Early learning services and Te Whāriki

Supporting whānau to choose the right early learning service for their children, and understanding Te Whāriki.

There are many aspects to think about when whānau are deciding which early learning service (ELS) is right for them and their tamariki. Sometimes it’s an easy choice because of their cultural or ethnic identity and their desire to be part of a particular early childhood community.

As a whānau supporter or friend of the family, you can help families by being familiar with the early learning services in your community. If you build a relationship with the teachers, it will be much easier for you to support whānau when you’re helping them with decisions.

The Ministry of Education website has details on finding an early childhood education service or school(external link) across New Zealand, and some information about them.

What do whānau want?

Talking with whānau about what they value in an ELS is key to making the best choices for them and their tamariki. They might want to consider where the centre is situated, the hours, the costs and how much parent involvement is expected.

Other considerations may be the number of children the centre is registered for, and whether the children are clustered into age groups or have separate areas for the different ages. They may have particular values or beliefs that are important for them and want an ELS service that fits with those.

Visiting services

Visiting the ELS is important. This is where your prior relationship with the teachers will be really helpful. You can get a better idea about the service and what goes on by actually spending time in the environment. Parents can learn a lot by watching the interactions between the adults and children, the children with each other, and adults with other adults.

Talk with whānau prior to a visit and encourage them to observe what’s going on at the service and to think about things such as:

  • Do the children look happy and busy?
  • What are the physical facilities like?
  • What’s the play equipment like?
  • How clean is it?
  • How much talking and listening is going on for the children?
  • Are people acting kindly towards each other?
  • Does it feel like a happy space?
  • What sort of guidance do the teachers give the children?
  • How do they show tamariki what they want them to do?
  • What’s the noise level like?

Encourage whānau to ask the questions they need to ask, with your help if they need it. If they aren’t finding out all they want to know, suggest they make an appointment for another visit when the teaching staff has more time to talk.

Getting a good fit for an early learning service is really important for whānau and their tamariki. A quality centre will provide all-round benefits for the child’s learning and development and make parents and whānau feel welcome.

The Ministry of Education website has a helpful guidance page called Choosing an early learning service(external link).

You can also download their comprehensive booklet called Choices(external link) (PDF) and use it as reference when supporting whānau with these important decisions.

This may be the child’s first step into the wider world outside of the whānau. But it is only a step, and whānau and home remain the most important influences for tamariki. What parents do and how they are with their tamariki is still the most important.

Te Whāriki: He whāriki mātauranga mō ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa

The original New Zealand Early Childhood Curriculum, Te Whāriki, was published in 1996. It was one of the first national curriculum documents for early childhood education anywhere in the world. The vision of Te Whāriki is that children are ‘competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society’.

Te Whāriki is a celebrated bicultural document that has shaped our uniquely Kiwi approach to early learning here in New Zealand. In 2017 a revised and refreshed update was published to include new relevant educational research and also changes within our society in Aotearoa. Like the original, it is framed using concepts drawn from te ao Māori.

The curriculum for Te Kōhanga Reo is now a document in its own right called Te Whāriki a te Kōhanga Reo. Published as a single volume alongside Te Whāriki, it is formatted as a flipbook. At the heart of Te Whāriki are the principles and strands of a framework that both versions share.

A ‘whāriki’ is a woven mat, and is used as a metaphor in this curriculum to show how each of the principles and strands are interlinked.

The principles are:

  • Empowerment – Whakamana
  • Holistic Development – Kotahitanga
  • Family and Community – Whānau tangata
  • Relationships – Ngā hononga

The interlinking strands are:

  • Wellbeing – Mana atua
  • Belonging – Mana whenua
  • Contribution – Mana tangata
  • Communication – Mana reo
  • Exploration – Mana aotūroa

The emphasis is that all children are encouraged to learn in their own ways, and that they are encouraged and supported by adults who know them well and have their best interests at heart.

You can download a copy of Te Whāriki(external link) (PDF) on the Ministry of Education’s website.