top of page

NZ Key Competencies Outdoors

"Capabilities for living and lifelong learning" - The New Zealand Curriculum / Kia ora - NZ Curriculum Online (tki.org.nz)


Here at Wild School we believe that all children deserve opportunities to play, learn and belong, where their well-being is nurtured and their wonders celebrated. Our One Day Wild School sessions (weekly) provide an alternative learning environment, replacing the four walls of the traditional classroom with an ever changing natural environment where children experience a multitude of holistic benefits.


With current global environmental issues, anxiety and depression on the rise and a screen-saturated world, there has never been a more pressing time to be encouraging love, appreciation and wonder for our wonderful world.


This Outdoor Classroom day (19th May 2022) we encourage all teachers to trade the four walls for the tall trees and join us in nurturing wonder & wellness in the children of our community. Co-founder and Nature Educator, Morgan, highlights how the New Zealand Curriculum Key Competencies can be taken out of the classroom and into the wild.


The New Zealand Curriculum identifies five key competencies:

• thinking

• using language, symbols, and texts

• managing self

• relating to others

• participating and contributing.


Wild School, and many other nature education programmes around New Zealand and the world are inspired by Scandinavian Forest Schools, where children play and learn, all day and in all weather, outdoors. They learn bush craft, shelter building, fire lighting, cooking, tool use, tree climbing and explore and make discoveries about the living natural world. In addition, children benefit from the positive impacts to their physical, social and emotional well-being through active, hands-on participation. When applying NZ Curriculum's Key Competencies into outdoor learning with inspiration from the Forest School model, outdoor learning can look like this:


Note: Outdoor learning is also known around NZ as; Nature Education, Nature Play, Forest Schools, Bush School, Bush Kindy, Explorers, Nature School, & Wild School - That's us! For continuity, I will continue with "Wild School" and use our One Day Wild School programme to set the scene of how outdoor learning adds value to existing in-class learning. (Strong links to the Key Competencies have been underlined).

A Team environment

Wild School promotes a team environment by involving children in making decisions for the direction of the day. They are encouraged to think about the seasons, the weather and prior experiences that they would like to revisit at a morning hui (meeting). Throughout the day, there are celebrations of children's achievements as they are guided to challenge themselves and others. Positive self-talk and team talk is experienced through encouragement and motivation from others. Older, more experienced children guide and lead younger children and show them the way.



Strengths-based learning


Children come with their own individual interests and strengths. Wild School provides space, time and trust to explore these innate desires and to build on strengths. Their strengths are recognised by the Nature Educators, who tactfully extend their skills through small achievable tasks that sit just outside their comfort zone (zone of proximal development). When children experience success, they see and feel themselves growing and learning. They feel valued and their self esteem and confidence is lifted, making the next challenge seem even more achievable. Each morning children are reminded on our 4 rules, one of which is "know your strengths", which reminds children to focus on their capabilities.

Goal setting

Goal setting is a valuable tool in creating success for children now and for future years to come. At Wild School we talk about goals often, encouraging others to share goals, no matter how big or small. We celebrate every small step made towards achieving goals and we collaborate with others who are like minded, have similar interests or have the strengths that may help us to achieve our goals. Whanau aspirations are gathered upon enrolment, which are discreetly encouraged throughout the sessions. Children have notebooks where they can write down notes, make plans and get their ideas onto paper.



Risky play

After thorough assessment of our natural "wild" spaces, where hazards, risks and learning benefits are assessed, children are free to engage in age appropriate "Risky Play". This type of play feels a little bit dangerous, and may involve experiences that they either haven't yet tried or haven't been allowed to try. Nature Educators constantly scan for new hazards, risks and learning benefits throughout the sessions and take natural opportunities to teach appropriate and smart ways to manage risks. By giving children this level of trust, they then trust themselves, make better judgments, set realistic goals and learn more about their bodies abilities.


According to Professor Ellen Sandseter, there are 6 key elements to Risky Play:

  1. Great Heights

  2. Great Speeds

  3. Hiding/Getting "lost"

  4. Dangerous Tools

  5. Dangerous Elements

  6. Rough & Tumble


Problem solving & Creativity

I live by the mantra "no problem is too big to solve", and if it feels big we recognise it's time to ask for help. Wild School nurtures children's innate sense of curiosity and wonder. We take time to look at the little details in nature that in our busy world, may be missed, encouraging children to slow down and be mindful. We observe, discover, design & create applying critical thinking skills & creativity. We apply our thoughts and take action to make, craft and curate using the gifts nature has provided and some key additional resources - ropes, tools, carabiners, tarpaulins etc. Problem solving and creativity can be seen through team challenges, ropes courses, tree climbing, hut building through to nature mandalas, tea parties, potions and imaginative play - the list goes on.


There are plenty more examples of the Key Competencies in action in Outdoor Education to be given, but they're better to be witnessed or experienced first hand. With our mission to provide the children of the Whakatipu region, opportunities to play, learn and belong outdoors, we encourage you to give outdoor learning a try with your class this Outdoor Classroom day, or everyday if you wish! For you, (classroom teachers) this may not look anything like this model, or any Forest School model. It may simply be taking a lesson outside in the sunshine, taking your current inquiry down to the local park, river or lake, finding a tree at your school that your class could collaboratively risk assess for climbing - and writing a pitch to the principal perhaps? If you would like your class to experience a day, morning or afternoon with one of our Lead Nature Educators, on a Wild School "excursion" get in touch and we would be happy to help you to arrange.


Below is a list of simple ideas to take outdoors this Outdoor Classroom day (19th May 2022)

  • Team games

  • Nature shadow/silhouette drawing

  • Estimating and measuring tree heights

  • Writing large names with natural collected items

  • Telling the time with the sun (sun dials)

  • Risk assessing a local tree for climbing

  • Setting up a rope swing with safe and appropriate knots

  • Bug hunting

  • Gumboot day - everyone wear gumboots to play in puddles if it's wet

  • Nature colour wheel

  • Create own sets of number stones/dominoes

  • Data collection - how many spider webs can we find?

Happy Outdoor Classroom Day!


Go Wild, Go Well,


Morgan & Sarah

Whakatipu Wild School Charitable Trust

435 views1 comment
bottom of page