IS IT COOKED? Teacher and bush school founder Stacey Marr checks on the progress of the popcorn cooked over the firepit. D8733-57

A NEW school where lessons include building tree huts, damming creeks and cooking over an open fire might sound too good to be true for some primary school students.

But as children head back to school for term three, at least eight Eastern Bay primary school children are spending one day a week doing these and many more outdoor activities.

Puaka Bush School held its first session on Wednesday this week on a six-hectare area of native bush at Manawahe. The one-day school has been created by teacher and mother of three Stacey Marr with the help of her husband Jono and three other trustees.

“We’re starting off small, with just one group, but we hope to build it up to include more groups on other days eventually,” says Stacey, who has been teaching at Matata Public School for 11 years. The school is on a property at the Manawahe end of Herepuru Road.

The first day began with a walk along a fern-lined bush track to a glade below the Marrs’ home, which is a base camp for the school. A firepit takes centre stage where the children’s first task was to build a fire using a flint and whittling sticks to cook damper.

From there, activities could include, but are not limited to, swinging from supplejack vines in the forest, building bows, mixing potions, working with mud or clay, exploring, climbing trees, searching for insects, drama and role play, feeding and milking animals and growing food. Learning about nature and becoming kaitiaki for the natural environment are a big part of what the school teaches.

However, Stacey says the learning is very much guided by the students. “It’s about providing them with opportunities to figure it out for themselves and learn through play.

The possibilities are limitless.”

Stacey came up with the idea for the school during the school holidays last year and says it has taken that long to turn that idea into a reality. As well as launching a trust, creating a learning programme and going through the process of creating a registered charity, she and Jono have been working hard to create the necessary facilities such for the students.

Puaka Bush School is a stand-alone school from the Ministry of Education, therefore does not receive any funding.

“We have recently completed the process of setting up as a charitable trust. In the future it is our goal to supplement the current fee of $60 per session with funds from other trusts.

We would love for all children to access the benefits and experience of Puaka Bush School.”
Stacey hopes funding will allow the school to grow, until she can eventually run it full time. Until then she will continue teaching part-time at Matata Public School, which she says has been very supportive of her new venture.

“We will not be a traditional school but will offer a one-day-school learning programme,” Stacey says.

This means students will attend their usual school four days a week, but one day a week they will attend the bush school. One day schools originated in the 1980s to cater for gifted and talented children but are not limited to this.

Stacey says Puaka Bush School will be available to any child. To attend, they will need approval from their school to be released one day a week.

“Our aim is to have children aged five to 12 years. However, we would like to focus on the stage a child is at in their learning and development, not their age. We also aim to have a variety of ages on any one day. Having children of different ages interact together and learn from each other is a powerful learning opportunity and provides for tuakana teina relationships (the relationship between an older and younger person) to develop and flourish.

She says the school is very well suited for children who struggle to fit between the four walls of a classroom. “It gives them a place where they don’t have to struggle, where they can grow their confidence and resilience.”

Jono adds that it would also be beneficial for children who are spending too much time indoors, in front of screens.

Stacey says she has set a limit of 14 children for each class with two adults, herself and Jono, supervising. She says there has been a lot of interest since she launched the Facebook page recently. “We have even had inquiries from a woman on the Gold Coast in Australia asking whether we run holiday programmes because she thinks it would be so good for her son.” She says it is something they will consider.

The school’s vision is founded on the acronym PUAKA, and represents values that promote the development of children who are Play-based learners; Unique individuals; Adaptable; are Kaitiaki o te taiao (guardians of the natural world) and who are Achievers.

More information of Puaka Bush School can be found on its Facebook page @puakabushschool.