Aroha Discovery School is an initiative developed by Arohanui Learning Communities Trust – a registered charity and not-for-profit organisation. Our programmes are currently aimed for children aged 5-13 years old.


If you would like to enrol for our One Day Nature Programme you may do so on our One Day Nature Progamme page. 

If you would like to be kept up-to-date with the development of our school or become a volunteer please join our mailing list.

The questions below relating to our Full Immersion programme are intended to give you an idea of our vision for how the Full Immersion programme will look once it is up and running.  Where this is the case, you will see Vision is written above the answer.  This is what we are using as a baseline, and must be viewed with the understanding that a democratic school is fluid and evolving, and may end up looking quite different.

Frequently Asked Questions

One Day Nature Programme FAQs


  • What does my child need to have with them when attending your programme?

    Please refer to the ‘What to Pack’ checklist

  • What happens if my child misses a day or is unable to attend your programme?

    Aroha Discovery School is an initiative developed by the charity Arohanui Learning Communities Trust. Our programmes are a private, fee charging educational service. We rely solely on fees and donations to provide this service and are unable to provide refunds for missed attendance unless in the case of sickness or injury. Please refer to our fees policy for full details.

  • Do you offer discounts for siblings?

    Unfortunately we are not able to offer discounts at this time.

  • Can homeschooled children attend the programme?

    Yes, homeschooled children can attend our programme. As this is a one day nature programme (not a state registered school) your child can still attend and will not lose their exemption status.

  • How does this work with children enrolled at state schools?

    Most schools are very supportive of their students attending nature programmes. The benefits are often very evident to teachers. Following is an example given to us by a parent who helps run Nature Kids Co-op in Auckland. It’s feedback from a teacher concerning her son who was attending the Conscious Kids One Day Programme at the time…

    “I believe that Conscious Kids helps children develop their problem-solving skills and helps them to understand and control emotions in a safe, secure, and fun environment. I  am a primary school teacher and had a child attend Conscious Kids one day a week over the course of half the year. From their attendance I saw a change in how the child was able to function in the school environment, they were able to manage their emotions a lot better and were able to solve problems in the playground more effectively.  They were able to remove themselves from situations and were able to calm themselves down and rejoin activities a lot quicker than before. I think that Conscious Kids has a great role to play for many students in today’s world as “play” is an important part of a child’s emotional and social development, which many children no longer experience in their lives outside of school or programmes like this.” – Regards Melissa Arriagada

    Under section 71 of the Ministry of Education Act it states:

    71 Courses, work experience, and visits outside school premises

    1. Except as provided in this section, a board may authorise any students to—
    1. undertake courses of education; or
    2. obtain work experience; or
    3. make visits;—

    outside the school premises; and where the board has done so, a student shall be deemed to be attending the school while undertaking the course, obtaining the experience, or making the visit.

    To initiate the approval process you may first want to discuss the programme with your child’s teacher and/or principal to get their support. You will then need to write a letter to your child’s school board explaining your reasons for wanting your child to attend our programme, and send it along with this letter from us. We encourage you to view our resources section for further information on the benefits of nature schooling and free play so you are well versed for any discussions with your child’s school around this. We can then provide support and documentation as needed for the school board to approve your child’s attendance.

  • How is your nature programme related to the NZ Curriculum?

    The NZ Curriculum identifies five key competencies for living and to become lifelong learners.

    • Thinking
    • Using language, symbols, and texts
    • Managing self
    • Relating to others
    • Participating and contributing.

    The ideas behind the key competencies are to build up ideas, values, skills and an attitude that help children to live, learn, (eventually) work and contribute as active members of their communities.

    The development of the competencies is not just the end goal but a means by which they are achieved i.e. through experience.

    It’s acknowledged that we are social creatures and we adopt and adapt practices that we see used and valued by those closest to us, making those practices part of our own identity and expertise. They also develop over time through exposure to different people, places, ideas and things.

    Our programmes help to expand on these key competencies children are already starting to develop in their usual school setting by exposing them to different environments where they are faced with new people, places, experiences, and challenges. Each time they attend they are expanding their neural pathways because the natural environment is an ever-changing place e.g. weather/seasons and terrain. They become more alert and engaged because there is always something new to see or experience. 

  • Do you have NZ registered teachers?

    As we are not a registered school (yet), and the programme is specifically nature-based it is not actually a requirement by the Ministry of Education for us to be registered or to have an NZ registered teacher taking the programmes. Many programmes like this around New Zealand (and the world) are run with facilitators with a diverse range of background/skills but with the key element of having experience and training in nature-based learning. We ensure our facilitators have relevant experience and qualifications, have training and support to fulfill their roles to their best potential. We pick our facilitator’s based on past experience, and their passion for the ideas behind our core philosophies. Ours is a community of learners and we apply this philosophy to everything we do at Aroha Discovery with continual development and training opportunities for all our staff.

  • Do you allow visits?

    Yes, please register your interest using our contact us form and we will be in touch to arrange this.

  • My child has special needs, how do you approach this?

    It’s been the experience of many educators that children with special needs greatly benefit from attending nature programmes. Please let us know your situation and we’ll work alongside you and your child’s school to ensure they get the most out of our programme.

  • How often does my child need to attend?

    We take bookings by the term so there is continuity among the group for that period. This adds to a feeling of security for the children and helps them build relationships with one another. You may book your child to attend more than once a week (for the entire term). This, however, may change if waitlists become too long.

  • Full Immersion Programme (Vision) – FAQs



    A democratic school is a place of connections. Here are a few examples that illustrate the extent to which relationships underpin its very culture.

    Play and conversation are everywhere. Many students play the day away together and this is recognised as a fundamental part of children’s growth and development. They practice social skills and leadership skills, while practicing the physical and mental skills involved in the activity itself – and it’s all done in that state of “flow” where learning happens best. And when you consider the genuine and important conversation between people of all ages and the teachers with “free” time to talk through social concerns and events, it’s easy to see how many opportunities there are for social skills to develop.

    When it comes to the serious work children choose to partake in, there is often (but not always) collaboration and shared creativity in evidence. This collaboration often extends outside the school community as students develop learning networks, taking advantage of the global reach of social media, and learning to market themselves and their ideas. Many times the work itself has a social impact; it makes a real difference to real people; and being part of a democratic community encourages students to find their voice, work assertively and understand the processes that lead to consensus.


    Our students are both allowed to be children and allowed to be responsible.  They share a model of later life in a democratic society and everyone participates in it.  They all know the rules the group has developed and work and play within them.  

    They are responsive to what their mind and body wants – as each moment comes they work, play or relax, interact or seek privacy, lead or take instruction; and they respect that others have the same right to choose.  They practice listening with openness to what others have to say, with the knowledge that everyone has something worthwhile to share. They practice measuring their choices on a scale of love, caring, or respect.  They ask: Is this good for me, good for others, and good for the world?


    The local community is often part of a two-way conversation. Learning spreads outwards as students’ projects seek to make a difference in their wider world and students are taken to different places for learning, or the learning is brought in from outside experts. Students work with local organizations and local people.

    In the bigger picture, links are often sought with organizations around the world, including other schools. Students’ learning expands and reaches people in other regions and even other countries. By tackling issues that affect the globe, students become aware of their place in the global community and how their small steps are part of a big journey.


    Working alongside students, staff, volunteers, and experts from the community share their skills and expertise. A mechanic shows students how the parts of an engine work together, an impressionist painter explores light and shadow in splotches of colour, and a marketing guru
    helps a group create an advertisement for their new enterprise.

    In a quiet room full of books and cushions, a “Granny Cloud” story is being told – a child’s grandparent from Australia has connected through a video call and is reading to a group of lounging kids.

  • What is expected of parents and whanau at our school?

    “There is strength in numbers, yes, but even more so in collective good will. For those endeavors are supported by mighty forces unseen.”

    – Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway

    Children learn best through the support of their family. That is why at Aroha Discovery School we invite parents and whanau to volunteer in the day-to-day running of the school. Family involvement is of huge importance in supporting not only the running of the school but in the childrens‘ development in all areas – mental, emotional, physical and spiritual.

    We encourage volunteers to take the time to share their passions and interests by volunteering to lead activities; that they join in with explorations and games that children have organised; that they jump on board when mentor activities grow vast; that they act in an informal supervisory role for safety’s sake; and that they are always available to listen and coach our learners. Our volunteers’ presence also makes going on outings to learn, much more available to the students

    Regular workshops will be offered to aid personal growth, which will aid in understanding and modeling the key values in our school. Training is provided by school mentors or is outsourced to experts, and topics are likely to include:

    • Principles of democratic education
    • Empathy and active listening
    • Conflict resolution
    • Reaching consensus in decision-making
    • Group dynamics and encouraging teamwork
    • Exploring life through play
    • Providing learning experiences
    • Coaching independent learners
    • Modeling independent learning
    • Practicing mindfulness


    Today two parents are helping out at the school. One parent is actively listening to a group of students telling them about a project they have been working on together, while the other (who is a keen gardener) has gathered up a group of interested students to go to the park to climb trees and identify them through their branches, bark and leaves.

    At the end of the school day, these parents feel a sense of appreciation and connection to the school community, and their presence has helped the children feel that what they do at school is of interest and importance to the adults in their lives.

  • What is “holistic” about education at Aroha Discovery?

    Holistic education means valuing and contributing to the development and growth of all aspects of a person. One possible way of categorising these aspects is physical, mental, emotional, spiritual,and social skills. Another categorising might be the nine intelligences:

    • Logical-mathematical: To understand numbers, the ability to solve logical problems.
    • Spatial: To be able to think in 3D.
    • Linguistic/Auditive: The ability to learn foreign languages, to remember new sounds, to think in sounds.
    • Bodily-kinesthetically: The ability to sense your whole body, to know your body’s capability, capacity, and limitations, to be able to use your body in multiple ways
    • Musical: To be able to be influenced by and to create rhythm and melody of different types
    • Intra-personal: The ability to relate to others in a fulfilling way, to participate in and contribute to the family/whanau, local community, and the world as an individual. 
    • Interpersonal: To know thyself; your emotional state in the moment, what you like and dislike, what motivates you, to be able to allow emotions, thoughts, and sensations to be part of the experience without a need for change
    • Naturalistic: To be able to thrive emotionally and skill-wise in many different environments (different types of nature, different types of urban areas and cultures)
    • Spiritual: To feel valued, loved and respected. To feel part of or connected to something bigger than yourself. The ability to experience trust, love, beauty, perfection, creativity, strength, passion at a deep level, to have a feeling of purpose in life

    At Aroha Discovery we value the holistic perspective, both on the individual level and the community level. We support each student to explore all aspects of their lives and to reach for fulfillment in each of them.


    The staff has noticed that a young girl likes to dance and sing, but that she does not play any instrument. They invite her and anyone else who is interested, to spend a day exploring different instruments; drums, guitar, flute, piano… The next day they find her at the piano playing her own kind of music. She expresses the joy of being able to create music without having to learn notes and finger positions – paving the way for further tuition should she be interested.

    A ten-year-old boy has not found an interest in math on his own. A teacher decides to tell about her own love for math, and afterward they go treasure hunting for numbers and calculations hidden in trees and flowers. Other children join them and for the next week or so, you can find children discovering math everywhere on the school. Later that month the boy finds his way to his first math lesson.

  • Aroha means “love”, how is that reflected in school life?

    Aroha is the Māori word for “Love” but it has a slightly broader meaning than just that. It also includes affection, sympathy, charity, compassion, and empathy  – all of them characteristics that we embrace in our school’s culture.

    “Aroha” coupled with “Discovery” is an expression of our value of preserving the love of learning, and the excitement of exploration.

    It is important that everyone feels loved for being who he or she is – with no conditions. We do that by acting from a place of knowing that all are lovable and to encourage that way of seeing the world. We also acknowledge that not all actions are equally lovable and those negative feelings are usually a red flag for a deeper need that is not being met.


    “You’re a b*&$!”… Several kids and adults are alerted by the shouting, knowing very well that two in the community need extra support right now. True enough, a boy is standing red-faced calling another boy names in a loud voice.

    A teenaged girl takes the lead: “I can hear you shouting. It sounds as if you are really, really angry with Ryan! Can I help? Do you want to tell me about it?” The boy’s attention turns to the older girl, and with a little extra coaxing, he starts sharing what was said and done that made him so upset. The girl listens and re-iterates what the boy told her including what emotions he might have been feeling, to make sure she understood. When he confirms she understood it correctly, she repeats the process asking Ryan for his side of the story. She then helps the boys troubleshoot the issue until they both come to a solution they are happy with. Within minutes the boys are smiling at each other again and harmony is restored.


  • How is nature-based learning incorporated into Aroha Discovery?

    We talk a lot about democratic schooling as it’s the foundation on which our school runs, but of equal importance to us is our school’s connection with nature.

    Our connection to Papatūānuku is not only of importance for mental and physical health but for spiritual health as well. Where possible teachers and mentors will take every opportunity to take the students to green spaces for play and learning, and we actively seek out mentors to bring in the cultural/spiritual aspects by approaching places such the local Marae’s.

    Tools of learning out in nature include:

    • Story-telling (such as Maori or other cultural myths and legends),
    • Building forts, mud-pie kitchens, climbing trees and other games of fantasy and imagination,
    • Bush skills such as learning to build and cook over a fire, learning to navigate, and to cut, carve and create from natural resources,
    • Just be outside in a green space to help with learning maths or science, or while reading a book, or drawing.

    Our goal is to strengthen our student’s connection to the land so they know it’s vital value and importance in their lives, and can turn to it for support, sustenance, comfort, and balance when they need it most.

  • How can parents find out about their children’s learning?

    Firstly volunteering at a democratic school gives parents and whanau first-hand experience of their children’s learning.  They may also be invited to some meetings between their child and his or her mentor, or be given a copy of the record of meeting.  They are also welcome outside of the roster and turn up for presentations and other events organised by their children.  

    Secondly, each student maintains a portfolio of learning, which is often electronic (i.e. available online) and may include:

    • Photos of constructions (e.g. models, scultpures, gardens)
    • Scans of written work (e.g. stories, journals, brainstorming)
    • Videos of events (e.g. sports, play, presentations, interviews)
    • Copies of electronic work (e.g. documents, musical compositions, slideshows)


    The concept of a termly written report from teacher to parents is absent from Aroha Discovery.  Instead, parents access their students’ learning by attending days or specific events at the community, and by looking through their e-portfolios.

    Many students use e-portfolios to celebrate their learning, and these also act as a CV when building relationships outside of the community. They update it regularly, adding all sorts of photos and videos and writing to their virtual space.  Sometimes other people contribute: friends and family comment on their blog-style “posts”; the teachers add holistic observations from their activities or learning space; and experts post “references” to commend the attitude and expertise they have experienced.  Parents enjoy the frequent updates and find the content meaningful and relevant.  

    Other celebrations of learning can be seen around the community – there is a gallery of artwork and construction projects, frequent performances of theatre and music, and a collection of published works.

  • How is technology used in the school?

    Aroha Discovery School recognises that digital technology is now a ubiquitous tool in recreational, personal, and workspaces. It also has a growing role in education and has great potential to support learning. However, high device use has also been associated with significant negative impacts on health and development. ADS has a moderate, purposeful, and evidence-based approach to digital technology to ensure that the benefits to learning and development outweigh the negative impacts.  

    Digital Technology will not be used as a substitute for other learning tools such as pen and paper, it will only be used to extend learning opportunities as deemed appropriate. When children are ready and show interest the teacher will teach handwriting and reading in print form only. Print (rather than digital) reading and handwriting have been highlighted as important in developing literacy and critical thinking skills, particularly in the early years of education – and these skills will contribute to developing digital literacy.

    ADS does not use gamified digital programmes We believe that the use of extrinsic rewards, including those embedded in software, must be carefully considered against the risk of addictive behaviours (which is of growing concern with digital gaming) and the value in students developing intrinsic motivation such as pride in skill development, personal improvement or the love of learning.

    For older children we recognise that computers can provide the ability to create rich content such as images, video and interactive presentations. The use of digital technologies as a tool to enrich inquiry-based learning will be available to students.

    Technology is approached at Aroha Discovery School in the same way we approach everything we do at our school – from a holistic point of view. That means that while we recognise and encourage the use of technology as a valuable learning tool, we also ensure to balance this out with focused group discussions and awareness campaigns of the potential negative aspects that they can also bring e.g. the psychological effects of computer use such as anxiety, depression and addiction, safety on the internet and effective ways (such as going out in nature) to balance its use and look after ourselves

    Individual learning programmes are often aided by individual access to a computer, and it is for this reason older students are welcome to provide a laptop or tablet.  It is suggested that families hire the equipment instead of buying them, to easily keep up with rapid technology changes and the needs of their growing children.  On their own devices, students can:

    • Install software that is specific to their learning pathways
    • Receive electronic communications from others in their networks promptly
    • Use shared documents efficiently for group work
    • Take active part in computer-skill teaching activities
    • Access and manipulate their own copies of electronic resources
    • Explore commonly used software at their leisure
    • Find helpful tools for self-management – for the responsible and safe use of the technology.

    The school community budget funds communal technology, which may include network servers and school-based email, interactive whiteboards and projectors and multimedia suites with lighting and sound systems.  Just like any other purchase, these are chosen by the school community. 


    Aroha Discovery students are globally connected.  They are connected with experts in their fields of interest (who may be professionals, organisations or others like themselves who have followed a similar learning journey). 

    Searching the internet efficiently, they see and hear and read what other experts have shared… and critique what they find!  Then they contribute to the virtual world as experts with a unique voice.  

    They access the immense virtual libraries for some pleasurable reading and listening to music.

    With specialist software, they learn to programme their own computer games, produce movies, draw architectural designs, compose songs, publish websites, balance budgets, and test mathematical models.  Then they bring it all together in online portfolios to celebrate their successes.  

  • How does the school tackle difficult or controversial subjects?

    Holistic education has a non-exclusive policy on what is OK to learn about.  In other words, students can and do learn about everything.  Often the most long-lasting and far-reaching learning arises from emotionally-charged experiences.  When students are joyful, frustrated, determined, sympathetic or anything else that engages them, there is a lot of big-picture learning potential. 

    So when students bring a “difficult” or controversial topic of learning to the front, it is often celebrated as a strong source of learning.  It is tackled by students in the same way as any other learning – with support from the adults around them and from each other, or independently if that’s what’s wanted. 


    Aroha Discovery School adults are well trained in skills such as empathy and active listening, mediating and building consensus.  They do not seek to impose their beliefs, opinions or advice upon the students; instead, they allow students to clarify their own point of view and find their own solutions. 

    Students learn what it is to be heard, to be both responsible for and empowered in their own choices.  They express their thoughts and feelings about any subject, in discussions large and small.  They trust that their mentors and the community are there to provide support when it is needed and can explore their situations feeling safe.

    By modeling this non-judgemental approach, adults show students how to listen with tolerance, to explore and accept other viewpoints.  Teachers and other adults share their concerns and moments of celebration in school meetings alongside the students and model skills for persuasion, questioning and debate. 

    And, overarching (or underlying) everything, Aroha Discovery is founded upon strong values: learning, freedom and love.   Students ask and answer  questions such as:  What is there for me to learn here?  What choices do I have?  Which choice is best for me, for others and for our world?  And learn to use these values, alongside their own, as a starting point or guideline for decision-making.

  • How does the school provide for the arts and sport? What facilities does it boast?

    While the ultimate dream is to have a wonderful purpose built building with access to lush green lands right outside, we need to start somewhere and as the saying goes…

    “Big things have small beginnings”

    T.E. Lawrence (in Lawrence of Arabia)

    How we cater for the arts, and sports will largely be decided by where our school’s home-base ends up being. That being said the nature of our school is to constantly evolve and adapt, so where we start may (most likely) not be where we ultimately end up fully establishing ourselves.

    During our journey of evolution, where we lack in resources we will make up for by utilising the city. That is the beauty of following the education cities model. By forming alliances with different organisations and utilising public spaces in our city, our students will be introduced to people from all fields of interest and will feel a part of the wider community.

    As we grow we will provide for the arts and sport (technology, the sciences, and all the other curriculum areas) in the same way that we provide for any other area of learning: We will adapt and grow our facilities to reflect the learning pathways of our students. 

    With support and modelling by the teachers and other adults, students may:

    • Write or present a proposal for expenditure for new facilities or equipment
    • Organise the use or loan of existing facilities in the local community
    • Arrange for expert coaches or artisans to support as mentors

    Supporting the evolving nature of the school environment, Aroha Discovery School has a focus on providing multi-purpose Learning Spaces.  These are designed to be adapted and to support learning across a wide range of interests.


    Three Learning Spaces are filled with learning resources and specialist teachers to support students’ learning. There is an Open Space Timetable which means that anyone can book a room in advance, or just wander in if it’s free. 

    There are several rooms in each Learning Space, places where students can work privately, together or connected with others across the world.  Teachers schedule rooms for teaching time, offering a wide range of experiences, inspiring group projects and sharing their joy of learning. 

    The Innovation Space
    Investigating and problem solving takes place within the Innovation Space.  It contains resources that encourage the use of mathematics, computer programming, science and design to create real world solutions to genuine needs.  Here are the lab, the workshop, the garden and the central computer network.  It is a place where Innovation, Inquiry and Curiosity, Ecological Sustainability and Excellence are valued; where the Key Competencies of Thinking and Managing Self are developed.

    The Expression Space
    The Expression Space is all about meaning: finding meaning in and learning from literature and the arts, and creating our own meaning and our own self expression.  It contains resources for students to explore all forms of text, media and the arts, as well as Te Reo and other languages.  Here are the library, the multimedia equipment, the large theatre-style space, and the art studio/gallery.  It is a place that values Integrity and Diversity; where the Key Competencies of Using Language, Symbols and Texts and Thinking are developed.

    The People Space
    The People Space is for growing relationships and ourselves.  Learning here focuses on the health and social sciences: about how people are different and the same, about how people and cultures change, about human rights.  It is a place for meeting mentors and being together. Here are the kitchen, the games and sports facilites, the Community Meeting room and the visitor reception area.  Here, play, Community and Participation, Equity and Respect are valued, and Participating and Contributing and Relating to Others are explored.

  • What about literacy, numeracy, and national standards?

    Literacy and Numeracy
    Reading, writing, and mathematics are essential skills for functioning in our society.  It is understandable that learning in this area is a key consideration for parents choosing a school.

    The teaching of the “3 R’s” is one of the biggest differences between traditional and democratic education. Most traditional schools dedicate a number of hours each day to the structured teaching and learning of these subjects. A democratic school does not.   Instead, students spend their time in pursuit of their own interests.  They allocate their own time.  Parents who have not seen a democratic school in action wonder how students learn to read and write when they can play all day if they want.  It’s hard to imagine something so different from our own experience.

    In a democratic school, students learn to read, write and manipulate numbers simply because they are a necessary part of life today.  More often than not, to reach their goals, they are immersed in meaningful manipulation of the written word and the number system.  They are researching, communicating and presenting; they are investigating, testing and analysing.  In play, there may be less written work, but speaking and listening and mental maths abound.  In other words, literacy and numeracy are practiced in context.

    The “basics” that we are told are fundamental to success are changing. Because we don’t need to write everything by hand, typing instead is a valid choice.  Because we don’t need to run difficult multiplication calculations by hand when computers can do it for us, we are liberated to think at a higher level, a level that forces us to select our calculation and see its accuracy for ourselves in its real-world results.

    Throughout this process, students come to recognise their strengths and weaknesses and are naturally motivated (and encouraged) to work on their areas of development.  Teachers and independent learning resources are available to support them with this.  The teaching of literacy and numeracy is available – like everything else, it is encouraged but optional.

    Standards and Assessment
    A holistic school believes that a student’s personal growth is inaccurately and incompletely described using any kind of standardised measure.  Any learning that comes from experience is difficult to pinpoint and certainly is not limited to literacy and numeracy checklists.  Where are leadership, empathy, persistence and other essential skills represented in current school assessments?  Comparing students to how they are achieving in relation to other students of the same age is only helpful if your goal is to produce children with the same knowledge and skills as everyone else.  Democratic education’s goal is quite different.

    Achievement in democratic education is:

    • Measured against students’ own goals and standards of success
    • Often monitored subjectively by the student, with support from their mentors
    • Assessed using standardised tests only when they are requested by the student
    • Recorded using frequently updated learning portfolios rather than occasional written reports


    Literacy and numeracy are embedded in every area of Aroha Discovery School. 

    Students enjoy the use of a modern library, lounging on beanbags with picture books and novels, discussing information books and making notes on their laptops at tables.  Research using the internet is commonplace and students’ vocabulary expands as they tackle website text aimed at adults.  Some students follow recipes in the kitchen; others read instructions on how to build a go-kart.  Often our community adults are with them, in support, exploring themes and plots and characters and how to find the required information.

    Students correspond with experts by email, write reports and make presentations to businesses about their upcoming and finished projects, create websites and brochures, genuinely publish articles and stories and blogs and videos, write meeting minutes, debate and persuade.  Around them, adults both encourage and model literacy in action.

    Aroha Discovery students are truly learning mathematics, not just calculation.  When they ask or are confronted by a question, it’s often time to investigate and predict.   This is real- world, logical reasoning, problem-solving maths, shot through with science.  And it’s not just those students who are destined for engineering and other technical jobs: it’s every student who has something to do with budgeting (most of them), computer programming (everyone who wants to make a computer game), composing music (especially using music software), special effects (who wouldn’t?), sports, conservation, even fashion.  It’s everywhere.  Students focus on what they are trying to do, and maths is how to get it done. And there’s no obligatory assessment – the results speak for themselves.

  • How does a democratic school ensure a balanced curriculum?

    The underlying assumption of a democratic school is that students are better served by fostering a love of learning than by ticking a bunch of boxes.  Forcing a “balanced curriculum” usually means giving all curriculum subjects equal time or attention. What this would mean for the student is that they are no longer following a learning pathway of their choice and that all teacher-led lessons would become compulsory, so students would not have the freedom of choice that is the foundation of democracy.

    Instead of a balanced curriculum, a democratic school focuses on a flexible one.  This type of education allows the time for in-depth study as well as an almost infinitely broad curriculum. By loosening the focus on following the National Curriculum, teachers have the time and room to focus on the holistic development of individual children.  Children develop socially and emotionally through play and are supported in this by the adults around them; the freedom to roam tends to encourage physical development; and as children follow their own journey of mental challenge and mastery they also learn to listen to their intuition and internal sense of value.

    “The student is at the centre of their own learning” is one of our founding philosophies, and a core value. And yet, the National Curriculum is internationally recognised as a model for a balanced traditional education and provides a guide for monitoring progress in its learning areas.  It can be effective when used:

    • When planning teacher-inspired learning: teachers draw from their passions and strengths when choosing experiences and projects to offer, then monitor students against relevant learning goals from the curriculum.
    • When engaging in conversation about learning that is happening in the school’s learning spaces: teachers note the students’ learning in reference to the achievement levels in the curriculum
    • When mentoring goal-oriented students: reference may be made to progression through the achievement levels in part of the curriculum.
    • Retrospectively: teachers look at the learning that has occurred and consider balancing out any neglected learning areas by offering learning experiences in those areas in the following term.


    Three types of learning produce a broad curriculum at Aroha Discovery School:  Learning inspired by each child as they follow their joy and share their learning around; learning inspired by the group as they interact in play, in conversation and in meetings; and learning inspired by teachers and other adults as they offer experiences, challenges and projects.

    Teachers guide students to learn from resources all over the world.  The teachers at our school are excellent listeners and communicators, strong in specialised areas and enthusiastic about their own life-long learning.

    Each student is exposed to ideas and contexts that pop up in the community.  Often this leads to a new branch of an individual learning pathway.  Certainly, it shows that there is always something more to learn about and another way to learn about it. This is more than a balanced curriculum; this is learning for life.



    In a democratic school, all have an equal and equally valued voice in any decisions being made. Everyone is accorded the same human rights and freedom, and granted responsibility for the conduct of their affairs. We all have equal opportunities to be full participants in the life of our community. Alongside this, it is also acknowledged that we have different skills and interests.

    As in all schools, the functions of a principal need to be performed; hiring teachers, spokesperson for the school, talking with potential new students and their families, but in a democratic school these functions may reside with one person or be shared among more.


    Today, a 6 year old with his family is visiting Aroha Discovery School.  He is eagerly invited to join the playground by the group of kids that have stepped up to make him feel welcomed and to show him around. Meanwhile a 10 year old girl shows the parents around and tells them about how the school is run. After the tour, the parents will chat with one of the teachers or volunteers about how things are run in the school – what to expect and what advantages there are for the students and their families in comparison to more traditional schools.

    The following week, the boy participates in Aroha Discovery School for a few days. A 6 year old girl raises concern about the boy insistently teasing her. An older student supports the two in understanding that at our school teasing is only accepted as long as both parities enjoy it and that the boy will need a bit of time to learn our ways at our school. After that there is consensus that the boy and his family are now part of Aroha Discovery School. One of the older students inform the boy and his parents, while an adult takes care of the legal side of the enrollment. 


    This question is related to ideas about safety and supervision, about class sizes and the amount of individual attention each child is likely to receive from a qualified-to-teach adult. Due to our ethos that everyone is a teacher and a learner, it is difficult to give a straight forward answer as every learner is surrounded by as many teachers as there are people. This idea is both practical and essential within a democratic school community. It can be seen in students asking each other for help, in their listing as an available “expert” in their fields of achievement, in their project presentations and video blogs and open-space lessons.

    That aside, each registered teacher personally mentors between 10 and 20 students, depending on school roll numbers and student choice of mentor. Each student spends at least 2 hours on one-on-one time each term with their mentor to record success and determine next steps for learning. They may keep the same mentor throughout their time at school. There could be classes with an average of 30 students per class, but of course, students follow their interests and may or may not choose to attend the activities on offer; they are certainly not assigned to a particular class.

    The adult to child ratio is improved further by 2 adults per 15 students, drawn from whanau where possible and experienced educators, where necessary. These adults are encouraged to join in when classes or activities grow huge, get involved with play and other self-directed learning, and be actively monitoring all areas for safety. All adults are trained by school teachers (and students) about the best way to do this.


    180 students are mentored by 12 teachers.  On any given day, 3 of these are working one-to-one with some of their students, 3 of them are offering inspiring learning experiences shaped around their own passions or have taken a group of students off campus for learning in other places around the city (such as the park, museum, gallery, library, Nelson Centre for Musical Arts or Community Art Works), 3 of them are available to students who are choosing to use the various learning spaces, and another 3 are monitoring, recording and discussing all kinds of learning as it happens.

    Other volunteers such as parents or skilled mentors who maybe visiting, interact with students and each other, and complete the community.  Their presence ensures an abundance of learning opportunities, plenty of people to connect with of all ages, and who will be there when they are needed. 


    A privately funded school has a minimum number of fee-paying students in order to run (ours is 20), but that’s only one (necessary but not important) reason to stick to a minimum number. A learning community benefits from diversity. A wide range of ages, interests, skills (and so on), expands the possibilities for learning from each other exponentially. Students are exposed to more experiences and ideas – cultural traditions and beliefs, hobbies, games – and are surrounded by a wealth of expertise. The more students there are, the more likely each student will find others with similar passions and can share the organizing of, and enjoyment of learning experiences. Our intention is for this school to grow and eventually encompass ages ranging right through from Kindergarten to High School students, so the nature of our school (as is true of most democratic schools) is to change and evolve over time.

  • How does the school approach safety?

    Students’ safety is a priority in every school.  In holistic schools, safety encompasses the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual security of each student. In other words, consideration is given to how students’ bodies, minds, hearts and souls can be guarded as they venture forwards.  In democratic schools, the decisions about how best to do this are made by the school community, with every person having an equal vote.  

    Careful discussions about managing risk of all kinds ensure students are aware of the hazards, physical and otherwise, that they may encounter.  Controls are put in place if they are found “reasonably practicable,” taking into account a number of factors (for example, the level of risk, the holistic benefits of keeping the hazard, the ease of implemeting the control and its effectiveness).  Democratically educated students often become very adept at risk assessment and management of their own safety.  


    Students, like teachers and other adults, are held responsible for ensuring that no action or inaction on their part results in harm to any community member or visitor.  Lapses in this responsibility are dealt with by the community.  

    Considered risk-taking, however, is part of any step outside of a comfort zone and these are important learning steps. Mistakes are used as learning opportunities and are a crucial part of any success.

  • What is democratic education?

    Please check out our Democratic Education and Resources pages for extensive information and articles.



    We are looking for students who love to learn. This might not mean “be taught in school” but would show itself in their “delving” into the world.

    These students like to understand why, what and how something is the way it is and does what it does. They often get hooked into an idea or a subject, dig deeper into it and talk passionately about it. They might want to be great at doing something and admire experts like they are heroes, seek them out and badger them with questions. And, more often than not, they eventually see how to improve upon the way things are done.

    In other words, students who love to learn are those who are curious about the world and other people. Their curiosity grows into interest which evolves into passion, joy and some serious expertise. We believe this is the natural state for all children – and sometimes it can take some time for it to be rejuvenated.


    Our joy-driven students:

    • Study in areas of deep personal interest
    • Share their enthusiasm and expertise with others in the community
    • Develop personal learning networks through face-to-face connections and through social media
    • Create and publish for authentic audiences, with a sense of purpose
    • Develop portfolios of their interests, skills and achievements.


    We aim to start Aroha Discovery School in 2020 with children between 5 to 16 years old (the max allowable age for a private school) on the roll. So if your child is eligible for primary school in 2020, they are eligible to attend our school. We do, however, encourage the youngest children to wait until they turn 6 years old because they tend to increase their independence at that age. There is no grouping by age – no fixed classes of any kind, in fact – so each student can choose with whom to learn, younger or older. This allows students more experience with a wide range of people with a wealth of knowledge, ideas, skills, and passions. It means that they are much more likely to have people around them with the same interests. It lets us explore the importance of freedom and more accurately mirrors society where we socialize with people of all ages.


    Children from all educational backgrounds are equally welcome to join our community as full-time students. We see Aroha Discovery School as an alternative to homeschooling for Nelson families. At this stage, there are no part-time or casual attendance options.

    Here is some information we believe to be true about homeschooling and schools. Please correct us if we have been misinformed!

    Trial Periods at a Registered School:

    • The maximum time a home-schooling family can trial a child at school and remain eligible for full home-schooling status is 28 days.
    • If the child returns to home-schooling on or before the 28th day they will receive the full home-schooling allowance.
    • If the child trials at school for more than 28 days but less than 10 weeks (the average term length) a ‘less days’ calculation will be made (rather than ceasing and resuming).
    • If the child trials at school for more than 10 weeks, the child’s exemption will cease, and a new exemption certificate must be applied for.

  • What can parents do to prepare for life in a democratic school?

    1. Talk about it with your family.  Listen carefully to your child so you can answer questions and alleviate any concerns that he or she may have by providing information. Knowing what is going to happen and what to expect lowers stress.
    2. Research.  Go to the library and select books for your child about making choices, learning from experience and making friends.  Choose books for yourself about coaching children, mediating, non-violent communication and active listening, and democratic and holistic education in general.  Visit our Resources page for videos, recommended books, articles and website links for further information.  If you can, visit other democratic and holistic schools (for example, Tamariki in Christchurch)
    3. Visit the school and talk to us.  Before we open, come to our regular public meetings.  Ask all your questions.  Introduce yourself and your child to the community.

    Embrace the adventure, keep a sense of humour and enjoy the journey.  Being part of the Aroha Discovery community will spark new conversations and discoveries that will be exciting for you both.


    Parents arrive at Arohan Discovery School with an open mind, a sense of humour, a willingness to share and a love of learning. They are ready to find out what Aroha Discovery School life is like and to join in the journey our community is making.  

  • How does a student prepare for life in a democratic school?

    Each student’s preparation for life in a democratic school will be different.  In general, though, they benefit from:

    • Pin-pointing their strengths as friends, learners and experts.
    • Discussing what they would enjoy learning about, what they would like to be good at doing and what sort of people they would like to be
    • Taking part in debate, decision-making and consensus at home
    • Creating strategies for self-motivation, including what to do if they feel bored, how to celebrate their successes and how to learn from mistakes
    • Understanding group dynamics, making strategies for teamwork and learning skills for building relationships, including active listening and empathy
    • Thinking about safety and how they might keep themselves and others safe


    All students who join Aroha Discovery School can talk about what they are interested in and where they find joy in their life.  They often have an idea about a goal they would like to reach and perhaps even what their first steps might be. Most of all, they are open to exploring learning, freedom and love in our democratic learning community. 

  • What is the first year the school opens likely to be like?

    The pioneers of a new alternative school community are those who truly take what they find and shape it to their vision.

    A lot of time is spent figuring out what it means to self-direct your learning, what the role of the adults becomes when students are making their own decisions, and how it all fits together. People get to know each other as they take advantage of activities on offer and the freedom to play. Meetings discuss what is and isn’t working and make rules for everyone to follow. They are a smaller group than the full community that emerges in the years to come, and that helps them reach consensus more quickly and easily. Committees are set up for a range of reasons e.g. to deal with conflict, to create the first budget etc. Groups begin to get together to share learning about particular topics and organize learning experiences, with support from adults. Resources are purchased that the students (with the assistance of teachers) have carefully selected and facilities grow, reflecting the community that uses them; and from the seed that was planted by the trust, a true community emerges.

    In other words, students at the school in its first year are setting the foundation for how it is likely to be in the future. They get a true sense of ownership over their school because much of it has not been decided in advance for them. After the structure of the community is established, by the end of the first year, newcomers can see what is there and get a sense of the reality of the place, but the question then asked is “will this suit me”, rather than “what will this look like once I’ve made it suit me”. There is always scope for change at any time, for sure, but never is it changing as fast and creatively as in the first few weeks and months of life.

    “There has to be this pioneer, the individual who has the courage, the ambition to overcome the obstacles that always develop when one tries to do something worthwhile, especially when it is new and different”

    – Alfred P. Sloan (CEO of General Motors in its revolutionary decades)


    It’s February 2020 and our pioneers have gathered, students and parents alike, on the first day of a new community. These families, excited by the idea of an alternative style of education, have jumped in with both feet and are ready to start our journey.

    Around the group is a blank book – a collection of spaces ready to be transformed for learning. Some basic resources have been purchased in advance, a sort of pebble to start the ripples with, but everyone knows that the biggest resource we have, or will ever have, is the energy, knowledge, skill sets and creativity of the people who really make up our learning community. In their hearts and minds, there is a vision of the spaces filled with all the stuff of learning, and they smile with the knowledge that by the time the year ends, they will be able to see it with their eyes as well.

  • What are the school’s term dates?

    Although being an independent school where we can choose our own opening and closing dates, our term dates are the same as other schools. These may be adjusted over time according to the communities needs but to start off with – to meet the needs of families with siblings at other schools we are keeping the term times the same as standard schools.

  • What does it cost? What if I can’t afford it?

    In order for our school to remain independent but yet affordable, setting up a business to run alongside the school. The fees will largely depend on the success of that business and other fundraising activities. We are doing our best to create a solid foundation with which to build this community so that it will thrive. Once some forecasts and budgeting have been completed we will post that information here and on the enrolment page.

  • Using this Website FAQs

    Got a question that wasn’t answered here? Please use the contact us form to let us know and we’ll add it to the list.