The Value of Community

Why our connections matter so much.

Generations of tamariki are proud to call themselves ‘kindy kids’, and for many whānau, kindergartens are the places their first relationships with other families begin. 

Kidsfirst Hāwea Teacher, Rose Gould, says these ties between tamariki, kaiako, whānau, and local areas makes kindergarten unique.

“We wouldn’t be Kidsfirst without community – the connections just create such a safe, welcoming, and warm environment. This is where relationships are formed, whānau interact with one another, and tamariki make friends. Through kindergarten they often get to know the area, outside services, and local schools. It’s where they live and grow up.” 

Tamariki thrive in the context of close relationships, and are able to better engage in learning when they feel safe and valued. The tamaiti’s first experience of this kind of relationship is at home, and over time, and it’s a natural next step to expand their connections to include more family and friends, and then on to the community that an early learning service offers.

“This is often the first place they are left by themselves, and where they spend a majority of their day. When there’s a sense of belonging and whānau that can be a part of it, they feel secure and have trust in kaiako – and that’s when we see them succeed and really enjoy being here.”

Rose says a solid network of support is crucial for development during the early years, “Tamariki should be able to see kindergarten as a place where whānau and friends can come and share in the learning, rather than just a place they’re dropped off each day. It’s all about creating an environment where they feel as though they are a part of something, which helps build the all-important manaakitanga.”

Kidsfirst Selwyn Street Head Teacher, Gemma Cave, says community is what kindergarten is all about.

“It is the beating heart, and centre of everything we do. That’s why we are so big on building strong connections. Everything else flows on from there.”

A sense of whanaungatanga: connection with families, neighbourhoods, and kindergartens, creates a ripple effect, Gemma says.

“If children see their parents and whānau being comfortable and connected, it flows on directly to them. These engagements help build stability in a child’s world – we know that even as adults, it can be daunting to be thrown into new environments. Without a solid base you feel vulnerable.”

Kindergarten is also a great place for whānau and friends to meet and engage with one another.

“It isn’t just about the children at kindergarten – parents build relationships and create their own networks, too. This can be especially helpful for families who aren’t originally from New Zealand – this is a place where they can feel a part of something. It can be intimidating and overwhelming, particularly for those who don’t speak English as their first language, but we offer support and encourage them to join in with others – which creates a common link. We make sure to be inclusive, and bring families in, and then connect them with the local area.”

Whānau involvement in kindergarten life helps children feel more confident, “It allows them to grow much more naturally when they can see everyone has taken real interest in who they are, and where they belong,” Gemma says, “when whānau build relationships here, tamariki come and spend more time, share their experiences with us, and engage more with other children – it creates a really positive environment in the classroom”

This kind of support helps children gain a sense of personal identity and feel as though they have their own unique place in the world, Rose Gould says, “We’re part of that wider community that is all connected – there are three learning centers in the area, and children get a seamless transition – they go to their play-group, then they come to us, and then on to school – and that’s their own little community.”

At Kidsfirst Selwyn Street, they know the lay of the local land, “We have great relationships with Bishop Selwyn Lifecare Villages, and have a grandparent friend who comes and helps out once a week,” says Gemma. “The butcher shop next door hands out free sausages to the children, and we have a fantastic relationship with the local Resene shop. They often come by and see the kindy, talk to kaiako and spend time here – it’s a great way to strengthen those ties.” 

The Selwyn Street team looks for every opportunity to get out and about, and to bring the community in, “We have stalls set up at the Addington Funfair, and tamariki perform at the annual Christmas parade. Recently we hosted a Matariki celebration with food and music, where not only whānau, but also people from the community came and joined in.”

“We often organise events with Addington Primary and Sacred Heart School so that tamariki can get to know people before they head off to their more formal education. There are monthly gatherings where they invite the new families and get to know one another,” Gemma says.

Want to get more involved in your local kindergarten? From kindergarten excursions to whānau events, fundraising and working bees, here are so many ways to get connected – and so many good things can come of it. Talk with your teaching team to find out what’s coming up at your kindergarten.