Preschool in small town New Zealand is a whole different animal. In Denver, Mason attended a new, modern preschool somewhere near the top of the ranks. It had the standard toys, art supplies, nice teachers, and a lot of rules:
- Outside play was strictly during a certain time period each day and only weather permitting.
- No outside toys or donations were accepted into the curriculum.
- All shoes must be closed toe.
- There were certainly no adventures outside the center until the kids reached seven or eight years old.
- Craft stations would be set out at specific times and highly supervised.
Nowadays, Mason comes home barefoot with bloody knees, sand in every crevice, and arms painted with black marker from fingertip to elbow (and not the water-soluble kind). The doors to the outside play area are left open so kids are free to choose where and when they want to explore. The outside play area is filled with toe-stubbing, head-bonking obstacles all centered around a lovely apple tree from which they are allowed to pick and snack.
Creative stations are set up indoors and out so that whimsy, instead of the teachers, directs the children. And there is no shortage of whimsy.
I once saw a boy standing at an art easel painting a smaller boy blue.
Head, shoulders, knees, and toes.
In Mason’s first week, the class held a Matariki celebration which rings in the Maori new year. My scrawny, reserved American boy found himself standing in front of an audience, shirtless, among a row a confident boys belting out a haka (an ancient Maori war dance) replete with chest slapping, deep throat yelling, and threatening tongue and eye displays. One boy amused the crowd with a personalized titty-twister show. This was going to be a whole different preschool experience!
There have been countless walking trips to the Red Cross shop for new costumes, the park for plum picking and tree climbing, the library, the grocery store, and retirement villages to visit and perform. Every Thursday each kid grabs their booster seat and they take a taxi (a taxi!) to the gymnastics club for an hour of Kindy Gym.
This whimsical approach we have come to love took some getting used to at first. When we first visited the school we thought we should ask all the standard questions one is supposed to ask when leaving their child with strangers, however qualified. Our questions were met with vague, noncommittal responses such as, “Yes, some children will get to take trips to the library if they show an interest in literacy.” Um, yes, our child is definitely interested in literacy, it being one of our broader parenting goals. I have come to realize vagueness is an actual communication strategy here and I have since employed it to my own advantage many a time.
Of course the school is safe. Of course the kids are learning. Of course they have iPads. But how this is all achieved just feels so much more relaxed. Maybe teachers have more power and autonomy. Maybe parents are more fun and more forgiving. But certainly, here, the kids get to just be kids. Very sticky, scabby kids. Some with purple nurples.
Kiwi Glossary: Chuffed. Delighted, pleased, satisfied. Aaron was pretty chuffed about his new blue paint job.