At Stepping Stones Preschool, we have developed a philosophy based around a visual metaphor of our own wonderful puriri tree, which dominates the back yard of our centre in Bank Street, Whangarei.
We have called this our Child Development Model.

Just like our puriri tree, this tree has eight main branches, which signify the eight key dispositions (or inherent qualities of mind and character) that we wish for our children to strengthen and develop as they progress through their time with us at Stepping Stones Preschool. These dispositions, once established in childhood, form an underlying structure that a child can utilise throughout the rest of their lives as they grow into confident, competent members of society.

Important learning outcomes (areas of knowledge, skills and attitudes shown in red on our tree model) are seen as “fruit” which will grow out of these eight dispositions. Without the support and strength provided by the underlying dispositions, too much focus on a particular learning outcome can be detrimental to a young child’s overall development, in the same way that a seedling’s branch laden
with heavy fruit will likely break.

So, what within the surrounding environment is important in order that a young tree might flourish?

To begin with, it will need warmth and light from the sun (symbolising the aroha or love, affection and care that other people can provide in our children’s lives) along with shade and rain from the clouds (interpreted as sufficient rest and a healthy diet or nutrition in our model). We also know that a tree needs carbon dioxide from the air, and in our model play is the atmosphere in which our children can grow and flourish.

Of course, a young tree also takes up key minerals and trace elements from the soil through its roots. In our model, this rich soil symbolises our whakapapa (honouring our connection to the land, and to the roots of our history, heritage and ancestry). “Ko wai au?” (Who am I?) and “No wai au?” (From whom do I come?) These questions are the ground of our existence, the foundations upon which we stand, and without this knowledge we are vulnerable - like a tree without deep roots.

You will also know that a young tree needs stakes in the ground as support to help it grow straight and true. We liken these to three key scaffolds in your child’s early years - their home, their centre (or place of learning), and their wider community. Your child does the growing, but we are all there to guide.

Finally, you will notice that the ground upon which our tree grows has on its surface a woven mat (whāriki), through which our seedling has emerged. This symbolises Te Whāriki, the Early Childhood Curriculum of Aotearoa/New Zealand, the key document from which the central vision and content for this philosophy was developed.

“Through others, we become ourselves”
– Lev Vygotsky

Na reira, nga mihi aroha ki a koe, ki a koutou katoa,
ki ou koutou tipuna hoki!
Nga mihi, nga mihi, nga mihi ki a tatou katoa!
Therefore, greetings of love to you, to you all, to your ancestors also!
Greetings, greetings, greetings to us all!