Ako (pronounced Ah-kor) doesn’t follow the traditional parameters of a primary school, nor does it establish a strict relationship between teacher and pupil. Founded in February 2018, Ako’s flexible and adaptable programme is play-based and child-led with an accent on outdoors activity and exploration.
“We believe children learn best through play – they express themselves, process new topics and ideas, and form relationships,” says director Sabrina Nagel. “They are instinctual learners and we are creating environments which inspire exploration, discovery, exuberance and support each child’s confident pursuit of their interests, ideas and projects.”
Nagel says Ako’s philosophy is based on leading-edge research on brain development, creativity, child psychology and parenting. “There’s a big focus in New Zealand on academic skills and pushing children into reading and writing at an early age. Research has shown that this approach does not advantage children up to seven or eight years.
“Let the children play and follow their interests. Let the brain develop with creativity, problem solving and communication and this forms a strong foundation to take on academic learning.’’
Communities of learners
Instead of timetabling classes, Ako develops communities of learners which involve parents, wider family and its educators sharing skills and playing an active part in a child’s learning.
“Our space does not impose adult educational expectations on our children or to demand that they acquire skills at a certain rate – every child can develop and learn at their own pace,” says Sabrina.
“We focus on developing personal, social and emotional life skills – and this allows children to develop all facets of their personality, body, mind, emotions and spirit. The environment we foster provides opportunities for all subjects such as literacy, numeracy, science and arts to naturally occur during the activities.’’
The programme is based on the New Zealand Cirriculum and the principles of Te Whariki with its focus on supporting children to develop the capabilities they need as confident and competent learners. Ako’s values are Takaro (play), Manawareka (curiosity), Auahatanga (creativity), Whanaungatanga (community), Whakaute (respect) and Whare Tapa Wha (seeing the whole child holistically – we learn with our hands, head and heat).
We focus on developing personal, social and emotional life skills – and this allows children to develop all facets of their personality, body, mind, emotions and spirit.”
Finding alternative schooling
Sabrina, who has two young twin daughters, started planning the Ako private school after she “couldn’t find any alternative that matched the research” she had read and studied. She met educator Kate Webber at an Auckland Startup Weekend, administrator Bronwyne Bayne at Play and Learn Nature Kindergarten and educator Claudia Gray through a nonviolent communication course.
Together they opened Ako at the Awataha Marae in Northcote, leasing one of the three classrooms. Inside the classroom there is an area for reading, building objects and completing science tests. Outside is a worm farm, woodworking area, vegetable garden and soccer pitch. The classroom is a safe, five-minute walk to Onewa Reserve and Smiths Bush for exploring and playing in nature.
Ako’s first intake was 14 children ranging in ages from five to 13, with the majority being new entrants of five and six-year-olds. Ako operates a sliding scale fee structure so parents pay in relationship to their household income, and it hopes to offer scholarships next year.
Ako is aiming to raise between $35,000 and $50,000 in a five-week crowdfunding campaign on Pledge Me. “It will allow us to pay back some of the loans and get onto a sustainable track,” says Sabrina. “We would like to lease more space at the marae and increase the number of children – and hopefully we can attract some government funding next year.”