centre allows children to roam and play in 14 acres of nature.

Just outside a large enclosed outside play area at the centre, teachers are able to take children through the gate to explore the rest of the rural property, which includes large trees, hills, paddocks, a stream and a firepit.

Owner Erin Staples said her dream was to build a place where under fives could learn through “nature play”.

“Currently, we’re training all our teachers in nature play, which is going out into nature and exploring the natural environment,” she said.

“We have a free-play philosophy, which is all about the children being provided with an environment where they can use it to their own interests.”

Nature play helps children develop emotionally and socially and it also helps them learn how to manage risks, be resilient and use their imagination, she said.

“They learn to think outside the box – you give them a slide and they use the slide but if you give them a plank, it can be a million things.”

Centre manager Jackie Williams said the children were loving the nature play.

“It’s just really good to see them out and about, to burn their energy, to explore and to use their imagination,” she said.

After three years in the making, the Ainslie Rd centre was scheduled to be opened in March, but because of the Covid-19 shutdown, its doors didn’t open until June. The centre is licensed for 50 children and currently has about 30 enrolled. It caters for children from birth to 5 years and their full-time cook provides home-made lunches and afternoon teas. The large new building offers plenty of space for babies and toddlers, with a separate space for older children. 

Miss Staples, who has been an early childhood teacher since 2003, managed an early childhood centre in Thames for many years before transforming a home in Station Rd, Paeroa, into the Tamariki Station childcare centre six years ago. 

She was inspired to open the second centre in Ainslie Rd by her two children, Shanna and Kyle, now 11 and 9-years respectively, who enjoyed the benefits of growing up on their lifestyle block in Turua.

“I can remember my kids getting up on the weekends and they’d be out in the drains in their pyjamas at home and just loving it – and you kind of think that’s what childhood should be about,” she said.

“I wanted to provide those opportunities to others as well.”

PHOTO: Enjoying the great outdoors at Tamariki Station are, from left: Jethro Wilton, 3, owner Erin Staples, Dani Magon, 3, teacher Sarah Hall, with Demi Wilton, 1, and manager Jackie Williams with her daughter Ayrabella-Rose Williams, 1.