Nature-based learning.


Development West Coast runs a nine-week business startup and development programme called Co.Starters. It is always satisfying to see graduates of the programme go on to turn their ideas into action. And Jess Gummer, has done just that.

With ten years’ experience working with youth, Jess believes the classroom environment is not always the most enjoyable or beneficial for some young people. Being an outdoor enthusiast, she is passionate about seeing children develop their confidence through taking risks in the great outdoors. Jess strongly advocates outdoor experiential learning for kids, and she is now bringing an internationally recognised nature-based development programme, TimberNook, to the West Coast.

Originally from Kent in South East England, Jess completed a degree in youth and community work and began working as an outdoor instructor with young people with disabilities and school groups.

She came to New Zealand in 2015. After a stint in Dunedin as a support worker, Jess shifted up to Greymouth when her partner enrolled in the pounamu carving programme at Tai Poutini Polytechnic. At first, she was a little apprehensive about moving to Greymouth, but soon fell in love with the Coast.

“It’s just so beautiful here. There are just so many walking tracks to explore and beaches to enjoy. We’re spoilt with natural beauty. The community is also small and supportive which I like,” Jess says.

In Greymouth, she first worked in alternative education with young people who had been disengaged from mainstream schooling and then as a teacher aide at Paroa Primary School. Working with these kids further reinforced her belief in the importance of nature-based learning.

Jess says she was influenced by psychologist Peter Gray’s book ‘Free to learn’, which explains how child-led play allows children to control their own lives through problem solving, developing effective communication with peers, and becoming more emotionally resilient.

“After reading ‘Free to learn’ I was really motivated to set-up a self-directed programme for kids on the Coast,” she says.

To see if she could develop her idea and make it a reality, Jess joined DWC’s Co.Starters business development programme being run in Greymouth by WestREAP.

“Co.Starters really helped me refine my ideas. It was great being in a room every week with supportive people you could bounce ideas off. With Layla and Fergal we had great facilitators and every week local business people would come and share their experiences.

“Originally I planned to run my own programme, but during Co.Starters I began to realise how difficult it would to do this on my own. While researching I stumbled across TimberNook, a nature-based play programme that was started in the United Stated by an occupational therapist and has now spread across the world.

“When I saw children making huts and playing with loose parts, which is a term used to describe materials that can be used as anything imaginable and creative the children come up with, for example a leaf can be used as money, rocks and grass could be a plate of spaghetti – the possibilities are endless. I thought this would be an amazing programme to bring to the Coast.”

Jess then got involved with TimberNook and she will now be facilitating the first West Coast programme in the July school holidays.

“Did you roll down the hills as a child? Did you throw a pile of leaves at your friends? Did you jump in puddles or climb up trees?” Jess asks.

“If the answer is yes to any of these questions, and you want your children to experience a similar childhood to yours, then please send them to TimberNook during the school holidays.

“Their senses will be challenged, their imagination, confidence and emotional resilience will develop, and we will see some strong confident kids”.

The TimberNook ‘barefoot and buckets’ holiday programme is designed for children between 5-12 years. It will run 9am-3pm from Monday 15 July to Friday 19 July. $225 for the five days or $50 per day. Or if you just want to see what the programme is all about come along to the free launch and open day at 2:30pm-4pm, Sunday 14 July at Kahurangi Lodge Scout Den, Kumara Junction. For more information email Jess or Wendy Pirie at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

If you would like to register an expression of interest in the Co.Starters business startup and development programme, please contact Development West Coast at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.