By Kathryn O’Connell-Sutherland
He whāriki hei whakamana i te mokopuna, hei kawe i ngā wawata
A whāriki that empowers the child and carries our aspirations
When Aotearoa went into lockdown I began thinking about our tamariki mokopuna and how we can support their learning in the home. I wondered what might already be available for teachers/kaiako and parents/whānau. This led me straight to Te Whāriki – the early years curriculum. I re-read the document and explored the many resources available for teachers at Te Whāriki Online. This blog shares some of my thoughts and insights in the following areas:
In each section you’ll find some reflective questions to explore.
Three big ideas to make sense of Te Whāriki at home
Te Whāriki has a vision that all children are competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society.
What might this look like at home?
Here are some things to think about first:
- Mana and rights
- An integrated curriculum
- Holistic development
Mana and rights – what does it look like, feel like and sound like?
The concept of mana is overarching and central to understanding – making sense of – all components of Te Whāriki. The idea of mana invites us to embrace a te Ao Māori worldview. Having conversations with tangata whenua and local iwi alongside sharing personal thinking and reflections is an appropriate approach to learning more about mana. Tame Iti shares his own personal story Mana: The power in knowing who you are that highlights the importance of identity, language and culture as central to our sense of mana. Dr Rose Pere (1997) describes mana as respect, acquired knowledge, control, intrinsic value, dignity and influence and Hirini Moko Mead (2003) states that all children are born with it and notes that it can never be taken away as it is part of a person’s whakapapa.
Building on this idea of mana is the concept of rights (agency) where children are able to create and act on their own ideas. In a previous CORE blog Dr Sarah Te One discusses the importance of genuinely listening and then acting on children’s voices. Grasping these ideas is fundamental to the vision of Te Whāriki. For some this may be a shift in how you see children in the home. Are they littlies in the background to be occupied, or communicators and decision makers with valid views and opinions?
What might be some of the ways that you see, understand and uphold mana?
An integrated approach to learning/curriculum
Te Whāriki describes the curriculum as “all the experiences, activities and events, both direct and indirect …”. This means seeing the learning opportunities in everyday moments and routines. It’s important to provide a balance for young children in the home by having some structure and also embracing natural and spontaneous events as they evolve. Adults can enhance the learning in daily routines and help make connections. Consider the science teaching and learning in explaining ‘droplets’ to naturally curious children, and the early maths concepts as you establish ‘2-metre distancing’ when out walking in the neighbourhood. These are two great examples of understanding with meaning and purpose in an integrated way.
How do you integrate different learning areas into your daily interactions?
In line with an integrated approach the overall view of learning and development in Te Whāriki is about the unity and connectedness of the whole child. Te Ao Māori perspectives on development have shaped this view. Te Whare Tapa Whā is a health model that takes into account cognitive (hinengaro), physical (tinana), emotional (whatumanawa), spiritual (wairua) dimensions or pou. They are equally important to supporting the wellbeing of the child especially at this time. Tapping in to children’s feelings, senses and memories is one way to create this balance. Some further examples are combining work and learning with yoga, mindfulness, drawing, colouring, fresh air, laughter and the importance of connection with others. For me, running ticks all of these boxes!
Reflecting on Te Whare Tapa Whā, where is this visible in the flow of your days? What pou are you most focused on? Are there any gaps?
The environment and resources
The home is a familiar and predictable space making it an ideal playground full of rich, authentic resources and cultural tools. Invest in some redesign and co-design with children. Time spent now with a focus on the environment is like adding another adult to your home! In fact, it’s often referred to as the third teacher. You could set up quiet spaces, areas for construction and art. Complementary to the physical space is the rich array of existing resources already at hand. Often referred to as ‘loose parts’, ‘treasure baskets’ and ‘heuristic play’, everyday objects are ideal (like things found in the garden, the garage, the kitchen and beyond). Natural open-ended resources invite curiosity and inquiry. Making resources readily accessible supports children’s creativity. Recycling is a perfect example of resources already in the home. You may like to explore Art ideas from the Tiny Studio by Dr Lisa Terreni – videos one, two and three.
Your home – a community of practice – is a resource made up of special cultural rituals, daily routines and values. The neighbourhood is also part of this. Your home and neighbourhood combined are the local curriculum. It’s about focusing on the things that take place at home – the interactions, practices and contributions of others. While out walking in the neighbourhood you can take an interest and explore those around you, their homes and special places in your local community. Perhaps a project noticing what has changed, and inviting children to draw and map their experiences with a who’s who of the neighbourhood! The stories of the people, the history and the land in the local area can be explored when out walking and talking.
- What are some of the rituals and special practices in your family?
- Who are the people in your neighbourhood?
- What are the significant landmarks, place names and cultural stories?
- What do children know about and notice around their neighbourhood?
In play a child behaves beyond his [sic] average age, above his [sic] daily behaviour and as though he [sic] were a head taller than himself [sic] (Vygotsky, 1978, p 102).
Play is where they process, express and make sense of their world. Watching older siblings ‘schooling’ and parents/caregivers ‘as workers’ in the home with the establishment of workstations and tools for online meetings is great learning! Rather than worrying and focusing on keeping younger children quiet or busy/occupied, perhaps give them a workstation, and encourage them to make their own ‘home office’ (with sheets, blankets and recycled boxes) or laptops with lego! Children’s ways of coping with change can be worked through by re-enacting what they see, hear and interpret. They might even call a meeting with their Sylvanian people to ‘flatten the curve’ or save jobs! They pick up new words and use them in their own play contexts. For us adults this gives clues as to what they might be thinking, feeling and learning. In play, adults can observe, initiate or follow along – taking on different roles and play characters helps to connect and relate. It can also add complexity and stimulate children’s imagination and cognitive development. Try not to ask questions – it can stifle their flow and creativity. Giving children opportunities to revisit and build on their ideas over time means resisting the challenge to pack away and tidy up their play structures!
What play are you noticing at home?
Learning in everyday moments
Here are some examples of learning from the curriculum that can also develop and be supported at home through routines, interactions and everyday living.
Over time and with guidance and encouragement, children become increasingly capable of:
- Managing themselves and expressing their feelings and needs.
- Understanding how things work here and adapting to change.
- Showing respect for kaupapa, rules and the rights of others.
- Recognising and appreciating their own ability to learn.
- Expressing their feelings and ideas using a wide range of materials and modes.
- Playing, imagining, inventing and experimenting.
(Ministry of Education, 2017)
In what ways can you support these learning outcomes at your place?
What examples do you have of learning in everyday moments?
What is some of the learning that is valued in your home?
The adults’ role – noticing, recognising and responding to the learning
The term ‘kaiako’ refers to all of us who have responsibility for the care and education of young children. It’s about the reciprocal nature of teaching and learning (ako). We’ve covered some key areas in the curriculum and shared some tips for parents/caregivers – such as being mindful of not asking too many questions, leaving children’s play structures set up and giving children opportunities to make decisions. There are some other things you can do to enhance their learning. Playcentre are whānau-led early learning services (see link below) that embrace the role of kaiako and use a range of strategies to notice, recognise and respond to their children’s learning and play. Some parents and whānau record their observations/wonderings and develop plans and maps to help support them. This is an example of kaiako having an active role in responding to the learning they see happening.
What role might the adult have in each of these examples?
Pausing to observe and record can widen the possibilities of how you might support children’s play ideas such as joining in, adding props, making resources available and commenting on what you see. Home-based early learning services maximise opportunities for learning from everyday living in the home. Professor Carmen Dalli (see video link below) suggests creating mind maps using three key areas – relationships, daily tasks and community – to support home-based learning. You could use mapping to draw up a weekly plan like this:
What could you record to support your child in the areas of relationships, daily tasks and community?
Behaviour: navigating your way through challenging times
All behaviour in young children can be viewed as:
- a learning opportunity
- an expression of feelings
Your response matters! Managing your own emotional state is the goal.
Strategies for guiding behaviour.
Te Whāriki emphasises our role as adults in supporting children’s social and emotional competence. When your buttons are pushed the challenge is to step back and reflect on what is happening. Ask yourself what you know about your child’s characteristics, temperament, the wider context and circumstances including your own stress and then, choose your response. Moments of frustration for adults are learning opportunities for children and they need lots of reassurance and time to practice as they learn ā tonā wā (in their own time).
The major difference between the brain of a young child and that of an adult is that the child’s brain is far more impressionable. This difference, known as plasticity, has both a positive and a negative side: the brain of a young child is more receptive to learning and to enriching influences, but it is also more vulnerable. (Ministry of Education, 2017, p 64)
Children are precious (taonga) and have rights; the right to be, the right to become, the right to enjoy and the right to choose. Links below include strategies and resources on self management and regulation and social and oral language. Tips from speech language therapist, Dr Jane Carroll, reinforce the importance of modelling specific vocabulary, asking fewer questions and making more comments. Other ideas include supporting children to learn by naming, describing and explaining emotions. For example; “you are feeling frustrated” or “when I feel frustrated, my body feels tight”.
Giving children feedback and lots of opportunities to succeed is really important and enhances their mana.
We each have an immense responsibility to look after our young children. Our strength and ability as parents/caregivers, whānau, teachers and leaders to reflect on and think critically about ourselves and our emotions, talents and frustrations helps us navigate and prepare well to support young children’s learning especially in unfamiliar circumstances. Seeing the learning in everyday moments and approaching challenges together ‘as learners’ can take the pressure off.
In acknowledgement of the tamariki mokopuna of our wider Early Years whānau who are included in this blog; Hineuru Tāwhirikura Te One Robinson, Harry Otineru Lee, Rita and Edith O’Connell, Holakitu’akolo Paea, Charlotte and Madeline Turner, Lily Tasi Lee, Arlen and Oakley Albon.
And the words of Dame Whina Cooper (1975):
Take care of our children. Take care of what they hear. Take care of what they see. Take care of what they feel. For how the children grow. So will be the shape of Aotearoa.
Mead, Hirini Moko (2003). Tikanga Māori – Living by Māori values. Huia Publishers, Wellington, New Zealand.
Ministry of Education Te Tāhuhu o Te Mātauranga (2017). Te Whāriki He whāriki mātauranga mō nga mokopuna o Aotearoa: Early childhood curriculum. Wellington, NZ
Pere, Dr Rangimarie Turuki (1997). Te Wheke – A celebration of infinite wisdom. Ao Ako Global Learning NZ Ltd, Wellington, New Zealand
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind and Society. USA: Harvard University Press.
Art ideas from the Tiny Studio using recycled materials by Dr Lisa Terreni:
Links to strategies and resources for teachers and parents from Te Whāriki Online:
- Playcentre – Whānau-led early childhood education service
- Home-based early childhood education (Professor Carmen Dalli )
- Social language and oral language (speech language therapist, Dr Jane Carroll)