Confident, connected whānau

Issue: Volume 94, Number 8

Posted: 18 May 2015
Reference #: 1H9cr7

Poipoia te Mokopuna is a whānau-focused education programme that aims to nurture tamariki and their learning in the early years.

Kerry Dougall manages the Māori section at an organisation called Naku Enei Tamariki in Wellington’s Seaview region. Kerry and the team at Naku Enei Tamariki work with whānau from a range of backgrounds, with a range of needs. There are those troubled families with high social needs – Child, Youth and Family services might have been involved, there might be background drug and alcohol problems, or families might be blighted by poverty – right through to those who’ve just found themselves a bit disconnected from iwi and community, and are in need of a few introductions.

The centre’s mission is to actively support families with new babies and preschool-aged children through holistic – yet specialised – programmes and services. One of these programmes, Poipoia te Mokopuna, was developed in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, with the goal of supporting the Ka Hikitia – Accelerating Success 2013–2017 outcome ‘all Māori children participate in high quality early learning’, and Te Whāriki, the early childhood curriculum policy statement.

Each contracted organisation working with the Ministry to make Poipoia te Mokopuna a success is encouraged to come up with their own variation of the programme, that reflects the unique needs of the community they serve – a ‘one size fits one’ approach in other words.

The Naku Enei Tamariki Poipoia te Mokopuna programme is for those families who have dealt with their most urgent needs, and are focused on ensuring that their child – often yet to be born – gets the best of them, and of their community. Kerry and her team achieve this firstly by visiting whānau in their homes, and starting conversations about the aspirations parents have for their tamariki.

Those aspirations unsurprisingly come down to wanting the best for their children. For Māori, says Kerry, connection to whakapapa and iwi creates the sense of self-worth that becomes a base on which parents can raise their children with pride and dignity, while undoing some of the conditioning that colonisation has inflicted on Māori culture.

“We’ve developed a programme around Poipoia te Mokopuna that’s based on using atua and iwi pūrākau. Pūrākau are stories I guess we could say, traditional stories that are based around different Māori concepts. For example, there’s the Māori creation story based around Ranginui and Papatūānuku and the creation of humankind.

“What we do is relate these to the current everyday environment of a whānau, so we look at how we can sustain the environment. For example: we can grow our own kai; we can ensure that we keep the beach clean; we can utilise the natural environment rather than buying lots of plastic toys; we can use traditional play activities and toys.”


By way of an example, Kerry talks about a young pregnant woman who had simply become a bit disconnected from her Māori identity. She had some knowledge of her whakapapa, but spoke no te reo Māori, and had lost contact with her community.
“She was pregnant when she came in, and so one of the things we did with her and her Pākehā partner was that we all talked about what would happen with the whenua – placenta – after the baby was born. Traditionally it would be gifted back to Papatūānuku by burying it, for her growth and sustenance. So we spent a bit of time working on that kōrero, and as a whānau learnt a karakia which they recited at the burial of the whenua after baby was born. It was an opportunity for her to reclaim some of what it means to be Māori by this traditional observance.

“This had a massive effect. One of the outcomes we didn’t realise would come from it was the involvement of the mother’s Pākehā partner and his whānau. The two cultures really came together for the benefit of the child.”

Poipoia te Mokopuna is a two–year programme, and Naku Enei Tamariki encourages families with children under two-and-a-half to get involved, but ideally, says Kerry, involvement with her team begins before a child is born. Kerry says that the earlier they get involved, the better the odds that they’ll be able to help parents become great first teachers.

Part of the work that Kerry does is to nurture community inter-connectivity, which is one of the central tenets of Māori culture, and one of the things that colonisation has eroded within some Māori communities. Restoring these connections is of paramount importance to Māori generally, says Kerry.

“One of the great strengths in being Māori is that you’re already part of a whānau; there’s so much strength in atua and iwi. Being Māori, we’re lucky that we’re already part of that.

“We’ve developed groups within different communities; what we do is connect Poipoia te Mokopuna whānau with each other. We meet every fortnight, and within those groups, we look at the pūrākau we’ve been working with, and try to make sense of it in the context of our everyday world.

“Also we’re trying to get them to learn more about the area they live in, so about the local iwi, the hapū, but also about the different features of the area. For example, in the Rimutaka Forest Park, there’s a part that’s really rich in natural rongoā [medicine/natural treatments], and that’s something we’ve tried to reconnect some of our families with; something as simple as the plants that were used by their ancestors to heal.”

Nuanced outcomes

Of course, formally enshrined outcomes must play a part, and there are many of these that Kerry and her team treat as clearly defined yardsticks, and work towards as part of their ‘results-based accountability reporting’. One of these, for example, is that ‘whānau are more confident in their role as their children’s first teachers.’ Again, says Kerry, in this respect Māori draw much strength from familial and community connections.

“Confidence is definitely part of it; confidence in your own ability as your child’s first teacher. But it’s also about identifying your own strengths.

“A lot of the whānau that we work with have come from a background where there’s been abuse, or similar. Sometimes the parents we deal with don’t see themselves as having much self-worth. So a big part of what we do is to pull out and acknowledge the strengths that whānau have.”

Another measure that Kerry and team pursue is that ‘parents read and talk more with their children.’ Again, this result must be accessed through the lens of Māori culture.

“We encourage that for example through waiata, karakia, or we might give books to whānau. What we don’t ever do is hand over some book or something, and say ‘see ya.’ Everything we do is about modelling, and about us constructing a relationship with whānau.”

But at the end of the day, says Kerry, these more data-driven goals must be achieved on terms that speak to the cultural as well as educational wellbeing of the whānau they’re involved with.

Kerry says that there is now recognition of the truism that the only way to improve some of the negative statistics around Māori education that we are battered with all the time is to nourish community Māoritanga. They’re supported to do this – get into education on Māori terms – but it’s always a fine line, she says.

“On the one hand we are obviously working toward higher rates of engagement with early childhood education services, but on the other we don’t just want to see kids bundled off to school, missing out on their connection to their parents and their iwi. One of our prime goals is to support parents to be their child’s first teacher, so it’s a fine line.”

Poipoia te Mokopuna factbox

Poipoia te Mokopuna aims to reach Māori under three years of age not currently participating in early childhood education or kōhanga reo and their whānau.

Organisations are contracted to design and implement a Poipoia te Mokopuna early learning programme which is tailored to their communities and aligned to Ka Hikitia – Accelerating Success 2013 – 2017 and underpinned by Te Whāriki the early childhood curriculum.

Poipoia te Mokopuna is delivered by 15 organisations in 16 locations nationwide.

For more information about Poipoia te Mokopuna contact

Early learning

Early learning is the learning that happens from birth, at home and out and about.

Parents and whānau play a big role in a child’s early learning even by simply talking with them.
For play ideas to support your child’s early learning visit the Ministry of Education’s website for parents and carers.(external link)

BY Jaylan Boyle
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:53 am, 18 May 2015

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