Immersing early learning tamariki in te ao Māori

Issue: Volume 103, Number 5

Posted: 24 April 2024
Reference #: 1HAgFK

When the stars aligned for change at the Busy Bees early education centre in Morrinsville, Kataraina Hotene and her fellow kaiako took the chance to instil the values of te ao Māori, along with some local flavour. A mural in the centre stands as a visual representation of that.

In May 2023, the former Learning Curves centre in Morrinsville became Busy Bees. At around the same time, they had just come through a large turnover of kaimahi.

Centre staff holding pēpi from their newly named ‘Te Pihinga’ nursery.

Centre staff holding pēpi from their newly named ‘Te Pihinga’ nursery.

Head teacher Kataraina Hotene says she found it hard to gain a sense of belonging when first joining the centre. The former te reo Māori and kapa haka teacher had entered the mainstream environment a bit unsure of her place.

One reason she did join Busy Bees was the number of Māori tamariki in the centre. There was often a long waiting list for kōhanga reo and the longer hours of the then Learning Curves suited working parents.

A name change seemed like an opportunity to go further to imbue te reo Māori and te ao Māori into their identity.

Sense of identity

Amid the change, the team at the centre started looking at a new direction.

“The main thing was creating a stronger sense of identity for us as Busy Bees despite having the same name as many other centres under the large franchise. The changeover also came with extra support and opportunities for professional learning and development,” says Kataraina.

There are enthusiastic staff in place, including multiple te reo Māori speaking kaiako, so, the team used this to their advantage.

The staff asked themselves some questions such as: What are our values? What would we like to see reflected in our philosophy? What does whanaungatanga look like to us? What does upholding Te Tiriti o Waitangi look like to us?’

“There’s all this talk about a bicultural curriculum in early learning, but what does that look like if you don’t have the means to actually provide that?” says Kataraina.

Having gathered feedback from staff, a theme shone through – there needs to be a nurturing environment that will stimulate growth.

Reflecting this, Kataraina created a centre whakataukī which became foundational to their approach.

Morrinsville Busy Bees have created a nurturing environment for their tamariki.

Morrinsville Busy Bees have created a nurturing environment for their tamariki.

He pihinga i te onamata ka puaawai. A seedling planted in rich soil will flourish. This is a metaphor representative of the ages and stages of our tamariki. It encapsulates our firm belief of the need for a rich environment to nurture the learning and development of aakonga.”

Practical changes and reaction

Kataraina’s team speak to their tamariki in te reo Māori, and she emphasises the connection between language and culture. Busy Bees have also introduced kapa haka, karakia and waiata.

“For me it’s about sprinkling little bits of matauranga, so it’s not like ‘here, it’s in your face’ but like ‘this is what I do’.”

The names for the nursery (up to two years) and preschool (two to six years) also reflect their identity. They are now
Te Pihinga and Te Puaawai respectively. A pihinga is a seedling and puaawai means to blossom or bloom.

“Our under twos remind us of a tender shoot that needs frequent nurturing. We feed and water them and give them all the things they need to thrive, like aroha, time, and manaaki.

“When they transition to over twos, they’re looking for new opportunities for growth and learning, thus encouraging them to blossom.”

Kataraina says changes and growth wouldn’t have been so successful without the support from an open-minded team who were willing to learn, as well as support from their proactive manager Stacie Claridge.

“The importance of creating a nurturing environment for our tamariki was also providing a safe environment for our kaiako to learn as well.”

And the changes have gone down well with tamariki and whānau. Kataraina says it helps that there is a community of families who are open-minded and responsive. Many of them also come from different countries, from Zimbabwe to Mexico, and this helped them to relate.

“It’s cool to have those perspectives as well, and good to have them in our centre. Because I often find that the positive responses are from those, we call them iwi taketake, other indigenous cultures and families.”

Values for early learning and beyond

Kataraina believes many of the values being upheld at Morrinsville Busy Bees hold true for early learning in general.

“We’re bound by Te Tiriti as kaiako in early learning. The foundations of Te Whāriki is Te Tiriti. It’s more than just greeting people with ‘kia ora’. It’s upholding those values, understanding those values, and nurturing our mokopuna that come through the early learning space, no matter who they are.”

Localised curriculum learning on display.

Localised curriculum learning on display.


Kataraina thought it would be good to have a visual representation of the centre’s values. So, with her sisters, and in consultation with other kaimahi, they designed a mural.

The finished mural is three metres long and one and a half metres high, with three panels. It represents their values but also local history and identity.

Staff did research and visited significant places, such as the local museum and park which features work from local artists that also depict important pou whenua (significant places) in Morrinsville.

There is a rich history to draw from with local iwi Ngāti Hauā and its links to the Tumuakitanga and Kīngitanga movement.

“There’s been this big push on localised curriculum lately. And it’s hard to teach that and incorporate that in your curriculum if you don’t actually have the knowledge of those significant places around the area where you’re teaching.

“For us as mana whenua, we’re from here, so I was happy to share pockets of information as I saw their relevance. It’s an ongoing journey for us but the seeds have been sown.”

Symbolism in the mural

Panel 1

The deep red area in the top left corner represents the Tumuakitanga. The koru at the bottom represent respective areas of their waahi. The green koru represents Kai a te Mata marae in Morrinsville, the orange/yellow koru represents the local iwi Ngāti Hauā, and the golden koru on the far right is for the local hapū, Ngāti Werewere. The upside-down green koru represents the local falls, Parata.

Panel 2

This represents the curriculum values that align with the centre’s philosophy, depicted in the different koru – active exploration, trust, autonomy, and creative expression.

Panel 3

This part represents centre values such as whanaungatanga, acknowledging different cultures and ethnicities, a sense of belonging, and the importance of partnership between kaiako and whānau.

Tukutuku-like patterns at the bottom are taken from panels found on the wall inside Kai a te Mata marae, representing the 2 awa (rivers) Piako and Topehaehae. The work acknowledges the mana whenua and places of significance around Morrinsville, traditionally known as Te Au o Waikato.

The work acknowledges the mana whenua and places of significance around Morrinsville, traditionally known as Te Au o Waikato

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:54 pm, 24 April 2024

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