By Rachel Carrell 

What is the Koru Ethos?

One thing that makes a Koru Kids Home Nursery extra special is the Koru Ethos. This Ethos guides how our childminders care for children and help them to explore the world around them. Our unique approach is weaved into our candidate selection process, our training, our community, how we support our childminders in running their home nurseries, and the core values of how we run our own business.

So, let's get straight into it. What is the Koru Ethos all about? The Koru Ethos is centered around play, and the importance of intrinsic motivation and self regulation as opposed to coercive control. Parents value both academic success and mental health, and they're not willing to sacrifice one for the other – they want to give their child tools they can use their whole life long to flourish on their own unique path, whatever that might be. Parents also deeply care that their child can be a positive force for good in the world, connected to the community and lifting up others as well as themselves. That's what we all want, and that's what we're after with the Koru Ethos. 

The Koru Ethos centres around play as a key element to learning

What influenced the Koru Ethos?

When we developed the Koru Ethos we certainly didn't come up with it out of thin air, we had many influences. In fact, we consulted experts all over the world, from China to Sweden, from specialists in Montessori to Reggio Emilia, from Harvard to Oxford, in a multi year project. We took inspiration from the best national curriculums around the world, from Te Whariki in New Zealand where I'm from, to our own Early Years Foundation Stage in the United Kingdom where I now live. We looked at the evidence base for what everyone was doing, and took the best bits from everything to come up with the Koru Ethos. 

Let's go through each one  quickly and pay homage to what we took from each one, because the Koru Ethos is really building on what has gone before. We respect and value the wisdom that was displayed in 20th century childcare, and we want to elevate it and develop it to be fit for purpose for the 21st century. 

So what we loved about Montessori …. Montessori has been incredibly influential. We love that children are given the freedom to work at their own pace, make their own choices, correct their own mistakes, which promotes independence. We love that Montessori respects the unique individuality of each child, cultivating respect for others, the community and the environment. We love the idea of long and uninterrupted periods of learning. We love seeing children not as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge, but rather to be guided through real life experiences in order to learn. We love the focus on observation rather than assessment. We love the idea of adapting the environment for children's levels. We love the idea of incorporating practical life activity in learning, and we definitely love multi age groupings that replicate the family, because of course at Koru Kids the family is at the heart of everything we do and everything we think about. 

We also love Forest School. Forest School builds confidence and self esteem through hands-on experiences, and Forest School  leaders develop imagination through limited and simple resources — things like mud and sticks. Forest School helps children understand, appreciate and care for the natural environment. 

The Koru Ethos draws upon Forest School influences

We love Reggio Emilia, our third major influence. Reggio Emilia, like Montessori, is also Italian in its origin and also emerged around roughly the same part of the 20th century. And it has some similarities but also some important differences with Montessori, and we love taking the best from both. We love that Reggio Emilia promotes curiosity and problem solving skills. We love the idea of educators learning alongside the children, being a guide and a resource, being deeply involved. We love the idea of a bottom up curriculum. That means it responds to children's interests through conversations, which help to shape the projects which adults and children engage in. We love the idea of focusing on creativity and fostering innovation. We definitely agree with Reggio Emilia that children have rights and agency. We love the focus on projects, and research following the curiosity of the child. We think a lot about exploration and discovery in play and we love thinking about children as mini scientists, We also love the connection to the family, the focus on the community and on parental involvement and engagement. We would add, only when they want to, we definitely don't want the parents to feel like they have to be involved when they don't want to be! We love that project based learning really came out of Reggio Emilia. And we love the idea that the environment, much like Forest School, is the ‘third teacher’. 

From Te Whariki, which is the New Zealand curriculum, we took our children's questions, which I'll come back to later on. We developed and incorporated them into the Koru Ethos. We also love the idea that children are valued as active learners who choose, plan and challenge.

The Koru Ethos encourages children to love learning

Related to some of the other influences, from Steiner, we love the focus on helping children love learning. From Project Based Learning, which as we said, came out of Reggio Emilia, we love the importance of child led learning, including leaving them space to solve their own problems. From Alfie Kohn who wrote Unconditional Parenting, an amazing book which I love and recommend very frequently, comes the importance of intrinsic motivation which we think about a lot in the Koru Ethos. From neuroscience and from the new field of interpersonal neurobiology, we get the therapeutic value of stories — the power of telling stories to actually physically shape the brain, as it grows. From Janet Lansbury — who many of you will know has a wonderful blog, celebrating the work of Magda Gerber — we take the role and power of observation and sportscasting, rather than interrupting and interfering. From Jerome Bruner we take progressive repetition, the idea of spiral learning to develop ideas with increasing depth. 

And finally from the Jesuit tradition, for example as embodied at Georgetown University, we take the concept of ‘cura personalis’, a Latin phrase which means care of the whole person. It means caring for someone, and ourselves as we develop. We think about how we care about other people in the world and how we go about creating a self that helps other people in the world. It's not just about ourselves — it’s about how we can contribute to our community and our society. 

That was a lot of different influences! Montessori, Forest School, Reggio Emilia, Te Whariki, Steiner, Project Based Learning, Alfie Kohn, neuroscience and interpersonal neurobiology, Janet Lansbury, Jerome Bruner, Jesuit tradition.  

That's a lot.

We looked across the whole of 20th century childcare, we looked at everything we've learned from science, we looked at 21st century challenges. We thought deeply about what our children are going to face, the challenges they're going to face, and we came up with 21st century childcare for 21st century childhoods.

The Koru Ethos aims to set children up for a positive life in the 21st century

Who is the Koru Ethos for?

So let's talk about the components of the Koru Ethos. Let's think firstly, about who we're talking about when we talk about childcare.  We think great childcare needs to serve three different groups, each with different needs. Firstly, the children. Secondly, the whole family. And thirdly, society. 

The whole child

Let's talk about the children first. When we think about what children need, we take a long view, and we talk about the whole child. What do I mean by those two things?

What do I mean by ‘long view’ first?  What we mean is, we aren't giving children a good time just for a day, a week or even a year. We are aiming to set them up for a good life. We don't want to achieve short term goals at the expense of the long term. We believe learning is for life, not just for school. And we want to give children the tools to succeed. Long after they leave our care. 

And what we mean when we say ‘the whole child’ is that we take a wide holistic view, the most holistic, widest possible view, of what success might mean for an individual child. Yes, success in school is important but it's just one small part of a good life, along with other goals, like health, relationships, joy, and a sense of purpose.

What is it that these children are going to need to deal with? Well, we thought about that a lot, about 20th century challenges, and what will be different in the 21st century. The modern world, the 21st century, requires modern survival skills. The old certainties are gone. Our children's future is likely to be challenging and chaotic. It's going to have a rate of change unprecedented in human history. The children will have to be physically healthy and strong, of course, but they're also going to need to be able to build relationships, including with people who are different to them, demonstrating kindness and empathy. Some specific technical skills like coding might come in handy, but it's more important that they are creative, adaptable, curious, with a love of learning, able to cope with whatever the future holds. To underpin that, they're going to need mental strength and resilience.

This is something that society often gets wrong, as we can see by the current epidemics of anxiety and depression among adults. We know, science tells us, that positive mental health for adults starts in childhood. We can do much better for our children. 

The Koru Ethos focusses on the wellbeing of the whole child

The whole family

So that's all about children. What about the second part, the whole family?

It's not enough for childcare to be great for the kids. Childcare needs to meet the needs of the whole family, as the well being of any single person in a family affects the well being of everyone else. So, when we support families, we help everyone in that family. And every human being needs a family, a group of people who love each other unconditionally, in order to flourish.

Society

Thirdly, society. So we've said that childcare is for the children, obviously. It's also for the whole family. But in the Koru Ethos, we also think that childcare is important for society. Families form society, families form communities, families form the world. And we need our children to be able to contend with a more fractured, decaying world than the one that we inherited. There is a positive, tremendous opportunity for this new generation to build a fairer world. Great childcare needs to support children as agents of change in the world, building its future, and with luck they'll build a better one. 

How is the Koru Ethos delivered through great childcare?

Now let's talk about what modern childcare needs to deliver so that children live a flourishing life.

We think childcare needs to answer the children's six questions:

  • Can I trust you?
  • Do you know me?
  • Do you help me fly?
  • Can I find my path?
  • Do you hear me?
  • Is this place fair for us?

We think, if you can answer those six questions well you're well on the way to delivering some good childcare.

We believe 21st century childcare needs to deliver these six things to children to truly thrive. Each one is important at every age, and the later ones get more important as the children get older. Let's go through each one. 

Firstly, Can I trust you? What does this mean and how do we deliver it? Children need to feel 100% secure. This means physical safety and protection from harm and also emotional security. It's vital for their brain development. Until the age of three, a million neural connections are made in a child's brain every second. Especially in the earliest days, children need a sense of consistency and utter security to lay the foundations of positive mental health for the rest of their lives. Their emotional wellbeing needs to be nurtured through encouragement, warmth, acceptance and respect. Through a loving home environment or a home from home, comfort with rituals, customs and events, children develop habits of trust, as their identity and individual path emerges. They need to be accepted, supported as unique individuals and assured that they belong. 

Children need to feel 100% secure, both physically and emotionally

Do you know me? Children need to feel connected. This is the second one. They need to feel like they are known. Through connection with other children and adults, children develop skills of emotional literacy, social competence, empathy and kindness. As they grow, they experience the magic of friendship and learn to celebrate individuality and difference and respect other's identities and paths. 

The third question, Do you help me fly? Children need to grow physically and mentally strong in order to fly. For physical strength, they'll need healthy food, lots of exercise, ideally outdoors. And we love outdoor settings, because they can be both more calming and, strangely, more stimulating, and they also develop the ability to handle risk. But in addition to this physical strength, to fly, mental strength is equally important. If we're going to help children weather the storms and their lives, they're going to need to develop strong internal armour. And as children develop, as their prefrontal cortex develops, they can increasingly practice thinking and reasoning skills. At the same time, they need to become mindful and fluent in the language of their feelings. This helps children learn self regulation and perseverance, which are the building blocks of resilience, and adaptability. The word ‘grit’ is kind of fashionable at the moment . Grit is really another word for resilience and persisting in the face of difficulty and uncertainty ,learning from mistakes and failures. 

Children need time and space to explore

All of this is what children need, to be able to fly. But where are they going to fly to? That's the fourth question, Can I find my path? Children need time and space to explore. They have a natural curiosity and a drive to experiment and inquire; anyone who spent any time with children will have noticed this. And the more we can nurture and protect these instincts – definitely not try to drive them out, they're amazing! – we can help children develop knowledge and skills in areas that interest them and discover what brings them joy, so they can find their path. If we can pull this off, children's natural enthusiasm, creativity and imagination shine undiminished, and their confidence grows as they explore their world ever more independently. They survive little moments of vulnerability and they learn to be self sufficient. Absolutely key to this is time and space to play. Play is something that is under threat, with our scheduling and stressful environments these days. But a raft of evidence shows that play involves meaningful learning. Play – purposeless, voluntary, fun, improvised – lets children explore diverse experiences and experience moments of safe risk taking. Playing with other kids helps children practice relationships, teamwork, practice conflict, which is vital, and develop empathy. The Koru Ethos  emphasises play to the maximum. 

So, with all of this, when children are active agents in their own learning, this comes through play, comes through nurturing, and protecting these instincts to experiment and inquire when children are active agents, not passive recipients. This keeps their intrinsic motivation strong and that means their path is their own. Maybe their path will take them down roads filled with maths or science or technology or cooking or engineering, languages, movement, music! Whatever it is, we can help by providing diverse opportunities and an empowering environment and giving them self directed, unstructured time.

Children need to be able to express themselves so they can be heard

The fifth question: Do you hear me? Children need to be able to express themselves so they can be heard. They need to discover different ways to create and communicate and develop confidence to express their ideas. We can help by truly listening, treating all behaviour as communication, which it is, and providing a language rich environment, and plenty of opportunities for expressive arts. 

The final question is: Is this place fair for us? Again we zoom outwards from the child, from the family, into society. Children need to connect to a mission bigger than themselves. Even young children can be empowered to make a contribution to their community, as they grow. And as this sphere of influence expands, children develop their ability to make decisions and judgments on matters they care about. We can help develop children's internal ‘locus of control’. That means, how much they consider that the world is within their control. We nurture their courage, their advocacy skills so they can speak on behalf of people who need it. We develop their sense of agency — their sense that they can do things — and responsibility — their sense that they should do things. 

So those are the six questions at the heart of the Koru Ethos: Can I trust you, Do you know me, Do you help me fly, Can I find my path, Do you hear me, Is this place fair for us?

The Koru Ethos develops a child's sense of agency

Developing all these things is a tough ask for parents to do alone. Parenthood is hard. Everyone knows that! Parents are dealing with economic anxiety, lack of government and family support, huge expectations, especially for mothers. Childcare needs to step up and take on some of this challenge, and that's where Koru Kids Home Nurseries come in – we're training our childminders in tools and techniques to help them deliver the Koru Ethos. What I've outlined here is pretty theoretical. In our childminder training, we translate this theory into practicality so we can make it real, and help our 21st century children with their 21st century childhoods.

All the research and learning I've done over these years, based on all the wisdom, all the childcare that's gone before in the 20th century, has gone into the Koru Ethos so that our children can truly flourish in the 21st century. It's the childhood I want for my own children. It's the Ethos I want for my own children.

If this has you excited and you’d like to join us to help the next generation of children explore the world around them and flourish, why not apply to train as a childminder and open your own Koru Kids Home Nursery today?