Success for Māori Children in Early Childhood Services (May 2010) 01/05/2010

Focusing on realising Māori children’s potential

What did ERO ask?

To what extent are early childhood services focusing on realising the potential of Māori children to become competent and confident learners?

What did ERO find?

Many services were not implementing practices that supported Māori children as learners. Figure 2 shows that only 16 percent of services in this evaluation were highly focused on realising Māori children’s potential to become competent and confident learners. Twenty-four percent did have a focus on this but had room for improvement and sixty percent were beginning or not yet focused.

Figure 2: Extent to which early childhood services focus on realising the potential of Māori children to become competent and confident learners.

Extent to which early childhood services focus on realising the potential of Māori children to become competent and confident learners.

The services with 26 percent 14 or more Māori children on their roll were more likely to be focused on realising Māori children’s potential than those services with fewer Māori children. 15

Managers and educators in many services need to recognise the importance of acknowledging Māori children’s cultural identity and heritage. Reflecting on, and questioning, their practices in supporting Māori children to experience success as learners is part of this challenge.

Early childhood services focused on realising Māori children’s potential through their:

  • bicultural curriculum;
  • teaching strategies;
  • assessment practices; and
  • partnerships for learning.

Each of these areas is discussed in relation to ERO’s findings, supported by examples of practice in individual services. A rationale is given for each area, drawn from relevant guiding Ministry of Education publications, in particular, Te Whāriki: He Whāriki Matauranga mō ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa (1996), Quality in Action: Te Mahi Whai Hua (1998), and Kei Tua o te Pae Assessment for Learning: Early Childhood Exemplars (2005). Questions that could be used as a focus in self review are included.

Bicultural Curriculum

Bicultural curriculum

For many Māori, quality curriculum implies:

  • the use of te reo;
  • an environment in which children connect culturally with people, places and the past so that culture is visible and validated; and
  • approaches based on current theories of learning and development for Māori.

Quality in Action: Te Mahi Whai Hua. (p.64)
This is a curriculum for early childhood care and education in New Zealand. In early childhood education settings, all children should be given the opportunity to develop knowledge and an understanding of the cultural heritages of both partners to Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The curriculum reflects this partnership in text and structure.
Te Whāriki. ( p.9)

The extent to which early childhood services provided a bicultural curriculum varied, and few services genuinely acknowledged Māori perspectives through language and culture. In highly focused services, practices were inclusive and respectful of Māori values and beliefs. Te reo Māori was consistently used in conversations and evident in the environment, in planning documents and in assessment records such as children’s portfolios. Some services had educators who were confident in using te reo Māori and modelled its use for others. Rituals and routines for children incorporated tikanga Māori. Māori children confidently led karakia and waiata in many of these services. Children’s ancestral connections were affirmed and their identity as Māori acknowledged.

Teachers demonstrate a genuine commitment to including a Māori dimension in the kindergarten programme and routines. Te reo Māori is naturally integrated and used by children and teachers. Children are active participants in Māori protocols to welcome visitors and on visits to local schools. They are also developing confidence to say their own mihi for introducing themselves and greeting others. Priority has been given to providing equipment and resources that acknowledge the unique place of Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand. Māori children and whānau are confident that their language and culture are valued, affirmed and respected by teachers, children and other kindergarten families. Kindergarten

Care is taken to place Māori children in homes where their culture will be respected and fostered. The visiting teacher in this network integrates aspects of te reo and tikanga into her practice and works to empower caregivers to increase their knowledge in these areas. Home-based service

In services that were in the process of developing a Māori perspective in their curriculum, educators were using some reo Māori and waiata as part of the programme. Resources that portrayed Māori perspectives, such as puzzles and books, were available to children. Some services were more deliberate about including te reo Māori and cultural values as part of the curriculum. Many of these services had a high reliance on individual educators’ awareness, commitment and understanding of what it meant to implement a bicultural curriculum.

Staff are just beginning to think about ways that their practices can be specifically responsive to Māori families. The centre director understands that this goes beyond using te reo Māori and providing resources. Internal and external professional development is planned for 2009. Education and care centre

In services not focused on supporting Māori children as learners, managers and educators often did not have any understanding of te reo Māori and tikanga and did not have a strong commitment to implementing a bicultural curriculum.

There is no evidence of Māori perspectives in assessment, planning or evaluation. The centre has a few books and puzzles that provide a bicultural dimension to the programme. The supervisor and parents have little understanding of Māori culture and values. They acknowledge that this is an area that needs to improve for them to encourage Māori families to their centre. This point is significant as this is the only early childhood service in the area. Playcentre

The implementation of a strong bicultural curriculum relied on managers and educators understanding and valuing te reo Māori and tikanga in the context of quality early childhood education. Where services were highly focused on supporting Māori children (and their whānau) the inclusion of a Māori perspective as an integral part of the curriculum was crucial.

Teaching strategies


Educators can extend children’s thinking and introduce other world views by integrating tikanga Māori into the curriculum. They can use te reo Māori, where appropriate, and gain an understanding of Māori pedagogy in order to facilitate young children’s learning.
Educators may need to identify appropriate strategies to support children who are reluctant to participate in group activities. They may consider the approach of Māori, who recognise that at times, it may not be appropriate to try to include children whose behaviour indicates whakamā (shyness).
Quality in Action: Te Mahi Whai Hua. (pp.29-30)

Teaching strategies used by educators varied in how well they assisted Māori children to become successful learners. A strong feature in the highly focused services was the time educators invested in getting to know individual Māori children and their whānau. Educators spent time building relationships with Māori children (and their whānau) and being interested in their lives, not just while attending the service but also as part of the community in which they lived.

Educators valued what children brought to their learning. They acknowledged children’s prior experiences and had high expectations for them as learners. Services embraced the concept of ako in their practice and worked from the premise that ‘we are all learners and teachers here’. Educators recognised opportunities to foster tuakana/teina relationships between older and younger children.

The teaching team is committed to recognising and respecting the values and beliefs of Māori children’s parents and whānau. Respectful, trusting and inclusive relationships have been developed where families discuss aspirations for their child. Whānau members willingly share aspects of their culture to add richness to, and ensure Māori perspectives are a part of, the planned topics children experience. Practices teachers have incorporated in the daily programme to foster engagement and potential for Māori children include: building a relationship with the local marae and kōhanga reo; developing pride in, and awareness of the significance of, the child’s name; and using the mixed-age groupings to foster tuakana/teina relationships for learning. Kindergarten

Educators followed Māori children’s interests. This often led to connections being made with people in the wider community or visits to local marae or places of significance for Māori in the local community. By focusing on these interests, educators strengthened links with children and their whānau and promoted children’s cultural identity in positive ways.

A recent trip to a local marae enabled some Māori children to experience their culture in an authentic setting. Teachers responded positively to Māori children’s interests in their culture and provided appropriate experiences to foster this. For example a Māori child showed an interest in the haka so a variety of relevant experiences were provided over a period of time enabling him to explore and develop his knowledge about the haka in contexts other than rugby. Education and care centre

A study of Māori artists arose from children’s interest in spirals. This led to a visit to a marae, where children found koru in carvings, which had been pre-photographed for this activity. Children have since followed this interest by looking at the meaning of the koru shape and using many different media to design and display koru. They have found it in nature, and in ferns coming through their fence, and have been encouraged to photograph these as part of their study. Education and care centre

In services less focused on supporting Māori children as learners, educators did not use deliberate teaching strategies. Māori children were viewed as “the same as other children” and teaching strategies and learning experiences often failed to recognise their identity or support them to learn in culturally meaningful and relevant contexts.

There is very limited evidence of practices that recognise or respond to parents’ and whānau aspirations for Māori children or that support their cultural identity and competence. Playcentre

Educators in services that were highly focused on supporting Māori children were willing to step outside their comfort zone and take risks in their teaching. They embraced te reo Māori, tikanga and values and strengthened their own knowledge and skills through their relationships with whānau. The belief that Māori children needed to walk confidently in both Māori and Pākehā worlds underpinned their teaching. Māori children experienced a curriculum that was deeper than that written in documented planning. They were immersed in an environment that acknowledged their cultural identity and provided meaningful and relevant learning experiences.

Assessment practice

In order to achieve bicultural assessment practices, it is essential that teachers share a commitment to:

  • Kia whakamana ngā ao e rua kia hono.
  • Honouring and respecting both worlds so that they come together in meaningful relationships.
  • Kia whakamana ngā rerekētanga ki roto i tēnā o tātou.
  • Honouring and respecting the differences that each partner brings to the relationship.
  • Mai i tēnei hononga ka tuwhera i ngā ara whānui.

From this relationship, the pathway to development will open.
Kei Tua o te Pae Assessment for Learning: Early Childhood Exemplars. Bicultural Assessment Book 3 (p.5).

Assessment practice varied widely across the services in this evaluation. In services that were highly focused on supporting Māori children, assessment information reflected the rich bicultural learning experiences of those children. In many, the enrolment process involved sharing information between whānau and educators. Discussions focused on whānau aspirations for their children, and on their expectations of the service. The information shared gave educators a starting point to document children’s learning, with many weaving whānau expectations through narrative assessments in profiles and portfolios. Many of the focused and highly focused services included, with parents’ agreement, children’s whakapapa in profiles or portfolios.

Narrative assessments in Māori children’s profiles and portfolios included the use of te reo Māori and showed examples of their involvement in learning experiences that contributed to their identity as learners. These included whānau stories and photographs of children’s involvement in their wider whānau and community and were meaningful records of learning for educators, children and whānau.

The philosophy document states that culture and home practices are integral to children’s identity and should be incorporated into the centre. Practices observed showed that this philosophy intent is strongly evident in practice. Teachers use te reo Māori naturally and confidently in their conversations with children and whānau. Wall displays include many cues to support and encourage the use of te reo. Māori terms and concepts are also carefully interwoven through planning and assessment records. Teachers demonstrate sensitive affirmation of the language and culture of Māori children and their whānau in narratives about children’s learning and programme documents. Education and care centre

Teachers use Māori children's cultural context as the basis for assessments of their learning. Children's profiles contain learning stories that incorporate their family/whānau activities and celebrations. The profiles provide important links with home/whānau and the value teachers place on Māori children's culture in the learning programme. Kindergarten

In services beginning to look at their assessment practices for Māori children, educators were finding ways to include Māori perspectives as part of the programme and to have profiles or portfolios reflect children’s learning in meaningful contexts. Some services had no link between documented assessment information and children’s cultural heritage or whānau aspirations.

Some staff use a little reo Māori in the programme. The manager commented that parents, including Māori parents, are involved in the assessment process, but there is little evidence of te reo Māori, tikanga or aspirations in the children’s profile books. Education & care

Assessment information provided a useful window for looking at how the curriculum assisted Māori children to develop as competent and confident learners. Services highly focused on supporting Māori children made visible the learning that contributed to a strong sense of cultural identity for these children and their whānau.

Partnership for learning

Educators can develop learning goals that acknowledge children’s heritages and support their understanding of their cultural identity. In doing so, they may draw on Māori understandings of children as individuals within their whānau, hāpu and iwi.
Management and educators can consult parents/whānau about the process to be used when sharing information and making decisions regarding their children.
Quality in Action: Te Mahi Whai Hua. (pp. 31and 57)

Including families and whānau in the early childhood centre’s curriculum and assessment enhances children’s learning. Families enrich the record of learning, reduce some of the uncertainty and ambiguity, and provide a bridge for connecting experiences.
Kei Tua o te Pae Assessment for Learning: Early Childhood Exemplars Book 5: Assessment and Learning: Community. (p.118.)

The extent to which parents and whānau of Māori children were involved in genuine partnerships with children’s learning as their focus varied across the services in this evaluation. In the highly focused services, whānau of Māori children had strong relationships with educators and were actively involved in many aspects of the curriculum. Through their relationships, educators built rapport with whānau and got to know their interests and talents.

Māori children’s profiles or portfolios were inclusive of parents and whānau and meaningful for them and their children. Their ‘voices’ were sought and highly visible in records of children’s learning and, in a few services, planning documents. Whānau were involved in setting goals and in discussions about their child’s progress. Opportunities for celebrations, such as observing Matariki, created opportunities for whānau to lead weaving, gardening and poi making activities.

The current focus in the Playcentre is cultivating kai. The centre has celebrated Matariki to acknowledge the new beginnings in terms of planting and as a centre with new management and a new group of parents. They share kai from home and share the fruits of their gardens. Learning profiles encourage parents to identify and talk about their aspirations for their children. The Māori parent at this centre is keen to attend a Māori language course so that she can teach her children and share her learning with parents at the centre. Parents were enthusiastic about her plans to introduce more reo during sessions. Playcentre

Services beginning to seek greater whānau input and involvement gave priority to developing relationships and making profiles or portfolios available for Māori children and their whānau to read and share. Educators found ways to involve whānau in their child’s learning and to seek meaningful contributions from them.

The teaching team is very committed to supporting Māori children, in partnership with whānau, to become successful learners and potentially high achievers. Ka Hikitia inspired the centre manager to survey parents of Māori children to identify ways in which the team could work in partnership with them to improve their children’s educational and cultural experiences at the centre. The team has since implemented a plan to improve learning opportunities for Māori children by incorporating te reo and tikanga Māori in the programme and increasing participation of Māori parents in the programme. The result is a learning programme that assists Māori learners to experience success. Education and care centre

However, some services provided very limited opportunities for whānau involvement or contribution. Often involvement was not valued or practices were implemented for all with no consideration given to working with Māori whānau. Some services started out with good intentions to work with whānau at the time of enrolment, but did not maintain momentum, and the potential for building fruitful partnerships was lost.

Through genuine whānau engagement, services developed partnerships that supported children’s learning. Underpinning such partnerships were relationships based on mutual respect and reciprocity.


Differences in ratings between the percentage of Māori children enrolled were checked for statistical significance using a Kruskal-Wallis H test.


Appendix 3 for details about the percentage of Māori children enrolled in each service type.

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