Sophia Preschool Visit
Footsteps in Aotearoa New Zealand and moments of joy at Sophia preschool.
By Chris Bayes
Fran Paniora and I visited Sophia Preschool recently. A small centre situated in the seaside village of Oakura, 20 minutes from New Plymouth. After being in contact with Adrienne, who set the centre up with her husband Ian, off and on now for over 3 years, I was unsure of what was waiting for us. Our emails had certainly tantalised my thinking about what might be… with stories of investigations, worries, questions and the never ending niggles of ‘are we on the right track?’.
Nothing prepared me for the joy that I would feel when I walked through the front door. Immediately a peaceful feeling enveloped me – and yes there were children present. I immediately wanted to gaze, read, ponder and think about what happens in these spaces that had been so lovingly set up for children.
The old villa has two smaller rooms and a larger room that makes welcoming spaces for the children to meet at times during the day in ‘home’ groups. The wrap around veranda that is sheltered by large trees, offers extra space for outdoor dining and sleeping out in summer. Each area has smaller spaces that have been created with interesting provocations. There is a gentle flow from indoors to the outdoors and you can see that both spaces are appreciated and valued by the adults as learning spaces.
The garden is just like you might remember from your childhood with many secret places for great games to be played out. The pirate’s kitchen has been made by the children taking over the undergrowth beneath trees that have obligingly provided a private grotto. The additional pots, pans, mud, leaves and other ‘intelligent resources’ allow for children to be involved in their work together.
Fruit trees and vegetable gardens provide daily sustenance and the composting programme ensures children are involved in gaining understandings of the life cycle of growing your own food. There are open spaces, quiet spaces, spaces to hide, to be bold in, to think, and to be with your mates.
One particular aspect that struck me was the connection that I could see to Maori. Gently woven images, te reo and props all coming together to show the importance of honouring Tangata Whenua. This deep, deep cultural respect that opens the doors for reciprocal, respectful relationships and friendships to flourish with Maori in the community is there for all to see.
Sophia isn’t just a space for children. Their families, the teachers and the Oakura community are also at home here and their presence is reflected throughout the centre.
Adrienne, Ian and the teaching team at Sophia have been working together for only 3 years now. Adrienne has often talked about the isolation she feels. The professional leadership and inspiration that is needed to support teachers to reach such high levels cannot be under estimated. Adrienne has spoken about the layers of experience that she has gained as she has been working with the provocations from Reggio Emilia – attending Reggio inspired conferences and attending the Melbourne study tour have been important, but critical has been the reading and studying together from Reggio books to get inspiration. Dotted around the centre I spotted ‘Remida’ ‘Beautiful Stuff’ and other books that were used to provoke children’s creativity and thinking.
I am reminded of words that Ingmar Bergman said:
“All of us collect fortunes when we are children – a fortune of colours, of light and darkness, of movement, of tensions. Some of us have the fantastic chance to go back to our fortunes when we grow up. Most of us don’t have that chance. That is the tragedy”.
The children at Sophia are offered opportunities to collect fortunes that enable them to be confident, capable and strong learners who are citizens of Aotearoa New Zealand today.
It was a joy to visit and Fran and I have been invigorated by this opportunity. Thanks to you all at Sophia for your love and dedication – Sophia Preschool is a place with ‘heart’.