Kindergarten teachers Sue Fahey and Claire Pawley at Nelson Hospital's Whare Manaaki room, which opens next Monday.

Kindergarten comes to hospital

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A free kindergarten service is coming to Nelson Hospital, allowing preschool children to continue with early childhood education during their hospital stay.

‘Whare Manaaki’ opens next Monday, and will be a “safe space” in the hospital’s paediatric ward where children can “take a break” from being patients, and have some fun.

The initiative is a joint effort between the Ministry of Health and the Nelson Tasman Kindergarten Association, and has been 18 months in the making.

“The hospital has provided the room, which has been licensed by the Ministry of Education, and we provide the staff and resources,” says Craig Vercoe, senior education advisor for the Kindergarten Association.

“There are already similar initiatives happening in other parts of the country, but we’re doing it a bit differently to the others,” he says.

“But indications from around New Zealand show it’s a really useful tool.”

Sue Fahey, who comes from Auckland Point Kindergarten, has been appointed as the room’s head teacher, and she will be supported by teacher aide Claire Pawley.

The job is the perfect fit for Sue, who worked as a registered nurse in paediatrics before she became an early childhood teacher.

In Whare Manaaki, children will be able to do what they normally do at kindergarten – blocks, art and craft, play dough, music and reading stories.

But there will also be a focus on helping children to make sense of their hospital stay.

“There will be some role playing around traumatic things that children may be going through,” says Sue.

“Things like heading into theatre can be scary, so we will be helping the children to express their feelings through drawing and building.”

For children who are staying in hospital long-term, the service will give them the ability to keep engaged in learning, and stay connected to their regular ECE service.

The service will be available 8:30am – 3pm Monday to Friday, and it will also be taken to the wards for those children who are bed-ridden.

Craig says that he hopes Whare Manaaki will help parents feel at ease too, by providing a place where their children can be happy and take a break from their hospital routines.

Nelson Marlborough District Health Board service manager for women, child and youth, Jane Kinsey, says the service is a “fantastic collaboration” that will complement the Health School programme that is already being offered to older children at the hospital.

“We are really excited, and we are looking forward to seeing what having a teacher present will bring to the ward for preschoolers,” she says.

A mihi whakatau will be held this week with kindergarten and DHB representatives present, and the room officially opens on Monday, 28 November.