Tanya Jenkins

In the 1990’s, Tanya Jenkins developed paid work as an independent environmental educator, initially volunteering at St Martin’s Primary where her children attended school at the time. Her effort was augmented by her meeting the core group of the Friends of the Estuary organisation. She is a founding Trustee of the Avon-Heathcote Estuary Ihutai Trust and continues to be involved in the “hands on” improvements of the estuary and its catchment. She lives in Woolston, where she is never far from the estuary and the adjoining wetland reserves. Tanya is originally from Holland.

Tanya gives some account of her early life, as a child in Holland. She reflects on how these early life experiences influenced her outlook and development as an environmental educator:

You know my parents brought up six children and of the six children, five are now working somehow with the natural environment. One became a park ranger, the other one is a professor in biology, they’re all doing something because my parents have always said if it wasn’t just after the war and the environment they were in they would have probably been gypsies and travelled the world, but the opportunity wasn’t there. So I think they always encouraged us to go out, be an individual, find out what you want, and, and seek what you want, and go for it, no matter what, don’t let anything stop you, systems… That in itself was my biggest influence, I think, is to allow people to be individuals. They also, every weekend, although we’re a very poor family, we would walk, or take a bus, and go to the nearest park, or the nearest forest, to get out of the city and just start enjoying the peace and quiet of a forest or a park. I mean there is never, there is no natural environment left in Holland, but there were parks. So we could do that and we’d go there on Sundays and we’d all carry magnifying glasses and we’d look at bark because the moss and lichen on bark in autumn and winter is a spectacular environment in itself. And my parents encouraged us to explore all that and that has stuck with all of us obviously, the fascination of looking at a tree, in ah, oh that’s just a tree how boring is that, no, but now have a look at it, under the magnifying glass, and now what can you see. You can see insects and things happening and every tree is its own environment with things happening. So that natural curiosity, that kids have for anything that moves and lives was definitely encouraged and I’ve always carried that on really. I want to give that to other children and that’s how my whole career and interest in the natural environment really started.

Tanya developed an independent service as an environmental educator in the early 1990’s, taking her first field trip lesson with Burwood school children out on the Brighton Pier [1993]. Children who initially seemed disinterested quickly became fully engaged and willing participants in enquiry learning. She describes the successful outdoor lesson format; she calls “Tummy watch.”

I was amazed with the attitude, oh what we are doing here, its all mud, ooh it stinks here, oh this is boring. The kids didn’t get it at all. They didn’t have a clue why they were dragged out of school to New Brighton Park. Till I took them all on the jetty and got them to lie down on the jetty and I’ve got photos of that. We call it “Tummy watch” exercise. All the children would lie in a long row on their tummies and I would stand, do it at low tide, and I would stand in front of the jetty, and say, “Now everyone look down at the mud through the water. What can you see?” And then, after a minute, when their eyes adjusted; “Oh my God!” “There’s hundreds of crabs,” “Ooh, and at look at all the snails,” and, “Excuse, me what are those?” And within minutes I had them, because I didn’t have to tell them anything. They were just so amazed with what they saw that they had millions of questions which I just couldn’t answer all at once. And that’s when the teaching style comes in. Ok. All these questions, let’s go through them one at a time. So they weren’t listening to me; I was doing them a favour. I was answering their questions, so they of course, they were willing listeners. Let’s have a look at the snails first, ok, what can we see about snails, oh they are leaving little poo trails behind. What’s that all about? So the snails they grazed the mud flats, and eat all the algae and leave this little squiggly poo trail behind. And all the kids laugh, because teachers don’t say “Poo trails” do they. So, you build up a relationship with the children, to make learning like, my mother did with me, that’s a boring tree, use a magnifying glass, and instead of giving a magnifying glass, I just allowed them to have a look at one small piece, of this whole smelly boring looking place, lets have a look at one piece, and look what see, wow there’s a whole lot there.