Nathan Wallis visits Ako

The idea and need behind starting Ako was very much inspired by the work of Neuroscience educator Nathan Wallis. I still remember the first time I heard Nathan speak, walking out with a notebook full of notes, and so many questions about why we don't use all this research to change how our kids learn. I was confused, a little angry but mostly scared about what my kids will miss out on, if I send them to our local school. The spark was ignited and as it turned out, turned into a flame that could not be extinguished.

So it was quite surreal standing in Smith's Bush just a few years after this encounter to host Nathan at Ako; the school we built based on what he advocates for.

Nathan spent time with our tamariki and kaiako at the bush and was shown how the rain had changed the environment after all the wild weather, how the debris had blocked the stream. While some tamariki were busy clearing the stream, others had built a hut and Nathan had a conversation with Wilde and little Claudia about what the tooth fairy looks like (apparently, she wears a pink dress and has a silver and golden wand, not a matching pink wand as Nathan assumed!). Overhearing that very conversation, filled my heart with joy and put a massive smile on my face. Just the day before, Nathan spoke about how a lot of children when asked about the tooth fairy, are looking for the 'right answer'. Whereas children who have had the privilege of being in an environment that is child-led and values play, tap into the creative side of their brains and make up stories. According to the research Nathan mentions, those kids are the ones that are more likely to be successful as well as have good mental health. In a country with one of the highest rates of youth mental health issues and suicide, that is extremely re-assuring.

We got talking about what it means to be 'child-led' and how hard it can be for a parent or educator to figure out when to extend learning and when to stand back and just observe. This is particularly the case as the environment children are in, is already 'leading' them into certain directions. We agreed though, that having children do 'what they want' and 'just play with whatever' before being interrupted by a bell or teacher being offered a small selection of activities to choose, is not child-led. Unfortunately, that is the reality in a lot of classrooms. We agreed though, that all teachers are doing their best with what they know and have, and that the awareness of what true play is, is building. It was hugely re-assuring that Nathan thought that based on research, every child should learn in an environment like Ako.

I also loved the fact, that I could see in action what makes Ako future-focused: The fact that our children actually get to practice these skills we called future-skills such as communication, creativity, problem-solving, collaboration on a daily basis.

Nathan was totally in his element and it was lovely to see how easy the kids found talking to him. Leaving the bush to catch a plane to do yet another presentation in another NZ city, Nathan said: 'Thanks for having me. I feel inspired!'

In the end, I did not pluck up the courage to thank Nathan properly so here it goes:

Kia ora Nathan for all the work you are doing educating parents, children and educators and especially for waking me up to create a better world for our tamariki!