A visit to Alfredton School

On Tuesday 9th April, as part of my Kaiparoro residency, I was fortunate enough to visit the Years 6-8 children in Huia Room at Alfredton School.  It was a glorious blue sky morning!  I was welcomed to Huia Room by teacher Brenda O’Donnell and introduced by Chris Daniell from NZ Pacific Studio, who was also my lovely driver for the day.

I began by telling the class a little about myself – that I am an engineer and a writer – and I shared some of the writing work that I have done.  We also talked a little about what engineering is and what engineers do.  The children were interested in hearing about the work I did in Christchurch after the 2011 earthquake, which involved tagging along with engineers working across the city, asking them lots of questions, and writing about the work they and others were doing to help fix up all the damage.  The children were especially interested in learning about the Catholic Basilica, which lost both its towers in the quakes.  The engineers have ended up removing the building’s bells and big dome at the back, and they also used a robot and a drone to see what damage had occurred inside the building as it had become too unsafe for people to enter.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the project to save the Christchurch Basilica (that is, Christchurch’s ‘other’ cathedral!), this documentary is an excellent place to start:

The children in Huia Room then talked about the local features (bridges, lighthouses, etc) that they had chosen to write about, and the research they had carried out in preparation for my visit.  Research is a very important part of the nonfiction writing process!  After that, the class was keen to jump into writing the first draft of their stories.

We found out what to do when we get stuck with our writing, and that a ‘first draft’ doesn’t have to be perfect or ‘finished’ right away.  We also found out that writing is the best way to ‘find’ our stories, and that sometimes the story ends up being different from what we started to write about.  We also learnt that there is often more research to be done after the first bit of writing has been written – and that sometimes the best research comes from talking to people and asking them to share what they know, rather than from Google!

Finally, we learnt that writing good stories takes time, is messy, and will be different for everyone.  Even when we write about the same thing as someone else, our story will be unique because our own voice, and our interests and experiences, are different from everyone else’s.

I have gotten so much out of visiting Huia Room, and I am loving that I am now being bombarded with the class’s stories to read!  If you can make it along to the ANZAC service at the ANZAC Memorial Bridge in a few weeks’ time, or to the afternoon tea at Pukaha afterwards, you will have the opportunity to enjoy the work the Alfredton School children have done, too. Thanks for having me to visit, Alfredton School!

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