WORLD OF DISCOVERY: Fiordland Kindergarten head teacher Claire Maley-Shaw, in Ivon Wilson Park at Te Anau, shows off her new Nature Discovery book to pre-schoolers who have become little guardians of the land.
A Te Anau woman who has introduced dozens of the town's pre-schoolers to the world of insects, mud and tree-climbing in recent years says they are now more connected to nature.
She knows this because she helped research the benefits the children got from their outdoor excursions, and this weekend her results are revealed in a book she has written.
Fiordland Kindergarten head teacher Claire Maley-Shaw runs the kindergarten's nature discovery programme in which 4-year-olds are taken to Ivon Wilson Park once a week to experience the outdoors.
The programme started in 2009 and was one of the first of its kind in New Zealand, she said.
"We wanted to see what the effects of taking children out into nature would have on their development. Over three years we did research and looked at the benefits."
Fiordland Kindergarten teachers Tracey Braven and Judy Sandilands helped Mrs Maley-Shaw do research for the book, called Nature Discovery, which will be launched at Ivon Wilson Park on Saturday.
"We have found the children are far more connected to nature than they were before," she said.
The weekly excursions to Ivon Wilson Park had seen the pre-schoolers jump in puddles, play in mud, snow and leaves, climb trees, cook damper, study insects and more, she said.
"The good thing is they get to feel the seasons . . . The children talk about wanting to go outside to feel the wind on their faces. They look at a toadstool in awe, whereas other children would squash it; if they catch an insect they have to let it go. They have become real little guardians of the land."
The children generally preferred the wilder parts of the park so they could go on adventures, she said.
Mrs Maley-Shaw said she was raised on a farm at Greenhills, near Bluff, and her earliest memories were being on the land overlooking Foveaux Strait.
"I have always had an affinity with the land and feel that it's really important for children to be in touch with nature."
The programme had been good for the children's physical development and they had forged close friendships, while their families and the community had got involved, she said.
"It's not so much about teaching the children about nature, it's about them being in nature. It's fun."