Life's a beach - but not for everyone

COOL DIP: Mutu Kapita and his sister Daetyn Grant soak up the delights of a first trip to the beach.
COOL DIP: Mutu Kapita and his sister Daetyn Grant soak up the delights of a first trip to the beach.

Until last week Auckland siblings Mutu Kapita, 9, and Daetyn Grant, 8, had never been to the beach, despite living just 20 minutes from the coast.

And in South Auckland they are one not the only ones who've never felt sand under their feet.

On Thursday the pair visited Weymouth beach and collected shells, bathed in rock pools, screeched at oyster catchers and swam in the small salty waves.

"It's like a huge pool!" said Mutu as the Manukau Harbour appeared over a hill.

"I was scared and interested," said sister Daetyn after her first swim in the sea.

Although days at the beach are considered a Kiwi rite of passage, Daetyn and Mutu's principal at decile one Manurewa South School, Tone Kolose, is often surprised by how few kids at his school have had the quintessential life experiences expected of children their age.

"I made the assumption that every kid has been to the beach - we are close to water and it is the Kiwi thing. There were a number of kids who haven't even done that. I would be very surprised if many of them had been over the [Auckland] harbour bridge," said Kolose.

The furthest Mutu and Daetyn have been from home is on a school trip to the Auckland Zoo.

Manurewa South school has a saying "there is life beyond the dairy" and encourages parents to take kids to attractions such as the Auckland Botanic Gardens and Totara Park, but still find many kids have never experienced life outside their community because families are rooted in poverty or lack time. Many parents work multiple jobs and look after large families, making it almost impossible to provide important life experiences to their children. Other children are raised by struggling solo parents or grandparents.

"Most of our parents, just to pay bills, are working two jobs," Kolose said. "Most of them don't have time to take them to the beach or take them to the zoo. That is why they don't do it."

That lack of life experience has a knock-on effect when it comes to education. The modern curriculum often draws on student's practical knowledge and children with a limited exposure to the world beyond their neighbourhood have gaps in their vocabulary and understanding.

"When you are referring back to things and trying to draw on their experiences it is very limited. You find that often orally they can't share because they haven't had that experience," said Kolose.

Schools often provide many of the experiences the parents can't and a significant portion of the budget is allocated to paying for these trips where $5 can be a prohibitive cost to families.

The education payoffs from trips to the zoo or beach are significant say teachers, and any opportunity to offer those experiences is paid back in reading and writing improvements, Kolose said.

"If there are families who just can't afford it, we send them along no matter what and the school pays for it, we think that makes sense. We want them to have those experiences so they can come back and talk about it in the classroom," he said.

Many of these schools are being supported by charities who see value in providing opportunities for children to expand their horizons.

This happened last week when six South Auckland schools joined award-winning charity Sustainable Coastline on a trip to help clean up beaches on Waiheke Island. For many of the children on the trip it was the first time they had been to a beach, on a boat, let alone to the playground of Auckland's rich and famous.

The experience provides motivation for children, said Sustainable Coastlines chief executive Sam Judd.

"Giving kids access to these coastlines that we are asking them to look after is vital.

"You can't teach someone not to drop rubbish because it is going to hurt the beach if they don't know what the beach is," said Judd.

The charity first started focusing on underprivileged children in 2009 after it took a group of low decile schools to Great Barrier Island.

"When we heard about how much impact it had it became a core tactic of our organisation was to if we had a special trip like that favour kids who wouldn't otherwise get that chance," said Judd.

Sunday Star Times