I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for over a year now, and each time, I put it on the back burner and somehow make the decision to write about something a little more ‘relevant’ to everyday teaching. As I sat down to finally hit ‘publish’ on this blog post, it occurred to me that what is really at the core of our everyday teaching is our philosophical beliefs about young children and philosophies of early childhood education that resonate with us on a deeper level.
Te Whāriki for me is one of those philosophies; it is incredibly special. I first came across it during my initial teacher training in New Zealand, and a few years later, I found myself teaching kindergarten in Canada, reflecting and wondering how I could use to Te Whāriki compliment the Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten curriculum. My curiosity led me to earn my Masters at the University of Auckland two years ago.
I think writing just one blog post to try and encompass what makes this curriculum document so important and inspiring is a bit overwhelming, so I have decided to create a short blog series to be able to really take my time in sharing my thoughts. To start off, in this post, I will share a few aspects of Te Whāriki I find really interesting (and I hope you do too!).
1. Te Whāriki frames early childhood education in New Zealand as bi-cultural. It recognizes the country’s Maori (the indigenous peoples of New Zealand) heritage and reflects a philosophy of early learning unique to the nation’s historical, political and social contexts.
Reflecting the belief that every child in New Zealand should be immersed in learning environments that provide ‘a window’ into “two worldviews, and that everyone should share the responsibility of protecting and nurturing Maori language and culture” (Carr, & May, 1993, p. 8), the curriculum features English and Maori texts that are “parallel and complement each other” (Ministry of Education, 1996 p. 10).
As a Canadian, I find the history of Te Whāriki really interesting because we also have an Indigenous history. In many ways, I feel that Te Whāriki is a wonderful model of mutual respect by the very way it was created – in the spirit of collaboration.
2. Te Whāriki recognizes infants and toddlers alongside young children in its understanding of learners. It has gained international acclaim for its holistic and inclusive philosophy of early childhood education based on “broad principles, values, and goals, open to interpretation” (Moss, 2006, p. 10). Similar to the Reggio Emilia philosophy, Te Whāriki is inclusive of infants and toddlers alongside young children – this speaks volumes in terms of its image of the child!
3. Te Whāriki acknowledges the spiritual dimension of the child. I find this so interesting and important!
Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi engari he toa takitini.
I come not with my own strengths but bring with me the gifts, talents and strengths of my family, tribe and ancestors. (Ministry of Education, 2016, pg. 12)
I love, love, love, this quote – and it is found right in the curriculum document!
4. The assessment framework of Te Whāriki – Learning Stories is a democratic process which includes the voices of families and young children alongside educator observations. Learning stories offer a platform for the inclusion of multiple perspectives in decision making about children’s’ learning. It is important to note that the inclusion of families and young children in the assessment process also transforms the relationship/ power dynamic between early childhood institutions and families into one where all participants (families, young children, and educators) are recognized as having value and expertise in early learning.
5. Te Whāriki in practice is driven primarily by the working theories of young children. Similar to the Reggio Emilia philosophy, Te Whāriki considers working theories to be highly personalized and unique to each child; working theories are substituted for predetermined learning outcomes.
I’ll stop my list here (although I can go on and on!) – and save future posts for an in depth look at each of these features of Te Whāriki. My research at the University of Auckland was originally inspired by the tensions I recognized as a kindergarten teacher implementing the Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten curriculum. I began to notice an increased pressure for young children to measure up to predetermined learning outcomes and wondered if there was another way … to teach, to ‘measure progress’, and to learn. Te Whāriki has become an inspiration for me in many ways, all of which have enhanced my teaching program here in Ontario. I hope that through my future posts you may find one or several aspects of it that resonate with you too!
Ko te ahurei o te tamati
aroha o tātou mahi
Let the uniqueness of the child guide our work