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Enthusiastic kids catch science bug


thumbnail 7 MF-Gardenclub4-188WORDS/PHOTOS/JULIA WADE

Set in the leafy canopy of an outdoor classroom, a recent holiday programme, which engages young inquisitive students with the wonders of the natural world, has been so successful the class is set to become an all-year event.

Run from the home garden of retired civil engineer and environmental consultant, John Dickie, who has an infectious enthusiasm for science, the ‘Practical Environmental Science Programme’ captured the curiosity of the group of school-aged children throughout the 2021 Christmas holidays.

“We play with a variety of things and do experiments to try and understand the world,” he says. “The overall objective of the programme is to explore different aspects of environmental science with an emphasis on measurement, recording and interpreting results of experiments.”

Children participate in ‘all sorts of stuff’ from conducting experiments in the ‘science lab’ such as discovering the UV protective levels of sunglasses and various roofing materials, creating vegetable gardens, wandering through the ‘forest classroom’ of Dickie’s back yard wilderness to analyse salt levels in the creek, to observing the miniature world of bugs, grit and minerals through a microscope lens.

“I have a passion for science, a particular interest in STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths – especially for girls, like to see more get into this,” he says. “I try to encourage the children to think about things, to measure things so they make some sense.”

Since the 1970s, Dickie’s long career has taken him around the world, seeing him involved in a range of projects including pollution control, water monitoring programs and environmental assessments. After retiring, he volunteered his time to teach an environmental science programme at Mangawhai Beach School for four years.

To date, the current programme has 13 home-schooled children enrolled from ages five to 12 ‘but more are welcome’, and to help develop the garden and support the many activities, a community fund including a chance for the wider community to swap or donate plants and garden products, is being organised by parent and assistant, Angela Cook.

“It’s all to help with the children’s learning and understanding of their surroundings,” Dickie says. “We’ve already had a trip to the estuary to look at the rocks and ‘goose barnacles’, and intending to do a fairly sophisticated experiment of the sand in Mangawhai as well as looking at samples of water from different tanks at different times to gauge the salt content… this is interactive, hands-on, fun science.”

Every Tuesday morning the group of inquisitive young ‘scientists’, accompanied by a parent, join John Dickie (left) at his Mangawhai Heads garden to learn about the natural world around them, sparking enthusiasm in both children, parents and tutor alike.

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Discovering the UV protective levels of sunglasses and various roofing materials in the 'science lab'.

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