Discovering the essence of childhood in New Zealand

When was the last time your child woke up for school by himself without an alarm clock?  Can you remember a school morning when all was peaceful, calm, and relaxed ? When was the last time your children felt energized by school, were happy to go to school, and got there early on purpose?  For my kids that was today and has been every day since we moved to New Zealand.

Our American Schedule –  The Clock Fixation

Highschool Princess

  • 6AM wake up, get ready,
  • 6:20 drink smoothie, pack bookbag, inhale protein bar, final touch ups to hair
  • 6:40 run out the door to catch a ride.
  • This ritual was done while watching the clock with a maximum level of stress.

Elementary School Guy

  • 6:30AM dragged out of bed so he can sit in a ball of incoherence on the couch
  • 6:50 drink fruit protein shake.
  • 7:00 pack book bag, fix hair, rarely brush teeth,
  • 7:10 out the door to walk to school or catch the bus

Afterschool rituals were not much better for any of them.  Running to all activities at various times with a constant buzz of stress, crabbiness, and always with a sense of urgency was the standard routine.  The vortex that surrounded us, spiralled around us, constantly and relentlessly, became imperceptible.  Without realising, these young creatures were being taught that stress is the norm, busy is the norm, and racing against the clock is the norm.  However, in the midst of this cyclone, in this race against time, what did we hope they win?  A high level of stress to carry into adulthood.  Anxiety and depression to outline their late adolescence? Medicines to treat their chronic illness that will surely develop in adulthood?  None of this occured to me or seemed absurd until we landed in New Zealand.  Breaking away from our US life, helped me bring into focus the portrayal of adulthood I was ingraining into the kids.  Once on New Zealand soil, a new image clarified, the beauty of the oragnic childhood.

The Organic Childhood Experience in Wellington, NZ, illustrated.

  • Kids walk, scooter, or bike to school.  There are no school buses, and carpool is a rare exception for the younger students. If you live too far away, you take the public bus and then walk.
  • In primary school K-8th, kids are encouraged to arrive 20-30minutes before the bell rings so they can play outside.
  • Parking is provided for scooter, bikes, and skateboards.
  • Open air classrooms.  All classrooms have rows of windows on at least 2 sides, and doors remain open.  There are no classrooms without windows.  The outside is considered as important for the young mind as what is taught in the classroom.
  • No cafeterias.  Kids eat outside in the courtyard on benches or on covered porches during inclement weather.  They bring their lunch – fruits/veggies/sandwiches/water.
  • School starts 8:40 at the earliest for High School (college).
  • There is tea time daily – 1hr = play and hangout outside.
  • Lunch is 10 min eating, 50 min playing outside.
  • Climbing trees is encouraged and broken arms are an occasional occurrence that bothers no one.
  • Swim lessons happen every Friday for all students and are viewed as important as maths.
  • New Zealand is in the top tier for education, surpassing United States significantly in the elementary-high school education according to United Nations Education Index and the  Program for International Student Assessment
  • Every morning one student grabs a bucket of fruits or veggies for their classroom.  Today, year 8 class had a bucket of cucumbers.  Several kids were happily snacking on them.  Furthermore, a box of fresh fruit is placed outside in the courtyard every day.  (As hard as I tried to take a video and pictures of this, I failed.  I had to keep it in check, so as not to appear as the super creepy American lady)
  • There are no vending machines or processed foods.  No candy is given to kids for rewards.
  • In the K-8 school there is no name brand clothing, no bows, no matched outfits, no designer book bags.  The outside of the child is not a priority.
  • In College (high school) there are strict uniforms, no make up, everyone is the same.  The End.
  • All the kids are involved in sports a couple of times a week.  They scooter, walk, bus, or bike 30 minutes to their practice or match and we pick them up.
  • Dinner is by 7pm the latest.


6 weeks into this adventure, the kids now go to sleep with the sunset and wake up with the sunrise.  Everyone has time in the morning for Protein Fruit Smoothie with eggs and toast.  The clock has become a blurry image in the background. I drag nobody out of bed.  They leave for school with enthusiasm and excitement every single day.  (OK in full disclosure, one of them still can’t put his shoes on in time, and the other one cannot manage to brush his teeth)  All three kids come home happy, relaxed, and glowing.  There is barely any homework, so the library across the way is 5 stories high and provides them with the latest books.  Skateboarding or scootering in the nearby skate park is the norm.  They grocery shop or attend various classes at the nearby local gym.  Our weekends are filled with hikes (tramps), biking, exploring parks to find obstacle courses, zip lines, see-saw’s, and sky high webbed structures.

A calm has settled over the entire family.  It’s almost as if our US habits and expectations  caged us in a somewhat toxic living atmosphere.  By venturing out into the world, the toxins are being eliminated, the spirits cleansed, and childhood is becoming purified.  How did I loose sight of the essence of childhood?  I read food labels obsessively –  how did I overlook the Organic Childhood Label?

Organic Childhood Label

In good health, Ana-Maria Temple, MD

11 thoughts on “Discovering the essence of childhood in New Zealand

    1. Hi Lisa, I am learning a lot from New Zealanders. While I cannot change the school curriculum, we can send the blog post to the school health team. We can ask our schools to let the kids walk home after school. We can partner up with the PTA to allow kids playtime outside after school. If you send me the PTA president’s email, I can forward her this blog. With the support of the PTA and School health team we can remove candy from the classroom and from after school activities. As for home, I plan on scheduling less activities for my kids when we return. We will definitely bike more to the mall, grocery, park, etc. my biggest challenge will be me in the US atmosphere and keeping myself under control. I am only 6 weeks in. I have many more months to fine tune myself. Thank you for commenting. Let’s change what we can. Hugs.


  1. Hello Ana

    I love this post. Hot button issue for me, possibly due to cultural differences. I know I absolutely HATE waking my boys up at 6am every day for school.

    In the UK, we have a mix of what goes on here in the US and there in NZ. I have found that my friends in the UK are not so obsessed about ultimately making a resume for college look so impressive it cannot be resisted. The ‘gap year’ is strongly encouraged, (in-between finishing high school and starting uni) to travel or get a job doing anything….considered a time for perspective, growth, rest and play. Having spoken with my American friends about this, the feeling is still very much that it is a waste of time. I will be encouraging it for Joe and Charlie – what’s the big rush? Perhaps it will help with future burn out – who knows? My nephew is 18 and currently spending his gap year stocking shelves at a supermarket. When he has saved enough money he wants to travel Australia for 3 months before going to uni.

    I know my kids go to private school and so I don’t know whether this is a possibility in public schools here. But one of the reasons I LOVE PD is that because the Head of School has a different perspective on how to best get a kid through a tough academic environment without their heads falling off. As you know, he’s a Brit. There is a push, (greeted unfavorably by most parents) to get the kids to understand the importance of slowing the pace down for a period of time during the school day. Dr. Cowlishaw is keen to avoid future anxiety and stress on the kids so a Study Hall period once a day is encouraged for kids to ‘catch up’. But t is optional. Many of my American friends see this as a waste of time (and money), since it’s an elective, and other topics such as a language, an instrument or literature are typically chosen for this time, (by the parents).

    Charlie does not do Study Hall and that was his choice. He wanted to do Band because they do a field trip at the end of the school year to Carrowinds 🙂 But Joe does Study Hall and has benefitted greatly from the chance to collect himself during the school day.… look at his google calendar so he knows what homework is due, what test to study for……and basically take the time to get his act together. He gets on the school bus at 7.20am and with after school sport practices and games, quite often isn’t home until 7pm. To expect a child to go all day without taking time to take a breath is unreasonable. I just don’t understand why so many parents insist on pushing their kids into doing more, more more. What are we setting them up for? Especially boys. I look at my husband and whilst the strong work ethic is admirable, (and boasted about constantly by his parents), there was never a moment to breathe growing up and I wonder, looking back on it as his forty-something wife, if the mid-life crisis men experience is connected to the constant pushing they experienced as kids. Food for thought?

    OK, rant over.

    Miss you heaps vx


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Vicki, thank you for your very thoughtful message. Yes, you are right, as a culture, in the US we are teaching our kids that achievement must come at any cost to the body and mind. I am not sure when we started getting so wrapped up in constant scheduling, constant running around, thousand activities and subjects. Before I left, I found myself telling all my college bound kids to relax, enjoy, do not rush things. We are all running around like mice in labyrinth with no exit. There is no cheese at the end, just stress and burnout. Fear not, I am taking copious notes here in New Zealand and we will change the Charlotte world when I get back. Hugs


  2. This is wonderful and magical. I am thrilled to read how well your kiddos have already responded to a new environment. We miss your leadership but I know when you get back you’ll whip us all into shape.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Anna, thank you for your words of encouragement. You will be pleased to know that I am torturing the teens around here even though my visa has not come through yet. No one is safe. Hugs to your family and Merry Christmas.


  3. I am enjoying your description of life in New Zealand immensely. I have a few questions about children in that country and I’m hoping you can provide some insight. Are there any special education students in New Zealand? How are they accommodated by the education system there? Do they have any juvenile delinquents? What process exists for such children. About lunch: Do all children in the country have food at home to bring to school for lunch? Thanks, any insight would be helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jan, thank you for your questions. Here are the answers:
      – the special education children have a specific program and they model many options after the US. I visited the High School Special Education Classroom and was impressed by the student teacher ratio, the various devices utilized by the students to learn and communicate. Furthermore the Senior High School students are paired up with a special needs teen and part of the day they spend together . I am not sure how many times a week this happens.
      – Juvenile delinquent students have a specific referral process that involves special education teachers, home schooling, and social workers. Every possibility is explored to keep them in school.
      – This reply is from one of the teachers at my son’s school. We have students that frequently have no food and most schools have bread and spreads available. We also look out for and assist families if we can-extra bread, left over fruit etc.
      Our Fruit in schools programme is for low decile schools to ensure all students have access to some healthy food. My boys school is a low decile school 5/10 thus they have government assistance to feed all students. I personally watched the kids carry buckets of fresh fruit into the classrooms. All the best


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