Working with Te Whāriki: as part of each service’s curriculum

ERO was interested in the links between the prescribed framework of principles and strands (Te Whāriki) and each service’s curriculum. An analysis of the data showed the ways in which services were using the prescribed framework of principles and strands and highlighted where services were working beyond this framework and engaging with the full curriculum document. It also showed where services were working in a very limited way with the principles and strands.

ERO found that most (80 percent) of the 627 early childhood services reviewed in Terms 1, 2 and 3, 2012 were making some use of the prescribed framework of principles and strands. In these services the principles and/or strands were most evident in their philosophy statement and in planning and/or assessment processes. ERO noted the highly variable understanding of Te Whāriki and associated practice across these services. Although many services expressed their intent to work with Te Whāriki in various documents, this intent was not always reflected in practice. A common finding across these services was the limited reflection, or more formal self review in relation to their implementation of Te Whāriki.

Ten percent of the services were working more in-depth with Te Whāriki, beyond the prescribed curriculum framework of principles and strands. Some of these services were exploring the underpinning theories and using it as a basis for evaluating their curriculum. Many explicitly linked their curriculum to the four principles and the five strands and associated goals. The strands and goals were included in children’s assessment records and often unpacked further into learning dispositions and outcomes. Self review included a focus on evaluating practice against the principles, and/or strands and goals. In some of these services, teachers used Te Whāriki to develop indicators for review, for example to review bicultural practice. Some also used the reflective questions in Te Whāriki to reflect on, and evaluate, their teaching practice.

The remaining services (10 percent) were making limited use of Te Whāriki. In these services, leaders and teachers had a limited understanding of the principles and strands. This lack of understanding often resulted in superficial references to Te Whāriki, or a focus on only one or two of the principles and strands. Reference to Te Whāriki was sometimes visible in wall displays but not reflected in practice. In some, Te Whāriki was used to justify poor quality teaching practices such as highly teacher-directed activities or limited opportunities for child-initiated interactions.

An analysis of the data did not show any significant statistical differences in terms of service type, location, ownership arrangement and qualifications/registration levels.[12]

Working with Te Whāriki: a thematic analysis

An analysis of the data gathered from 627 early childhood services highlighted six themes that describe how services were using Te Whāriki as:

  • a philosophical curriculum
  • an implicit curriculum
  • a selective curriculum
  • a reference point for curriculum
  • a basis for a bicultural curriculum
  • a basis for evaluating their curriculum.

The findings in relation to these are discussed below. An introductory statement fromTe Whāriki provides a context for each theme. ERO’s findings are discussed and questions for discussion and consideration are included with each ‘theme’.

Te Whāriki: the philosophical curriculum

What does Te Whāriki say about this?

The early childhood curriculum has been envisaged as a whāriki, or mat, woven from the principles, strands, and goals defined in this document. The whāriki concept recognises the diversity of early childhood education in New Zealand. Different programmes, philosophies, structures, and environments will contribute to the distinctive patterns of the whāriki. (p.11)

What did ERO find?

In many services, the principles and/or strands of Te Whāriki were most evident in their statement of philosophy. Philosophy statements often used wording from Te Whāriki in relation to the principles, strands or aspirational intent. Teachers referred to the principles as being embedded in or woven into their philosophy. Many services gave emphasis through their philosophy to the principles of family and community and relationships.

In a few services, the only reference to Te Whāriki was in their philosophy statement, particularly in the services where there was limited use of Te Whāriki. Including aspects of Te Whāriki as part of their philosophy statements meant that services could justify their practice as being underpinned by all or some of the principles and strands. In some services, using Te Whāriki in this way provided a strong rationale for their curriculum. However in others it was nothing more than words on paper as the actual practice bore no resemblance to the service’s stated values and beliefs.

ERO’s review highlighted the lack of alignment in many services between Te Whāriki as a philosophical curriculum and what actually happens in practice. Implementing Te Whāriki as a philosophical curriculum has some benefits for early childhood services in that it clearly establishes the values and beliefs that underpin their curriculum. The risk, however, is that the enacted curriculum does not reflect or align to the more specific intent of Te Whāriki in terms of the practices associated with the principles, strands, goals and outcomes.

Some questions for early childhood services to consider

To what extent is Te Whāriki referenced in our statement of philosophy?

  • Which aspects are included?
  • Why were these aspects included?
  • What do we know about how well our philosophy is enacted in practice?

Te Whāriki: the implicit curriculum

What does Te Whāriki say about this?

Te Whāriki defines curriculum as the sum total of the experiences, activities, and events, whether direct or indirect, which occur within an environment designed to foster learning and development.(p.10)

What did ERO find?

For many services Te Whāriki was seen as a ‘given’ and leaders and teachers referred to it as ‘everything we do’ and ‘who we are’. This sense of an ‘implicit’ curriculum may well be due to the fact that it has been part of the early childhood education sector for 20 years. It may also be because of the way in which many services were working with Te Whāriki as a curriculum that was inherent to their practice and strongly linked to their philosophical values and beliefs.

Where services were working with Te Whāriki as an implicit curriculum, there was not always a shared understanding of the implications for practice amongst teachers. The principles and/or strands of Te Whāriki were often more explicit in assessment information and in displays in the physical environment than in planning and teaching practices. Most services were comfortable with the framework of principles and strands and saw it as accommodating their particular approach and associated practices.

For many early childhood services it seems to be acceptable to work with Te Whāriki as an implicit curriculum. The intent of Te Whāriki in this regard is not clear. The broad framework of principles and strands accommodates a diverse approach to curriculum in individual services that may, in fact, lead services to work with this framework in a more implicit way.

Some questions for early childhood services to consider

  • How explicit is Te Whāriki in our service’s curriculum?
  • Which aspects are implicit and which are explicit?

Te Whāriki: the selective curriculum

What does Te Whāriki say about this?

The strands and goals arise from the principles and are woven around these principles in patterns that reflect the diversity of each early childhood education service. Together, the principles, strands, goals, and learning outcomes set the framework for the curriculum whāriki (p.39).

What did ERO find?

The open, non-prescriptive framework of principles, interwoven strands, associated goals and outcomes enables services to work with Te Whāriki in ways that suit their particular context. Some services used this framework as a menu from which to choose the aspects they wanted to focus on. For example, the principles family and community and relationships were often the only ones highlighted in documentation such as planning or assessment records. Similarly wellbeing and belonging were the most often referred to strands. Some services justified this as their current focus or emphasis, indicating that other principles and strands would also have a focus at a different time. However this was not the case in all services.

ERO noted a distinct absence of some principles and strands in the planned and enacted curriculum of some services, particularly in relation to the principlesempowerment and holistic development, and the strands exploration, communicationand contribution.

Many services were also selective about how they used the principles and strands of Te Whāriki. In some, the principles and/or strands were only visible in assessment information, where links were made between what was written about a child’s involvement in an activity and a particular principle or strand. In others, Te Whārikiwas integrated into all aspects of the service’s planning, assessment and evaluation or self-review processes.

The extent to which services were including the goals and outcomes associated with the strands was highly variable. Where the goals were being used, this was mainly in planning for groups and individuals. Less evident was any use of the learning outcomes in Te Whāriki. These outcomes (knowledge, skills and attitudes) are listed for each of the strands in Te Whāriki.

Working with Te Whāriki as a selective curriculum means that the curriculum experienced by children may not necessarily reflect or include all of the principles and strands. Although Te Whāriki suggests that each service develop its own emphases and priorities (p.44), it also expects that services weave their whāriki from the principles, strands and goals (p.11) thus providing a rich and responsive curriculum for all children.

Some questions for early childhood services to consider

  • To what extent is our service’s curriculum based on all of the aspects of Te Whāriki?
  • What aspects of Te Whāriki are included? For example, principles, strands, goals and outcomes?
  • Does our service give greater emphasis to some aspects of Te Whāriki than others? Why?
  • What might this mean for children’s learning?

Te Whāriki: a reference point for curriculum

What does Te Whāriki say about this?

Each early childhood education setting should plan its programme to facilitate achievement of the goals of each strand in the curriculum. There are many ways in which each early childhood service can weave the particular pattern that makes its programme different and distinctive (p.28).

Each programme should be planned to offer sufficient learning experiences for the children to ensure that the curriculum goals are realised (p.28).

What did ERO find?

In many services, Te Whāriki was evident in the environment in visual displays such as charts showing how the principles and strands were linked to teaching practices and assessment information. Photographs were often annotated to show links between children’s learning and the strands of Te Whāriki.

Some services viewed implementation as using the language of Te Whāriki. This was particularly evident in documentation and in conversations about Te Whāriki and how it was being implemented. Often Te Whāriki was referenced in documents but not so visible in practice. Such referencing was more of a means for these services to prove they were working with the principles and strands, although practice was often far removed from the intent. In a few services, their broad interpretation of the principles and/or strands was used to justify poor quality or inappropriate practice such as highly teacher-directed activities and routine-focused programmes.

The strands of Te Whāriki were often used as a reference point in assessment records. In some services, the strands were referenced in the front of an individual child’s profile book or learning portfolio with no other mention of them. In others, teachers linked narrative assessments quite explicitly to the strands. In a few services, assessment information was referenced to the goals and/or learning outcomes associated with the strands. However, as noted in the previous section about services using Te Whāriki as a selective curriculum, in most of the services there was little evidence of reference to goals and indicative learning outcomes in assessment, planning and evaluation processes.

The idea of working with Te Whāriki as a reference document makes some sense but just referencing the principles and strands in planning and assessment documentation does not mean that services are implementing Te Whāriki. Services need to challenge themselves to explore the thinking and practice behind the words by engaging more deeply with Te Whāriki.

Some questions for early childhood services to consider

  • How is Te Whāriki visible in our service’s curriculum?
  • Which aspects are visible?
  • Are we just using the language of Te Whāriki or do we have a deeper understanding of what the principles and strands mean for curriculum in our service?

Te Whāriki as a basis for a bicultural curriculum

What does Te Whāriki say about this?

This is the first bicultural curriculum statement developed in New Zealand. It contains curriculum specifically for Māori immersion services in early childhood education and establishes, throughout the document as a whole, the bicultural nature of curriculum for all early childhood services. (p.7)

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. (p.9)

What did ERO find?

Many services made reference to Te Tiriti o Waitangi and to New Zealand’s dual cultural heritage and bicultural practice in their philosophy statements. However, only a few services were fully realising such intent in practice by working in partnership with whānau Māori and through the provision of a curriculum that was responsive to the language, culture and identity of Māori children. Often bicultural practice meant the use of basic te reo, some waiata in the programme, resources such as puzzles that depicted aspects of te ao Māori and posters and photographs that reflected aspects of Māori culture. Events such as Matariki were part of the regular celebrations in some services.

The principle relationships underpinned bicultural practice in some services, particularly in terms of how they worked collaboratively with parents and whānau. In a few, partnerships were strengthened through a focus on seeking and responding to the aspirations parents and whānau have for their children.

Less common features of practice included services:

  • focusing on bicultural practice as part of their self review
  • increasing teacher capability to implement a bicultural curriculum through involvement in professional learning programmes
  • increasing their awareness and use of Ka Hikitia [13] and Tātaiako. [14]

ERO’s findings suggest that Te Whāriki is not well understood and implemented as a bicultural curriculum. Although the intent of Te Whāriki is recognised in some services there is not sufficient guidance to help services realise this intent.

Some questions for early childhood services to consider

  • What informs and guides our bicultural curriculum?
  • How do Te Whāriki, Ka Hikitia and Tātaiako inform our bicultural practice?
  • What do we know about the impact of our bicultural curriculum for Māori children? For all children in our service?

Te Whāriki as a basis for evaluating the service’s curriculum

What does Te Whāriki say about this?

The purpose of evaluation is to make informed judgments about the quality and effectiveness of the programme. A system of evaluation will ask: In what ways do the human relationships and the programme provide a learning environment which is based on the goals of the curriculum? (p.29)

Questioning and reflecting on practice are first steps towards planning and evaluating the programme. They encourage adults working with children to debate what they are doing and why they are doing it and lead to establishing an information base for continued planning and evaluation of the curriculum (p.45).

What did ERO find?

Very few services were using Te Whāriki as a basis to evaluate their curriculum. The “questions for reflection” included in Te Whāriki in relation to each goal were used by some of these services as a basis for discussion and a more formal review of their curriculum. Others developed indicators for each of the principles and used these as signposts of good practice in their reviews. Although some services were undertaking self review that focused on aspects of curriculum, Te Whāriki was not used well to inform such review.

Most early childhood services are not making good use of the breadth of information in Te Whāriki to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of their curriculum. This may be because they are not engaging with the curriculum beyond the prescribed framework of principles and strand or it may be because they do not understand Te Whāriki well enough to work with all aspects of the curriculum. Implementing a curriculum that reflects “the things that are important to the children, their families, the staff, the community and the philosophy of the specific setting” [15] requires services to undertake ongoing review to evaluate how well they are doing this.

Some questions for early childhood services to consider

  • What framework(s) do we use to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of our service’s curriculum?
  • What aspects of Te Whāriki might help us to undertake such evaluation?

Other influences on individual service’s curriculum

Early childhood education in Aotearoa New Zealand has been influenced by different philosophical and educational approaches. In some services, Te Whāriki provides the only philosophical basis for their curriculum. In others Te Whāriki is a foundation upon which other philosophical and educational approaches are added.

Te Whāriki acknowledges that “different programmes, philosophies, structures and environments will contribute to the distinctive patterns of the whāriki”. It notes that philosophical emphases such as in Playcentre, Montessori or Rudolf Steiner programmes will contribute to these distinctive patterns. More recently, the influence of other theories/philosophies and approaches [16] have found their way into the curriculum of individual early childhood services.

ERO gathered and analysed information about the influence of educational philosophies, theories and approaches on each service’s curriculum. Some influences were very specific to service type, for example those adopted in Playcentres. Others were particular to services that had historically been part of the early childhood education sector such as Montessori and Steiner. It was quite common to find services catering for children up to two years of age adopting aspects of the educational theories of Emmi Pikler or Magda Gerber. Some services took a very eclectic approach, often claiming to be implementing a curriculum based on several different theories or approaches, but without always having a good understanding of the underpinning theories of these or being able to integrate them with Te Whāriki.

The extent to which particular educational philosophies, theories or approaches were integrated with Te Whāriki and embedded in practice varied considerably across the early childhood services in this evaluation. In many, ERO identified some level of integration with the principles and strands of Te Whāriki. Some based their curriculum solely on the principles and strands of Te Whāriki, while others used Te Whāriki as a basis for including other philosophies and/or approaches to varying degrees of success.

Services that were working more deeply with Te Whāriki, took an integrated approach to their curriculum. They strengthened their curriculum by weaving together the principles and strands of Te Whāriki and their particular philosophy or theoretical approach rather than adopting practices as an alternative to Te Whāriki. In these services, there was more of a shared understanding amongst teachers of the underpinning philosophies, theories or approaches adopted.