Head teacher Stacey Trotter around the kai table with tamariki at Bette Christie Kindergarten

There has been a change in the learning outcomes of children at Bette Christie Kindergarten since it implemented free meals and put a focus on creating a peaceful environment, says head teacher Stacey Trotter.

Early last year Bette Christie in Maraenui became one of 157 kindergartens in low equity areas that has partnered with charity KidsCan to provide free morning tea and lunch to children. Three hot meals such as lasagna, vegetable curry or chicken and rice stir fry are served every week.

“We have an open door policy, we are there to help and we just want the kids to be fed and warm and nourished. There are so many good things around it. They provide the nutrition we provide the nurture. We are trying to take the stress off the parents and look after those little people.”

Trotter said they have created a sanctuary for learning that is reaping rewards as teachers are now more able focus more on teaching and she has observed the older children blossom into tuakana-teina, guiding and teaching younger ones.

The kindergarten recently served up its 10,000th meal under the KidsCan programme, a major milestone that takes enormous pressure off parents who don’t have to worry about filling a lunchbox, she said.

KidsCan has been running since 2018 and supports more than 6,000 children across the country. There are more than 100 kindergartens on the waiting list.

Bette Christie also puts on cereal and fruit for kids who may need breakfast provided as well.

“By providing healthy meals, the successful learning outcomes come along with that. Your brain can’t develop unless you are being nourished. Your academic performance will lift.” 

Trotter stressed that it’s a judgement-free environment and the kai table is always supervised by a teacher. Mornings are a good time to catch parents and enjoy the social engagement that comes with eating.

Along with food, KidsCan also provides fleece-lined jackets, shoes and socks and nit treatment products, while donations from local community group the Yarny Army provide children with hand knitted woollen slippers and jumpers.

Bette Christie recently underwent a significant makeover to help create a nurturing learning oasis, both inside and out, purchasing new equipment and resources to support the learning and developmental needs of tamariki.

“Our vision of a calm and inviting play space that promotes peaceful engaged play is coming to fruition,” says Stacey.

The kindy gets the kids involved in preparing the food and making yoghurt, while a worm farm, compost, vegetable garden, strawberry patch and fruit trees provide learning opportunities for kids around sustainability.

“We are part of Enviroschools and Paper 4 Trees and our own philosophy is grounded in future proofing ourselves in sustainability, in understanding our environment and caring for it. So a lot of what we do each day is feeding our worms, watering our plants.”

Bette Christie also weaves Te Ao Māori positively through its environment and curriculum, incorporating manaakitanga, whanaungatanga and mindfulness.

Bette Christie is one of the oldest kindergartens in Maraenui, situated near Richmond School with not much else surrounding it. Many people simply aren’t aware it’s there, but Trotter hopes with increasing numbers of young families moving to the area that this will soon change.

Unlike many other kindergartens, Bette Christie stays open 50 weeks of the year to support working parents.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.


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