Examples of good practice

The above are six examples of good practice in literacy teaching and learning. In all of these literacy is embedded through leadership, relationships, the environment, assessment, and children’s engagement in learning through play.

Bear Park Infant and Toddler Centre


Bear Park Infant and Toddler Centre is one of 10 Bear Park centres operating under the same management structure in Auckland. This centre is located in Parnell and caters for 29 children aged from three months to three years. At the time of ERO’s visit, 25 children were enrolled (52 percent boys and 48 percent girls) with 84 percent of the children identifying as New Zealand European/Pākehā. The remaining four children were Māori, Indian, German and Brazilian.

The children are cared for in two separate areas; infants in the Fantails group and toddlers in the Moreporks group. Teachers are qualified early childhood teachers and most staff members have worked at the service for many years.

Management has well-developed systems and practices to support the service and ensure professional learning and development (PLD) is planned, relevant and results in improvements to learning and teaching for children. The service’s philosophy is based around the Te Whāriki principles of empowerment, holistic development, family and community, and relationships. 1 Aspects of Reggio Emilia 2 are also evident in the presentation of the learning environment and the ways that teachers interact with children.

Learning is visible and valued by managers, teachers, parents, and children. The teaching team works in collaborative ways that are inclusive of parents and each other. Teachers critique each others’ assessments of children’s learning. They share reflections of their own practice, and children’s learning and progress with each other and the parent community.

Defining literacy

Teachers have defined literacy in the following ways:

  • “Literacy is learning to communicate, whether it is reading or writing or using sounds and gestures – it is all about communication.”
  • “Literacy must be authentic and interesting. Babbling is a natural way to gain language. Scribing is a natural way to develop muscle control and coordination in ways that integrate a wide range of media for example, pencils, crayons, or paper.”
  • “Young children’s literacy skills need to be developed through exposure to a hands-on involvement with print-related activities. As listening and speaking, reading and writing, are all interconnected it is important children have a broad and open-ended environment where literacy is embedded into their everyday activities.”

The service has a strong focus on developing children’s emotional literacy and defined this as: “developing the ability to identify and communicate our feelings and emotions and then respond with empathy. Teachers make sense of their observations of children to find out what is and is not emotional literacy.”

For teachers, emotional literacy is about their relationships with the children, particularly their observations and interactions. Their understanding of this has been strengthened by recent PLD, and professional discussions and readings. Teachers’ self‑reflections show the progress they have made in interpreting children’s expressions, body language, and early language attempts to respond to children’s needs, strengthen relationships, and promote language and literacy development.

In 2009, teachers participated in a PLD programme to make literacy more visible in their centre, particularly for parents. Teachers shared this PLD with parents through visual displays, documentation and parent evenings. They also shared their developments with other centres in the Bear Park organisation and the wider community. The PLD presentation showed:

  • their developing understanding of literacy
  • their reflection on current practice, focusing on verbal and non-verbal communication
  • an awareness and enhancement of emotional literacy, especially with their younger infants
  • their acknowledgement of the importance of literacy to be widely interwoven in the daily programme, for example, using puzzles to help children decode, sequence, and understand symbols.

Teachers documented the process for making literacy learning visual and displayed this documentation in the centre. The display defined what teachers wanted to achieve, listed professional readings, presentations and discussions that they participated in. It also identified how these events influenced teaching practices and understandings of literacy. Teachers discovered “that literacy is about making sense and meaning of various language conventions ....that being literate is crucial to social development and educational opportunities and it is an essential skill for successful participation in society”. As teachers documented more of their literacy developments and the changes that were happening to children’s learning and their teaching, parents asked more questions and wanted to participate. Parents’ stories and photographs of literacy activities with their children at home were added to the display. Teachers and parents commented that the sharing of the literacy PLD strengthened relationships between them and developed a shared understanding of literacy.

Sharing expectations

Literacy learning is visible and well documented at Bear Park. The wall displays tell the story of how literacy learning is integrated into the children’s activities and experiences. Teachers display the rationale for their professional development, what they know, and what they want to know more about. They record how new information is integrated into the programme, and into the outcomes for teaching and learning. Large photographs of children engaging in literacy activities and responding to new initiatives support the written information. Children’s next steps for learning and teaching are also displayed for parents and whānau.

The service displays monthly evaluations that provide an overview of the programme. The displays show what teachers have observed children doing in relation to literacy and how teachers have responded. The display includes teachers’ reflections that highlight literacy outcomes for children.

Teachers observe and analyse children’s learning through considering their literacy development. Learning stories and their analysis show the depth of literacy teaching practices, and how teachers adapt their knowledge to support children’s learning in different literacy contexts.

Teachers discuss information with parents and whānau about how to support literacy by making activities more child-initiated and linked to children’s interests. Parents and whānau are also involved in assessment. Parents share home‑based literacy experiences both orally and by writing their own learning stories.

Literacy teaching and learning practice

Teachers respect and respond to children’s cues and follow their interests. They clarify their understanding with the children and give them time to think and respond. Through their questioning and modelling, they weave literacy into everyday situations that engage the children and make their literacy learning meaningful.

Story telling time

Four children are listening to a story read by a teacher. The children interrupt to share what is happening in their lives that relate to the story. The teacher allows the children time to share and includes all children. They return to the story, with the teacher asking what happens next, and getting the children to finish the sentences. Time is allowed at the end of the story for the children and the teacher to revisit favourite pages and to talk about their understanding of the story.

Teachers engage children in investigations based on their favourite stories, such as ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ and ‘The very hungry caterpillar’. These investigations incorporate dramatic play; expressive arts such as paint, clay, collage, and drawing; puppets; and magnetic stories. The outcomes of these investigations are displayed around the service.

The environment for infants and toddlers uses natural materials and their presentation is a feature. Furniture, wall displays and resources are at children’s levels. These are displayed in ways that attract children and make them want to explore, experiment and use the materials and resources in many ways. Large photographs of children using resources in different ways give children ideas and encourage them to revisit previous learning.

Children are involved in their own assessments. Teachers read and discuss children’s daily diaries and learning stories with them. They encourage children to revisit their learning by recalling what they have done. Children often choose to enact the activity again.

Evaluating literacy teaching and learning through self review

Self review is well developed and multi-layered. Bear Park management provides a comprehensive review structure and clear expectations for regular and purposeful self review.

The service’s self-review investigations are displayed in the service. Documentation outlines the investigative questions, why the review is being undertaken and what the service already knows. The action plan for the review is also displayed. As the plan is worked through, progress is noted on the wall display, and is supported by more detailed information. This includes teacher reflections on their practice as a result of PLD, and professional discussions and readings. Parents also write comments on the displays about their child’s learning and the centre environment. A recent example of self review involving whānau was an investigation to increase the bicultural component of the programme, which resulted in the involvement of grandparents in the review process.

The physical environment is reviewed every six weeks. Teachers sit in the play areas at the child’s level to see the environment from the child’s perspective. They use learning stories and their observations of children in this area to identify what could be changed to improve learning and children’s participation.

ERO asked Bear Park teachers what advice they would give to other services about developing high quality literacy teaching and learning practice. The manager highlighted two aspects:

  • communication and collaboration of all team members to make sure that everyone’s ideas are valued and there are opportunities for personal growth.
  • embarking on a journey of research every year.

Botany Downs Kindergarten


Botany Downs Kindergarten in Manukau City was identified as a Centre of Innovation 3 in 2005. The service’s practice is influenced by Reggio Emilia approaches, Malaguzzi’s notion of 100 languages 4, and PLD for a perceptual motor programme (PMP) that develops brain cognition. Over the past three years, the kindergarten has developed their learning programme and teachers’ professional development capabilities considerably. The head teacher ensures that the kindergarten’s vision is central to an ongoing process of development that is both responsive and emergent. The kindergarten’s philosophy places an emphasis on the notion of connectedness and developing children’s skills to become confident communicators.

At the time of ERO’s visit, the kindergarten had 90 children enrolled (52 percent boys and 48 percent girls). The roll comprised 71 percent New Zealand European/Pākehā, 11 percent Asian, seven percent South African, and four percent Māori, with the remaining seven percent of Pacific, European or Middle Eastern ethnicities.

Defining literacy

Research has had a big impact on teachers’ approach to literacy integration. In particular, theories about sensory motor development are strongly reflected in teachers’ practice and beliefs. Teachers believe that learning to read and write involves a relationship between physical movement and brain development. They reference research to support this notion including the ideas of Anita Rui Olds:

“Until children have experiences of actively orienting their own bodies in space by moving up and down, in front or behind, right and left, they may have difficulty in aspects of reading and writing, such as the orientation of letter symbols on a page.”5

The kindergarten’s PMP and outdoor play area encourage early fundamental movements such as balance, spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination, directionality, memory, visual development, and auditory discrimination. Teachers encourage the exploration of obstacle courses and opportunities for climbing. They see this as developing directionality and spatial concepts such as up, down, in front and behind. These are crucial concepts for reading print and writing.

The head teacher commented that “literacy is in everything children do; it is not just reading and writing. To understand literacy, we must let go of the term literacy.” The belief at the service is that literacy is a natural part of learning; it is based on children’s interests and is embedded in all aspects of the programme rather than separate. Teachers believe that it is their task to celebrate and build upon the many literacy experiences children bring with them to kindergarten.

Sharing expectations

The head teacher emphasises the kindergarten’s expectation that teachers need to also see themselves as learners. As such, teachers are open to new ideas and committed to continuing their own learning. Expectations about teaching practice are generally expressed verbally. During lunch breaks and morning set-up times, teachers engage in reflective discussions about the programme and what occurred the day before so they can continue to build on children’s ideas and working theories.

Teachers have developed children’s individual portfolios. Portfolios include the kindergarten’s expectations and philosophy, as well as photos and records of what children do at kindergarten and at home. The framework for portfolios celebrates who children are, and captures their learning experiences. Children’s voices are recorded and parents’ comments are encouraged. The head teacher also publishes individual books about some children’s development as an extension of their portfolio. Connections between facts, the context of the learning, home and kindergarten, events, and prior knowledge to new learning are explicit.

Parents are able to discuss what is important to them with teachers. They can do this verbally, or share written stories or comments in their child’s portfolios. Parents understand and support the service’s philosophy about literacy and the way that teachers embed this throughout the programme. They know the importance of sharing their ideas and building partnerships with the service in order to support their children’s learning. They share literacy experiences that their children have at home, and successful experiences their children have when they start school.

The kindergarten’s Centre of Innovation research question asked: how does an inclusive environment enhance the learning of all children? One of the two sub‑questions focused on using communication tools to invite and extend engagement with children and their families. The kindergarten has developed a website and blog that provides a wealth of information and actively connects the kindergarten with its families, schools and community.

The kindergarten has produced a literacy book that shows what literacy at the service looks like. It explains how play supports literacy through photos and captions that make the links explicit. The book also focuses on early literacy and the role of physical play in learning. Teachers have developed posters that communicate the kindergarten’s expectations about literacy. In addition to this, the kindergarten provides parents with an information pack that includes a letter formation chart and a pencil grip chart.

During ERO’s visit, we talked with some parents. The following comments highlight the parents’ understanding of early literacy:

“Children are exposed to words and letters at kindergarten. It sets good foundations and it happens naturally”.

“Children have an appreciation for books. Teachers use children’s books from home and use stories to develop their own book for the centre”.

“At parents’ evenings we learn about the importance of play in learning and if this does not take place problems can occur.”

Literacy teaching and learning in practice

Teachers at Botany Downs Kindergarten have explored many strategies to promote literacy. To support their approach to theory, teachers have been involved in centre‑based action research so that they are able to identify what works for their teaching practice and for children’s development. Teachers implement a child‑focused approach to learning and support children’s oral skills through listening, extending and playing with vocabulary, ordering and expressing ideas, thinking skills, and letter and sound recognition.

Teachers support children to write stories independently, which are made into books, with the children deciding on the words and pictures used to illustrate.

Writing a Fairy Story

A teacher and some children are making up a fairy story. The children have asked for the story to be written. The teacher writes a child’s initial idea, and then asks questions and uses the answers to build up the story. The teacher asks the children how they can illustrate the story, suggesting options such as drawing, taking photos, or searching the internet for images. The story is built up over several days. Stories are published and are shared at group time in a format of the child’s choosing – book, big screen, or blog. The child and the kindergarten each get a copy of the story so the experience can be revisited.

Throughout the day children have access to writing materials, including the computer. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) play an important part in the programme, both as teaching tools and learning experiences for children. Some communication technologies include ‘Skype’ and ‘ooVoo’ 6. These resources provide opportunities for children to talk to others via the computer. ICT is used to revisit recent learning experiences. On the day of ERO’s visit, a data show presentation was playing. It was about tadpoles and what the children had said about them.

Children and teachers engage in meaningful conversations. Teachers believe that successful communication underpins everything that the service does. Children construct their ideas and develop their thinking through social interactions, particularly with their peers. Teachers use skilful questioning to challenge children’s thinking and to model questioning. Children have opportunities to retell stories in their own way and to build new vocabulary. Teachers foster the use of imagination and integrate this into children’s writing. For example, ICT was used to record the retelling of the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Plastic characters were used to re-enact the story and children’s voices were recorded to narrate the story.

Children’s strong interest in animals is a focus for the programme. The kindergarten has birds, fish, turtles, tadpoles, rats, and guinea pigs that each has their own portfolios. Animal‑related vocabulary is displayed and the children are able to explore information about the animals on a laptop computer. Fact sheets are also available, such as the lifecycle of the frog.

Teachers hold parent meetings to talk about their knowledge of literacy and explain children’s learning and progressions and the importance of physical balance. Parent meetings have also included presentations from external speakers and specific evenings for “dads and their children”. These sessions linked in well to what local schools are doing. Teachers work collaboratively to ensure that their relationships with children’s families and 14 local schools result in confident children who will transition successfully into school.

Evaluating literacy teaching and learning through self review

Teachers engage in in-depth reflection and effective, consultative self review grounded in their own and others’ research. As a result, development of the literacy learning in the programme is well considered and thoughtful. It is implemented through a focus on inclusion and partnership, and recognition of the vital role that parents play in children’s learning and development. Teachers have robust systems for documenting children’s literacy learning and the programme. They plan to develop this by exploring further theories about learning.

ERO asked Botany Downs Kindergarten teachers what advice they would give to other services about developing high quality literacy teaching and learning practice. The staff highlighted many aspects. They said:

  • literacy should be enjoyed
  • literacy should capture children’s voices on paper, in books and digitally. This shows the child they are capable and competent in the field of literacy
  • literacy should encourage problem solving and persistence. A child who is encouraged to take risks is more inclined to ‘give writing a go’
  • that language is about patterns, so create patterns. Look for ‘same and different’, ‘up and down’, and for similarities
  • that many literacies build around a practice or an event. For example literacies related to technology, a television programme, a religious or cultural event, a new baby
  • literacy should role model word play. Offer different words for the same meaning, be inventive
  • that building friendships increases opportunities for communication and expression.

E Tipu e Rea Early Learning Centre


E Tipu e Rea Early Learning Centre was established in 1990 and is situated in the grounds of Aranui High School in Christchurch. Located in a low decile area, E Tipu e Rea is a multicultural service that caters for children from infancy to school age in separate nursery and preschool areas. A community trust board of parents and community members manage the service. At the time of ERO’s visit, the services had 58 children enrolled (55 percent girls and 45 percent boys). The service’s roll included 57 percent New Zealand European/Pākehā, 36 percent Māori, two percent Samoan and five percent from other ethnicities.

All teachers are fully trained and qualified in early childhood education. Many have worked in the service for a long time and are vibrant and passionate early childhood teachers. A child-led programme is reflected in the service’s philosophy and practice.

The outdoor environment was extensively redeveloped during 2009 and 2010 following consultation with the local community, teachers, parents, and children at the service. As a result, the outdoor area provides a wide range of interesting places for children to create, play, interact with the natural environment, and be stimulated by an environment that reflects the bicultural heritage of Aotearoa/New Zealand. The process of redevelopment illustrates the way staff work hard to include children, their whānau, and the wider community in improving the service.

Defining literacy

Managers and teachers have a broad view of literacy. They believe that being literate is much wider than simply learning the mechanics of reading and writing. Establishing a sound oral foundation, particularly in storytelling and conversations, is seen as integral to literacy learning. Children’s developing language competency is supported by providing a wide range of experiences within the service and excursions in and around the community. Building on authentic experiences is integrated throughout the programme. Children play an important role in planning, evaluating and reflecting on the many trips that occur. Their ideas are valued and used to inform teachers’ planning.

Teachers model literacy practices in the environment for children, such as writing down morning tea orders for tea and coffee from other staff and referring back to the list when delivering the drinks. They read recipes to children and refer back to them when cooking with the children. There are many opportunities for children to participate in a range of storytelling experiences. Routines include aspects of literacy such as children signing in and out at the beginning and end of the day, karakia, volunteer and helper charts. Music and cooking, including shared kai, play a significant part in the programme and enrich children’s oral language and provide opportunities for sharing experiences. Children share their work such as offering their baking to others as part of kai and explaining to children about the recipe when other children ask what ingredients were used.

Service practices promote close relationships between teachers and whānau. Not only are parents on the community trust board, but they also actively participate in assessment evenings about what assessment looks like and how they can contribute. Children have many opportunities to interact with adults and peers, and to work and play together in pairs and small groups in a range of activities that encourage communication. The integration of each child’s own cultural and linguistic background is valued and promoted.

Parents and whānau actively support the service’s focus on the experiential teaching and learning of literacy through a child-led and focused programme. They have contributed to a review of the literacy programme through conversations and a survey, and understand the value of children engaging in authentic experiences to develop literacy competence.

“E Tipu e Rea is a special place for every child to create their future dreams and be fully equipped with quality tools for adulthood”.

Parent Comment.

Sharing expectations

A regular review of literacy is part of E Tipu e Rea’s annual philosophy review. This review helps them strategically plan such things as staff professional development. Teachers identify and agree on individual and team goals that include a focus on literacy teaching and learning.

A culture of high trust and professional collaboration exists among teachers and managers. Teachers regularly reflect on their practice and discuss the impact of their teaching strategies for children’s oral language development and literacy learning. A sound, collaboratively developed staff contract provides the basis for team meetings where ‘brave conversations’ can occur. Staff critically challenge ideas and assumptions about literacy teaching and learning in a supportive environment. All reflection meetings include a discussion on how teachers can include some aspect of literacy for a child’s next learning step.

Each teacher develops individual appraisal goals linked to literacy. Appropriate professional development is provided to support teachers to meet this goal. The strengths and interests of individual teachers are recognised and used to enrich the programme. For example, a teacher with strong ICT skills helps others with the presentation of visual, oral and written information. Another teacher has developed strong networks with other literacy leaders in the local community. In 2009, five teachers participated in, and shared good practice with, a local literacy cluster that included local primary schools and early childhood services.

Strong and positive relationships between staff, whānau, and children are seen as critical for children’s learning and success. Parents receive ongoing information about the literacy programme. They are kept up to date with regular newsletters that discuss things such as the outcomes of a parent survey of the literacy programme, and plans developed to support children’s learning. Reflection and planning meeting notes are displayed on the notice board for parents to access. They are encouraged to discuss the programme and their child’s learning and development with teachers.

Literacy teaching and learning practice

High quality relationships between staff, children, and whānau encourage children to take a lead in their own learning. Children are supported to take risks in their literacy learning when appropriate. They make choices and decisions about their learning and are equipped with appropriate social skills for learning with and alongside others. Whānau are encouraged to participate in a range of activities at the service. A camp and picnic for whānau is held each year where staff and whānau spend time getting to know each other. Email is a tool that is used by the service to include parents in their child’s learning by sharing digital photographs.

Children have many opportunities to develop strong literacy learning through an integrated approach in the programme. Daily activities for children include a sign in and out register that children take responsibility for. They are able to recognise their own name and the names of other children in the service. This is reinforced during meal breaks as children volunteer for specific responsibilities and their name is put on to a chart. Clipboards are used by children who engage in role play. For example, children set up a cafe where they created signs and a menu, and took orders using order forms. The outdoor area has a path with authentic road signs that are used by children when riding bikes and in their general play. Other experiences include visits to the local school, preparing food and baking, exploration with music and art, and socio-dramatic play that is child led.

Baking Scones

Four children are in the kitchen making scones with a teacher. The recipe is displayed on the table. The teacher makes a link to the story of the gingerbread man and the little old lady as the children use their fingers to rub in the butter. The teacher makes up a song “rub, rub, rub the butter”. As they are pouring in the milk the teacher says “ the mixture must get swishy” and the song changes to “swishy, swishy, rub, rub, rub”. As the children progress through the recipe they “sprinkle, sprinkle” the flour, and “pat it, pat it, pat it until it’s flat”, and finally “slice it, slice it, until it’s nice”.

Storytelling is a regular feature of the day. Children are read to by adults, have a wide range of books, and participate in shared storytelling. Magnetic resources are used to promote storytelling. Recounts of children’s experiences are displayed throughout the environment. Children are able to see themselves in the stories and can revisit their experiences often.

Teachers at E Tipu e Rea recognise and value children’s ideas and interests.

Catching Insects

The children are finding and then examining insects in a bug catcher. A teacher suggests the children use their clipboards to record the number and kind of insects they have found, and where in the service they found them. The teacher then encourages the children to write what the insects might like to eat, depending on their location.

A regular children’s meeting is held that, while supported by teachers, is led by the children. Minutes are kept of the meeting and decisions are recorded. Topics for discussion are decided by the children and have included developing rules for the meetings, having a meeting to establish rules for using the new slide, organising a surprise party, and holding a meeting about kapa haka. A children’s survey was also conducted where children gathered the thoughts of their peers about eating lunch outside. They used tally charts to gather information, which was then used to plan ‘lunch outside’. Data gathered by the children was collated into graphs that were shared with the children so that they could discuss the findings and make some decisions.

Affirming children’s identity is also a feature of literacy practice at E Tipu e Rea. Māori language and tikanga is a regular part of the day with karakia and waiata. Teachers use te reo Māori naturally when interacting with children. Karakia and waiata charts are displayed and referred to, with older children leading the karakia each day. Dances from various Pacific cultures are included in the programme, incorporating aspects of music such as rhythms and patterns. Community resources are drawn on to strengthen these cultural practices. Students from the local high school visit to read and talk with the children in te reo Māori. Children also regularly visit the local marae and interact with kaumatua.

ICT provides children with another medium for experiencing literacy in their environment. Daily digital slideshows of children at play are created and are shown during meal times on a big screen when children express a desire to revisit their recent learning. Children talk about the pictures and revisit their experiences. In addition, the digital slideshows give parents a visual record of their child’s day.

Teachers reflect on children’s learning as part of the assessment process. They include comments alongside learning stories for individual children. Parent feedback on assessment is positive as they appreciate the opportunity to talk with teachers about their child’s learning. In all learning stories, regardless of the context, teachers specifically reflect on the literacy learning and consider how to best support the child’s next literacy learning steps.

Evaluating literacy teaching and learning through self review

Self-review practices throughout the service are planned, strategic and responsive. Team meetings are a platform for teachers to critique all aspects of their practice and to reflect on children’s literacy learning. Well established and agreed protocols for these meetings ensure that staff feel safe and supported to talk honestly about their work.

A recent self review investigated how teachers could provide children with a wide range of opportunities to participate in literacy learning during routines, and other aspects of the service’s programme. The review included the development of outcome indicators, and subsequent actions, responsibilities, resources and timeframes. These resulting plans are detailed and provide teachers with specific ideas for practice and evaluation of outcomes for children.

Managers identified that greater parent involvement in the planning and evaluation of their child’s learning is an area that they would like to develop further. A more in‑depth parent survey is planned and will provide staff with useful information to assist this development.

ERO asked E Tipu e Rea teachers what advice they would give to other services about developing high quality literacy teaching and learning practice. Managers highlighted two aspects:

  • it takes time to establish a good literacy programme
  • child-led and meaningful contexts for learning are important.

Massey University Child Care Centre - Hoiho & Tui Infant and Toddler Centres


The Hoiho and Tui centres are part of Massey University Child Care Centre located on the Massey University campus in Palmerston North. The services each cater for twenty under-two year old children and five children over-two year olds. Each service has its own manager, staff and budget. The director has responsibility for the organisation and operation of these and two other services in the complex. At the time of ERO’s visit, Hoiho had 29 children enrolled (48 percent boys and 52 percent girls) and Tui had 25 children enrolled (52 percent boys and 48 percent girls). Between the two services, 74 percent of children enrolled were New Zealand European/Pākehā, 15 percent Māori, and 11 percent from other ethnicities.

The Hoiho service has maintained stable staffing for a number of years, and the staff are qualified early childhood teachers. Hoiho was a Centre of Innovation in 2005, with a focus on educational leadership and the implementation of collaborative culture. The manager and teachers share an approach to learning and teaching that is based on current research, self-reflection, and discussing professional practice within the services and the wider educational community. This team culture remains strong through review, dialogue, challenging practice, trust and openness.

Staff changes have occurred recently in the Tui centre’s team. The manager and teachers have begun a process of rebuilding staff capability. The most significant part of this process is establishing relationships that are based on trust, respect and professional responsibility.

Both centres have a philosophy that is articulated and guides practice, where children are central and their diversity is celebrated. Managers support teachers to become reflective practitioners and to use research critically to examine their own values, beliefs and practices. Teachers evaluate and improve their own teaching through professional reading and dialogue with colleagues, critical self-reflection that challenges their practice, and ongoing discussion with their managers.

Defining literacy

Managers and teachers believe that relationships and attachment are the foundation for all literacy learning. Literacy teaching and learning is an integral part of infants and toddlers’ daily experiences. Teachers knowing children well and forming close relationships with infants and toddlers gives them confidence to explore their environment and to communicate with others.

Communication between a key teacher and the family, a key teacher and her buddy, and between a key teacher and a child, is vital. Communication or early literacy includes the teacher noticing and responding appropriately to the child’s body cues, facial expressions, or sounds, and conveying this understanding to the child. Being able to read children’s cues and supporting them when they start to develop verbal language is central to the service’s practices.

Sharing expectations

The director and service managers meet weekly in what they call “a spiral force” for future visioning, strategic thinking, and long and short-term planning. These sessions include building leadership capacity, and exploring features of leadership that are linked to outcomes for children, including literacy outcomes.

Teachers keep literacy central in their planning and assessment. A wall display in the Tui centre outlines how children acquire language in the programme. The display explains how children develop language, and how the programme activities and interactions support this process. The display includes examples and photographs of children acquiring language.

Teachers plan for individual children. This includes an evaluation of recent learning, relevant goals from Te Whāriki, teaching strategies, and a mini map of opportunities and possibilities that follow the children’s interests. Planning for one toddler identified his development with expressing his feelings by using an increasing oral vocabulary. His future learning was linked to the communication strands of Te Whāriki, and teaching strategies focused on modelling and demonstrating language and communication by following his current interest in animals.

Teachers also plan for groups of children. ERO saw planning in response to a large group of children who were beginning to play with language and engage in conversations with adults and other children. The planning highlighted a reminder to adults about children’s ability to articulate verbally and non-verbally to communicate their understanding. A range of planned experiences included playing games and singing nursery rhymes with a focus on rhyme and alliteration, expressive action songs, puppetry, and sharing storybooks.

Children’s portfolios include stories of infants and toddlers learning, and responding to oral language and building relationships. The stories often include information about how children acquire literacy skills and suggestions for teachers and parents to use children’s interests to help their literacy development at home or at the centre. The centres also provide parents with information about how children’s literacy develops, with information sheets such as “Before I learn to write I need to…”. One learning story identified the next steps for one child to continue to promote literacy learning as:

  • modelling and demonstrating language and communication skills
  • talk, talk, talk – about what is happening, what the child is doing, and what is happening
  • ensuring joint attention of child and adult
  • supporting literacy through scaffolding and co-construction
  • providing opportunities for literacy experiences to be repeated.

Literacy teaching and learning in practice

Relationships and communication are central to the children’s literacy learning in the Hoiho and Tui centres. There is a strong sense of whānau and community, and there are lots of conversations between and amongst adults and children. Throughout the day teachers model simple sentence structures and include children in meaningful conversations. Conversations include encouraging children to talk about their home experiences and what happens in the service.

Infants and toddlers choose their activities. Teachers are aware of the child’s cues that signal where they would like to be. They talk to infants as active contributors to the conversation, often posing questions like “I wonder what would happen?”. They allow time for thinking before giving a number of possibilities and the reason they have made a particular choice, for example, “I know you really like the yellow ones, so let’s use yellow ones today”.

Literacy learning for infants focuses on non-verbal and oral literacy. Infants are included in story sessions and sit on teachers’ laps. Teachers often use stories to signal that the child should get ready for a sleep saying “I think you might be ready for a sleep. You have had your lunch. Choose a book that you would like”. The child and teacher cuddle up together and read the story. Bubble play, accompanied by “The Bubble Song” encouraged infants to not only perform the associated finger play, but also to try and sing the words.

Teachers provide literacy opportunities where children are able to follow their own interests.

Chalk Drawing

Teachers make large pieces of chalk available to the children outside. The children are using these to draw on the concrete and teachers prompt conversations, asking children what they are drawing. A father is also drawing with the children, talking about what he is drawing, and asking questions about what should come next.

Literacy activities are included in everyday routines. ERO observed a teacher engaging children playing in the sandpit in a conversation about sunblock. She showed the children the sunblock chart and how the chart showed who had sunblock on. The conversation moved on to wearing hats, with the teacher pointing out the children’s names in their hats.

Evaluating literacy teaching and learning through self review

Self review is well integrated into all aspects of the centres’ management and teaching practice. Spontaneous reviews occur from teachers’ reflection on their practice, the environment, and their relationships. These reviews follow a set process of gathering evidence about what is currently happening, deciding what needs to change, developing an action plan, evaluating outcomes for learning and teaching, and deciding if any further action is required.

Planned reviews of literacy teaching and learning include outcomes for children. Examples of these outcomes identified in one review included:

  • language development
  • recall of song lyrics and actions
  • increases in vocabulary and sentence construction
  • an increased understanding of oral language as a way to communicate
  • an understanding that books are interesting, amusing, delightful and illuminating
  • concepts about books.

ERO asked the Massey Hoiho and Tui teachers what advice they would give to other services about developing high quality literacy teaching and learning practice. Managers highlighted four aspects:

  • relationships and attachments are everything
  • know the children well and do what works for individual children
  • think about children in an holistic way
  • continue to increase teachers’ knowledge, skills and interest.

Peachgrove Playcentre


Peachgrove Playcentre in Hamilton has been operating for over 40 years. The parent‑led cooperative provides education for parents and their children and is administered by the Waikato Playcentre Association. The service operates seven sessions a week, including one session for children aged three-and-a-half to six years. A parent team is responsible for each session. At the time of ERO’s visit, the service had 28 children enrolled (61 percent boys and 29 percent girls) including 71 percent of the roll New Zealand European/Pākehā, 14 percent Māori, eight percent Asian, and seven percent Indian.

A group of dedicated and knowledgeable parents, many of whom have been involved with the playcentre for over ten years, effectively manages the service. Parents have a collaborative approach to leadership that helps them increase their knowledge of good practice for the education and care of children. The Waikato Playcentre Association parent education programme provides parents with the framework for the operation of the service, and the training and support they need to provide effective early childhood education and care. This is reflected in the service’s mission statement: “Educate the parents so that they can educate the children”.

Playcentre’s philosophy promotes children’s learning through 16 areas of play, with children choosing and initiating their play, and working at their own pace. Parents encourage learning through their involvement in the children’s play, their interactions with the children, and the support that they provide to each other in the playcentre and the wider community. They believe that “parents have a role to play in children’s learning through play”.

Defining literacy

Peachgrove Playcentre has an holistic approach to literacy. Parents acknowledge the importance of literacy learning developed through appropriate play-based and child‑initiated learning. Oral, written, and visual literacy is integrated into all sixteen areas of play. Children enjoy and use literacy in all its forms to express who they are, and to interact with others at playcentre, their homes, and the wider community. Parents at the service believe that all children come to the service with emerging literacy skills and a developing understanding of themselves and their place in the world.

Parents recognise their role as children’s first and most significant teachers. Their understanding of their role as a teacher and promoter of literacy is increased through participation in the Playcentre parent education training programme and workshops. Some of these workshops focus particularly on literacy. For example, one of the early courses gives guidance to parents in reading a story and involving children in predicting and making connections between the text and their own life experiences.

At the time of ERO’s visit, half of the parents at Peachgrove Playcentre were trained primary or secondary teachers. They promote the importance of a play-based, child‑initiated programme in developing literacy learning to provide a sound foundation for literacy learning at school.

Sharing expectations

Playcentre expectations for literacy are identified in the parent education courses, wall displays and guidelines for learning stories, programme planning and evaluation. There is an expectation that any potential literacy learning in activities will be identified and focused on.

Learning stories are written by the parent or an adult who knows the child and the family well. These stories are often followed by a story about how the Playcentre literacy experience has been followed up in the home. For example, in one child’s portfolio the first story identified the child’s interest in books about farm animals. The parent wrote the second story. It linked the story about reading and farm animals to a visit to the public library to find more books about farm animals and a visit to a farm.

The supervision team completes programme evaluations at the end of each session by answering a series of questions. The team identifies what has gone well, what were the children’s interests, how parents support these interests, and what changes could be made to the next session to improve children’s learning. Many of the evaluations are about children’s involvement in literacy. For example, a breakfast day was held at the service and children were given menus to order their food. Children made their orders by writing their name on the menu and ticking the pictured item (accompanied by the words). Younger children were helped by adults or older children to complete their orders. During the session evaluation, the parents analysed children’s literacy learning in selecting and using a menu to order food, and made suggestions to further promote this kind of activity.

Wall displays at the playcentre provide parents with many suggestions for encouraging conversations and literacy activities with children. For example, one wall display identifies literacy as part of everything that children do. It suggests that when parents talk to children about their play, they should give good feedback about what the children have been doing and suggestions about what the children might do next. Another display suggests asking children ‘thinking’ questions that could begin with “I wonder?” or “what would happen if?”.

Literacy teaching and learning practice

Parents use the physical environment, interactions, and resources that reflect oral, visual, and written language to extend literacy learning. Children are well supported by adults who notice, recognise and respond to their play and conversations, and integrate aspects of reading and writing into play.

Parents actively listen to children’s conversations and use a range of questions to encourage children to share their thoughts and knowledge, problem solve, investigate, and make sense of their world. Conversations about activities related to home or in the community (for example, medical play) are extended through introducing vocabulary and asking questions.

Parents observe children’s interest in books and offer to read stories. Stories are read to small groups of children both indoors and outdoors. Children and adults often cuddle together to share stories, discuss the pictures and joke about the content and pictures. The same story is often read and enjoyed over and over again at a child’s request and enjoyment.

Children are encouraged in their writing attempts, with parents ensuring these attempts are positive experiences that build on their skills in a supportive and authentic environment.


Bryn* was reluctant to write his name for a long time. Every week he was asked if he would like to ‘sign in’ and every week he would decline. When parents realised he was feeling quite anxious about it, one suggested he might like to draw a picture of himself instead. He did this for some weeks, then, when he felt comfortable, he started to make symbols on the paper. Another parent talked with him about letters and the references he might like to use to remember them (eg n = a tunnel for a train). After only one week, he felt confident enough to write his name on paper. He continued to write his name in various mediums – chalk, paint, clay, sand. (*name changed)

Interesting literacy experiences are part of the programme. For example, in one session parents held a Goldilocks and the Three Bears breakfast. The children listened to the story and shared porridge together. The family, book and outdoor areas were set up with prompts that related to Goldilocks and the Three Bears to encourage children to revisit the story in their own ways.

Letter Fish

Some children are fishing for magnetic fish in the water play trough. Each fish has a letter on it. As the children catch the fish they say the name of the letter and its sound. One child catches lots of “letter fish”. A parent says “You could catch the right fish to spell your name”. The child responds “That would be r-o-s-e”* and starts to catch the fish she needs.(*name changed)

The playcentre has a special session once a week for children aged three-and-a-half to six years. The focus of this session is on integrating literacy, numeracy, and transition to school activities into the children’s play. One planned event for these children was a visit of a lamb. The session involved lots of long complex conversations, and the creation of charts for vet check-ups for various animals.

Parents share knowledge about literacy teaching and learning through play in meaningful contexts. This is highlighted by this comment from a parent educator:

We integrate literacy learning in all that we do with the children. We really foster learning through play; we live it. And this means anything from singing songs, to reading books all over the centre (on the couches, at the kai table, outside under the trees, in the fort, books about water at the water trough), to the simple act of asking if they would like to write their own name on their artwork. It starts from a young age with the simple act of making marks. We work with children at whatever stage they are at within their interests.

Evaluating literacy teaching and learning through self review

Self review is a deliberate and ongoing process of finding out how well practices improve children’s learning and development. In 2009, professional development gave the parents a structure and process for review. During 2010, parents reviewed the inclusion of te reo and tikanga Māori in the programme. The review resulted in changes to the programme and a further review to monitor changes. As part of the daily session evaluations, parents review their inclusion and use of te reo and tikanga in the programme. They have introduced a Friday whānau evening to strengthen whānau relationships.

ERO asked Peachgrove Playcentre parents what advice they would give to other services about developing high quality literacy teaching and learning practice. Parents highlighted these aspects:

  • develop a shared knowledge of what literacy is and how it develops so that you know what you are doing and why you do it
  • develop your own knowledge of the children so that you know who you are doing it with
  • recognise that there are so many ways to incorporate literacy learning within the children’s emerging interests by adding books; writing paper and pens, chalk, and even water to make marks on the concrete; songs and rhymes; and conversation
  • take time to think and discuss ideas with other adults, but most importantly, with the children
  • keep it simple and meaningful.

Reporoa Kindergarten


Reporoa Kindergarten is located in Reporoa, a small, rural township in the central North Island. The kindergarten is administered by the Central North Island Kindergarten Association. There are four qualified early childhood teachers and an administrator at the kindergarten. At the time of ERO’s visit the kindergarten had 59 children enrolled (51 percent girls and 49 percent boys). The kindergarten has a high percentage of children identified as Māori enrolled (37 percent). New Zealand European/Pākehā were 61 percent of the roll, and other ethnicities make up the remaining two percent.

The head teacher is an effective leader who is inclusive and empowers all team members. Self review is integral to the culture and philosophy of this team. Reviews are well-documented, systematic, research-based, and focused on improving aspects of the kindergarten and teacher performance.

The kindergarten setting respects and nurtures Māori culture and language. One teacher is Māori and she has been pivotal in establishing protocols, culture, and understandings in the kindergarten.

Relationships that are respectful and reciprocal at all levels are a feature of the kindergarten. These relationships are established and sustained through open communication, meaningful consultation, mutual trust, and friendships between teachers, tamariki and whānau.

Professional partnerships that support children’s learning and transition are well established between the kindergarten and five local schools. The head teacher and school teachers meet regularly to discuss their teaching practices and the ways they complement each other to promote children’s ongoing learning. The schools value the foundation that the kindergarten teachers provide for children’s literacy and preparation for school.

Defining literacy

The teaching team believes that good relationships with children and whānau are critical to the success of literacy. Literacy learning is woven throughout the daily programme. It goes beyond reading and writing to also include listening, speaking, ‘techno literacy’ 7, and developing critical thinking.

The kindergarten’s philosophy is enacted through a child-initiated, resource-based programme. It expresses an aim to support the development of children’s well-being and belonging which teachers see as vital for the further development of communication. The teaching team reviews the philosophy annually. This includes making sure all teachers share a common understanding of literacy and the ways it can be included in the programme and assessed as part of children’s learning.

Self review has had a significant influence on the development of literacy learning for children, teachers and whānau. The Central North Island Kindergarten Association’s strategic goals provide direction for the development of the kindergarten’s annual goals for improving learning and teaching. In 2010, one goal focused on teachers sharing knowledge about children’s learning, including literacy, with whānau and the wider community. Another goal focused on providing ICT that promoted high quality learning and teaching experiences.

Sharing expectations

The strong priority that teachers give to fostering children’s interest and confidence in literacy learning is also evident in the kindergarten’s assessment practices, and the environment.

Literacy is a regular topic at staff meetings and in teachers’ discussions about the programme and children’s learning. Literacy is well documented in children’s profile books and learning stories. Profile books include examples of children’s writing, the context of the writing, and why this writing is significant learning. Learning stories record children’s interests, thinking and investigations. They identify why these events are important learning for the child and give possibilities to extend the learning. Teachers often ask children what their learning means to them and record the children’s responses as an attachment to the learning story. Parents also include comments about the children’s learning and the progress that they have observed.

Literacy teaching and learning practice

Teachers plan the environment to provide children with many opportunities to develop their literacy learning.

  • Wall displays provide children with clues to help them with reading and writing.
  • The library area is an open, inviting, central space with comfortable chairs and cushions. Children and parents regularly sit in this area to talk and share stories.
  • Children independently use a computer, printer and scanner. They use word and picture cards to help them log on to the computer and complete their own research. Writing materials are also available in this area. Displays of children’s computer work provide ideas and possibilities. Children also use the computer to edit the photographs that they take during the programme.
  • A laptop computer and camera are available outside. ERO observed a child trying to photograph a snail but having difficulty making the snail stay in one place. After the snail was finally photographed the child opened the photograph on the computer and magnified the different parts of the snail that he wanted to find out more about.
  • A writing ‘house’ outside has a table covered in research books, clipboards, paper and other writing materials. Beanbags are also in the area for children to use.

Visits outside the kindergarten are well documented and displayed. Children are encouraged to take photographs of what they have seen and enjoyed. On returning to the kindergarten the children carefully select a small set of photographs from several shots. They work with teachers to develop a story that relates to the photographs. These are displayed and children share them with each other and their whānau. This activity helps children develop oral literacy, problem solving, sequencing of ideas, and creating stories.

Children, teachers and whānau know local Māori history and customs well. They take pride in this knowledge and include it in the programme and events. Tikanga and te reo Māori is well integrated into all aspects of the kindergarten. It is reflected in the wall displays and the indoor and outdoor environments. Learning stories, DVDs and CDs are used to record children’s te reo and tikanga Māori experiences within and beyond the centre. The children perform at the Tuwharetoa Festival. The service has its own pepeha 8 that children and teachers use to welcome visitors. Te reo Māori is used in the programme by children, teachers and whānau, and is included in the learning stories.

Teachers build on children’s interests and promote literacy. Conversations are respectful and thought provoking, with teachers taking their lead from the child. They ask questions to find out what the child already knows and what they want to know more about. Questions also help children to think, wonder and investigate further. Teachers encourage children to document their experiences through writing, art and by making their own CD and DVDs.

Teachers at the kindergarten and the local schools have a common understanding of literacy and value the contribution that each makes to children’s literacy understanding and development. Kindergarten and school teachers visit each other’s classrooms, and individual children’s progress is shared. The school teachers use the kindergarten profile books to begin to develop a relationship with each child and to understand, use and build on their previous learning at kindergarten and home. The schools and kindergarten have developed a protocol that on the first visit to the school the kindergarten teacher and parent accompany the child as part of a “handing over” of the child to the school.

Evaluating literacy teaching and learning through self review

Self review is well established and is effectively used to extend literacy learning and teaching. Close links are made between the association and kindergarten strategic and annual plans and self review. Teachers investigate current teaching practices to determine where improvements can be made.

In 2010, teachers identified the need to become more confident and articulate in sharing their knowledge and philosophy for learning with parents and the wider educational community. They used professional readings, research, professional development courses, and parent surveys to help them clarify what they knew and what they needed to convey to parents and the community. Teachers focused on their different audiences and the kinds of conversations that they needed to have with each group. They began to discuss literacy information in planned ways with each group and asked for feedback. Teachers now welcome questions and challenges and have found that they can confidently articulate the value of their literacy practices.

ERO asked Reporoa Kindergarten teachers what advice they would give to other services about developing high quality literacy teaching and learning practice. Teachers highlighted five aspects:

  • develop a team research question that focuses on literacy
  • use resources from the Ministry of Education, the internet, colleagues, current theory, professional development, and seminars to support your investigation
  • work from the children’s interests so literacy is meaningful. Children initiate their own learning experiences
  • build children’s literacy knowledge through discussions and conversations with them
  • be able to articulate your knowledge to parents, and build on the understanding that literacy is more than just learning your ABCs and to write your name.