Ka Hana Pono: A magical school that lets kids be kids

Ka Hana Pono School, Haleiwa, Oahu, Hawaii

As our 6-month chapter in Hawaii is coming to an end, I keep reflecting on the special time we’ve had and how incredibly lucky we were to find Ka Hana Pono, the local preschool that our kids attended over the past half year. First, the school choice was a bit of a wildcard as there are only two full-time preschools in the area and second, that we were able to get spots for both Bastiaan and Lea. I remember when I was googling preschools in Haleiwa and stumbled onto Ka Hana Pono’s website. The photos immediately captivated me – the lush green outdoor garden and playground. Memories of my outdoor adventures as a kid in Austria came to mind. And, they taught the kids about healthy living and eating? Sold! After a brief virtual Zoom tour by Jason aka “Uncle Bison”, the owner and one of the main teachers, I was even more convinced of this choice. This looked like a fantastic place for two young children to spend 6 months. Ka Hana Pono it was.

The meaning of the name itself made me ponder life and curious about how their day-to-day would unfold: “‘Ka Hana Pono’ is a pragmatic set of tools for understanding and making the practice of Pono (= being at one with everything) a part of your daily life. These tools are consolidated into a reference work that combines both the philosophy of personal greatness, with the cognitive skills necessary for maintaining it – a practical guide for mastering the art of living in Pono.” (Source: https://huna-hana.tripod.com). Sounds like a school I could benefit from going to myself 🙂

So what did Bastiaan’s and Lea’s experience look like in practice?

  1. Connection to nature + pure play. The kids spent the majority of their time outdoors, barefoot, exploring, learning from and playing with nature. They would come home with mud on their feet, their shorts dirty to the point that even the strongest detergent would fail miserably. They had climbed, planted, harvested, swung, jumped, painted (messily), danced and sung. It made me smile to see them at pick up time – their hair dusty or sweaty, exhilarated and tired.
  2. Learning by doing. Bastiaan would have never touched bugs back in California. Now he knows that bok choy stalks regrow if you trim them and put them back in shallow water, he picks and eats berries from local bushes and names (and touches!) all sorts of bugs. The teachers read to the kids and tell them stories grounded in core values like respect and love. While the curriculum (on purpose) isn’t “academic-first” the kids learn core concepts like counting, colors and shapes while going about their gardening activities or games.
  3. Team work and collaboration – teachers as the guides. The teachers guide the kids on activities but let the kids take the lead. The kids learn how to work together, play with each other, and work through conflict. The teachers feel like the wise elder friends that aren’t too overpowering or hierarchical. They make the kids feel seen and heard – each one of them them acknowledged for who they uniquely are. Also, turns out Uncle Bison is a singer-song writer who plays in a ska band. He teaches the kids to play Ukulele and whips out his guitar to sing and dance with the kids during the day.

I must admit that I had a brief moment of hesitation early on about the mainly play-based approach. This brief doubt evaporated quickly as I saw Lea and Bastiaan develop and grow during their time here. Bastiaan in particular became more confident and outgoing. The ability to fully express himself through play and physical activity (he’s a very physical guy) helped him come out of his shell. The close and loving relationship with the teachers led to a huge jump in his social and verbal skills. And our Lea is thriving all around – our little social butterfly could let her full spirit shine and share her light with the many other wonderful children that are now her friends.

Thank you Ka Hana Pono for the special environment you create every day – for the love, dedication, creativity and freedom you provide. We feel incredibly grateful that Bastiaan and Lea could spend this chapter of their lives with you – their time at Ka Hana Pono enabled them to connect with and let their individual lights shine more brightly.