Curriculum curiosity

KATE BARBER delves into Te Whāriki, the New Zealand curriculum for early childhood.

I first encountered Te Whāriki, the New Zealand early childhood curriculum, when my eldest started Playcentre. I perceived it then as something that the Coordinator (or teacher) had knowledge of and responsibility for – something they would use to plan the sessions, some sort of checklist they would use to assess my 18-month-old’s learning. I naively assumed that ‘the curriculum’ referred to what would be taught, and learned.

First published by the Ministry of Education in 1996, and updated in 2017, Te Whāriki is founded on the following aspirations for children: that they ‘grow up as 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’. As such, Te Whāriki acknowledges the manifold types of early childhood education (ECE) available, and the unique values and priorities of families as they decide on the best ECE option for
their children.

Supporting these aspirations, Te Whāriki acknowledges the diverse experiences that children have at and bring to their ECE environment. It does not prescribe what teachers must teach and children must learn.

Rather, using the whāriki (woven mat) as a metaphor, it ‘provides a framework of principles, strands, goals and learning outcomes’. The five Strands are Wellbeing/Mana Atua, Belonging/Mana Whenua, Contribution/Mana Tangata, Communication/Mana Reo, and Exploration/Mana Aotūroa; and these align with Goals that describe ECE environments that are conducive to learning and development. For instance, ‘Children experience an environment where their play is valued as meaningful learning’ (Strand: Exploration).

Five years on, I have had a little more mileage with these ideas. Don’t get me wrong, I do not sit in bed reading the document. No, my bed-time reading is far less edifying – I am currently re-reading the Outlander series. But, when I flick through the pages now, I recognise the Goals as corresponding with aspirations that I have for my girls, and I love that these underpin the sorts of experiences and interactions they, and other children, have in early childhood education in this country.

You can find Te Whāriki online, and your child’s teacher will be able to answer any questions you may have about it.