No boundaries early childhood education from Auckland to Niue

Issue: Volume 97, Number 5

Posted: 23 March 2018
Reference #: 1H9i4o

Early Childhood Education (ECE) Team Leader Sarah Steiner journeyed to Niue with colleagues Megan Laupa and Naoki Yajima on a self-organised trip last month, with the aim of experiencing ECE in a Pacific setting. She reflects on how the experience helped the trio to better understand not only their students, but also themselves.

As the number of families from diverse cultural backgrounds increases in New Zealand, so too does our need as teachers to understand and support each child’s cultural identity and sense of belonging. 

My colleagues and I form a tricultural (Niuean, Japanese and Pākehā) team teaching together at Tadpoles ECE centre in South Auckland. We wanted to expand our knowledge of early childhood education in the Pacific and better our understanding of the cultural backgrounds of our children. After contacting the Ministry of Education in Niue, we met with Niuean MP O’Love Jacobsen to assist us in the planning stages of our itinerary. We arranged for a day in the early childhood education centre attached to the main primary school in Alofi, a day visiting local village playgroups and were invited to attend the weekly primary school assembly. 

Parallels in practice

Arriving at Aoga Fakamahani preschool, one of the first similarities we noticed was the morning devotion. This is a morning ritual carried out entirely in Vagahau Niue. We listened as the children said a prayer and sang some hymns and songs, before greeting their teachers and any visitors.

We were instantly excited to find such a similarity and connection to our practice at home. Each morning at Tadpoles we hold Wā Whānau, group time, for each class entirely in Te Reo Māori. Our days begin with karakia, himene and waiata, and greetings to each of the teachers. As we witnessed these parallels to our own practice, we found ourselves recognising how much we valued the bicultural aspects of our own centre’s daily routines and rituals.

Sharing skills and passion

We were shown around the centre and spent time with each of the teachers, learning about their routines, responsibilities, and the important place of whānau in their children’s learning. 

We reciprocated by sharing some things we value in our practice at Tadpoles. We explained how each evening our closing teacher set up our classroom with different ‘provocations’ to capture the interest of the children arriving in the morning. We brought three different table-top set-ups from New Zealand and each of us shared our experiences with this concept. 

Paper aeroplanes were a current obsession within our (mostly male) class back home. Having recently completed professional development around children’s interests, this is something we choose to acknowledge. With this in mind, and envisaging the semi-outdoor classroom of Aoga Fakamahani, we also brought the instructions and material required for making paper aeroplanes. Sure enough, this turned out to be a very popular activity there too!

We also carried with us the bulk ingredients to make Play-Doh, and shared a recipe with the Niuean teachers. While commercial Play-Doh had previously been donated, we were able to share how it could be made in a more economical, collaborative and environmentally friendly way. The children loved the opportunity for a different type of sensory play.

We were interested to observe how naturally they made Play-Doh creations resembling aspects of life and culture in Niue, such as shaping island fruit and vegetables, and moulding pacific dishes like takihi. Using play to make connections with everyday life is a big part of supporting a sense of belonging for children everywhere! 

Making this trip has been important in different ways to each of us as teachers.

Megan Laupa, a Niuean born and raised in New Zealand, says it is about reconnecting. “Having visited Niue as a child, it was a humbling experience to return home again as a teacher. As I witnessed the learning and culture firsthand, alongside colleagues who share the same passion for teaching, it emphasised the value in teaching our children the importance of knowing their roots, our taonga, and our people. These connections deepen our understanding of who we are and enrich what we can then pass on.”

For Naoki Yajima, a teacher from Japan now living and working in New Zealand, it was his first visit to the Pacific island. “This visit has helped me understand the culture and roots of the children I teach and reinforced the need for me to create an environment that supports a holistic view of the child, just as Te Whāriki emphasises.”

As the team leader, it has been a special opportunity for me to see my colleagues strengthen and develop their own cultural identities. As I witnessed the sense of belonging created for the children I felt my own identity affirmed. I am very aware that as we made connections with the teachers and shared in their routines and practice, it reinforced our own individual and shared beliefs and understanding about best practice. 

What we all have in common is that early childhood is not just a job, it’s our passion. This opportunity to experience and understand early childhood education within one of our closest Pacific neighbours has been extraordinarily rewarding, professionally and personally. As teachers, our philosophies come from all kinds of learning and experiences, so this has been a chance for us to share and work with others who do what we love.


BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:30 am, 23 March 2018

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