NZ Academic to Unveil Details of World First Childcare Centre
A world first concept in early education to be opened in Auckland is set to be unveiled by the NZ academic and ECE
educator who created it at an international conference next week.
Former university professor of engineering and technology management, Dr Darius Singh and his wife Nikeeta Singh, will
present their plans at the International Conference for Education Research and Innovation in Seville, Spain.
The conference is designed to promote new trends in education and they will present on the Gaia (Earth) based education
principle, which forms the core platform for their four award-winning early learning centres in Auckland and Tauranga.
They will also unveil what will become a world first in early childhood education - a fully-inspired Gaia based
childcare centre inside a one-acre lush NZ native forest.
The architecturally designed building will form the shape of a giant leaf and model a living, breathing and self-powered
entity, operating with sustainability principles of solar energy; rainwater harvesting, recyclable and sustainably
sourced building materials, natural ventilation and underground earth heated systems.
Design elements from nature will also be integrated into construction of the building using a technique called
biomimicry which models the production of materials, structures, and systems on biological entities and processes.
Dr Singh and Nikeeta Singh have nearly 40 years’ combined experience in research and education and believe we need to do
more to foster the next generation’s appreciation and future guardianship of the world around them.
“Our children are becoming more and more detached from the natural world and losing an intimate understanding and
connectivity to the planet and all natural and simple things. They are the victims of a new consumer age with the
highest rates of consumption and waste ever, and a new hybrid age where digital technology is ubiquitous and embedded in
“We have a generation of children who believe carrots and potatoes grow on trees, milk comes from a fridge and who try
to swipe across the pages of a book,” says Dr Singh.
The new centre will be the culmination of nature inspired design and philosophy which runs through the existing centres
Dr Singh owns with Nikeeta, an early childhood educator, manager and teaching mentor.
“The day to day activities in the centres focus on providing opportunities to express, emphasise, evaluate and exemplify
learning and outcomes through a nature and earth-based lens. The centres also promote core values that link to
attributes, qualities and hidden life messages that earth has been showing for 4.6 billion years,” he says.
Dr Singh says the concept of Gaia, Mother Earth or Mother Nature has existed in numerous indigenous cultures around the
world for thousands of years - including that of Native American, Maori and Pasifika peoples, where nature and earth
connectivity still form a part of who you are.
“It’s not enough to simply learn about nature, we must learn from nature, in nature,” he says.
“Anecdotally, kids seem to be distracted more, they seek instant gratification and they need to put in extra energy to
simply sit still and focus. The easy "fix it" is to look at further engineering marvels or medical approaches and more
technology to counter the root cause, when all we need is to go back to basics,” he says.
The Chrysalis Group’s Gaia inspired centres are solar powered and harvest rainwater from the roof to supply outdoor play
streams, gardening needs and all bathroom and laundry water systems. The new Secret Forest building will have this too,
but with additional features.
Heating of the centre will come via an underground coil liquid heating system, warmed in summer to draw thermal energy
from in winter.
“The Secret Forest will spring upwards like a giant leaf-shaped treehouse and internally it will feature a biomimicry
inspired design shaped like a Nikau palm leaf, which children can see from the ceilings in each room,” he says.
“Children, teachers, parents and caregivers will have a total immersive experience in a NZ native rainforest, with a
forest walkway for them to travel away from the car park and city into another world. Free play in the forest, a
mudslide for older preschoolers and shallow streams throughout the site, complete the experience,” he says.
Dr Singh will be one of the presenters from 80 countries speaking at the conference with more than 2,000 delegates in
They have also been invited to speak at the International Conference for Future Learning in December in Barcelona.