Putting whānau at the heart of early childhood education

Issue: Volume 95, Number 7

Posted: 26 April 2016
Reference #: 1H9d1G

Tuia te here tangata – making meaningful connections is a recent report published by the Education Review Office. It tells the story of five special puna whakatupu that are focused on whānau-wide learning.

We know that children are more likely to succeed in education when there are strong connections between home and school.

Evidence shows that though these connections may vary, they are most effective when parents and whānau are respected and valued as partners in their child’s learning.

That is the overarching aim of the five puna whakatupu, the kaupapa Māori-based early learning services that feature in the Education Review Office (ERO) report Tuia te here tangata – making meaningful connections.

This particular report builds on a 2012 ERO evaluation, Partnerships with whānau Māori, which found that Māori have a growing expectation that the education system promotes whānau partnership in its work.

What sets these puna whakatupu apart is a commitment to working alongside whānau so that together with their tamariki, they are all partners in learning.

Each of the five puna whakatupu is located on or near Te Wānanga o Aotearoa campus sites. Te Wānanga o Aotearoa students, staff and general community are the parents of the children who attend the puna.

The puna whakatupu featured in the ERO report are:

  • Te Puna Whakatupu o Apakura Te Kākano, Te Awamutu
  • Te Puna Whakatupu o Te Rau Ōriwa, Tokoroa
  • Te Puna Whakatupu o Raroera Te Puāwai, Hamilton
  • Te Puna Whakatupu o Ngā Kākano o Te Mānuka, Māngere, South Auckland
  • Te Puna Whakatupu o Whare Āmai, Gisborne

Attributes to share

ERO’s Māori Review Services team, Te Uepū-ā Motū, completed the reviews and subsequent report Tuia te here tangata. Lynda Pura-Watson is deputy chief review officer Māori for ERO. She says these puna whakatupu demonstrate important concepts that are worth sharing with the wider sector.

“This particular report shines a light on effective practice. It helps create a picture to help other early learning services get it right."

“There’s no perfect centre – it’s all about continuous improvement – and ERO’s role is about being a catalyst for change. Our evaluations can influence change.”

At the heart of ERO’s work is a desire for equity – high-quality educational opportunities available for all New Zealanders.

In their review, ERO found a number of common attributes that were present in each of the five puna.

“A very strong element to come out of the report is that in each of the puna, the child is at the heart of what they do,” says Lynda.

“Because children are the taonga, they are placed at the centre of the early learning environment. Kaiako know it’s about the needs of the child in front of them, who they are, and how they respond to being there."

“They also know that a child’s whānau is not only a part of their learning journey, but instrumental to their success. This is about kaiako, tamariki and whānau learning and working together,” she says.

Other important elements found in the puna whakatupu include:

  • a strong commitment to tikanga Māori, and affirmation of culture and identity
  • learning environments that reflect whānaungatanga (relationships, whānau connection) as their foundation
  • a sense of belonging
  • meaningful relationships between children, including tuakana/teina interaction
  • language-learning strategies (both te reo Māori and English)
  • whānau feel valued by staff and know they are integral to their children’s education
  • learning environments that promote exploration and challenge.

Generations of learners

Four generations of learners at Raroera Te Puawai

Because there are children at these puna whakatupu who have parents attending classes at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, the spirit of learning is strong in the families.

“It’s about supporting generations of learners,” says Lynda. “There are strong links from the puna to the home and back again.”

In addition to this, parents know they can walk into the puna whakatupu at any moment and be welcome. It is ‘their space’ as much as it is a ‘second home’ for their children.

"At puna, it’s about getting the conditions right for children to tap into their magical learning space," says Lynda.

“If we start with the child, they’ll tell the story.”

Tracey Mansell is the national manager of the puna for Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

In her work, she travels between the puna to support the teaching staff, whānau and children of each service, though she is based in Hamilton as part of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa head office.

“I try to touch base with everybody,” says Tracey. “Regular visits to each puna are important to me to support the kaupapa, rather than being someone just sitting at head office making assumptions.”

Tracey’s role ranges from attending staff or whānau hui to helping with research being carried out alongside universities.

She believes the puna are special because they are closely aligned to the strategic goals of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa.

“The puna sit under the kaupapa of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa – we’re both aligned and contribute to the strategic goals, and the vision of whānau transformation through education."

“It’s not just about a tertiary strategy – it’s a whole life education strategy, and it’s by implementing the values of the organisation that we’re able to achieve that.”

Importance of whānau

When a child begins at one of the puna whakatupu, they come with a whole whānau, says Tracey.

“Here at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, it’s about generations of learners. Parents are learning, staff are learning – we’re all determined to ako – it’s not necessarily teachers who teach the children, but rather we are all learning from each other."

“We are here to support them to achieve whatever the aspirations of the whānau might be.”

Tracey believes the ERO report captured the special characteristics of the puna – characteristics that might sometimes be difficult to define on paper.

“For me, the report really reflects the intrinsic concepts of whānaungatanga (interdependence/kinship), and mōhiotanga (sharing of knowledge), and manaakitanga (hospitality, or mana-enhancing behaviour) – our cultural values that are difficult to measure."

“They’re more felt than anything.”

And the whānau feel it too.

“This way of doing things creates a safe space,” says Tracey. “Whānau are welcome to come in anytime, for however long they like – come in for a cup of tea, or stay the whole day if they like.”

Tracey reports that the puna have large attendances at whānau hui and other gatherings.

“Sometimes we have to move hui to another place because we don’t have enough space for all of them.”

Another way that a whānau-centred learning space is expressed involves a mixed-age setting at the puna. Tuakana-teina relationships reflect a natural whānau environment.

An integrated teaching and learning approach where babies and older children work and play together means that babies are shown aroha and manaaki as they grow, and older children learn about caring and using whānaungatanga values.

“We have children aged from three months to six years here,” says Tracey.

“We don’t separate our babies from older siblings, so that puna is like an extension of home. There’s so much learning that can occur across all ages.”

By Melissa Wastney.

Whānau voices

  • “I notice my two-year-old girl does this thing before kai time at home… she shakes her hands and sways and calls. We think she’s doing karakia but that’s not how they do karakia at centre. She has been doing this thing for a while. I asked whaea. She told me that the centre follows Tainui protocol and what she was doing was a karanga to bring everyone to the table. I learnt so much from that simple question… I am learning alongside my daughter. How wonderful is that?”

  • “Koro talks to her and he is fascinated with her. Everything she comes home with is really good. We get emails about children’s progress. Open communication with staff. I have been asked to make comments on her profiles. I come in to help all the time. Over time we have been gently encouraged to be more involved which is so nice. We had parent interviews which was great.”

  • “Our kids have their favourite whaea… they really, really care for our children. I feel good about leaving her here… you know trust and respect is important to us as parents.”

  • “My child loves being here… I love how they look after her… Our girl is very clever. She has the best social skills. These people have helped us to mould routines for her here and at home.”

  • “We moved here from Australia… It was important to find the right place for my child. His father is from Vanuatu. We wanted something with a strong cultural base. It’s important that he learns other languages.”

  • “Preparing him for a new environment (kura) is important. Skills and knowledge he learns here will support him when he changes environments. There is an encouragement and love for learning. We really want him to speak te reo Māori , and have an understanding of the culture. That is what happens here.”

  • “Te reo Māori… it’s who they are, it’s their heritage… it’s therapeutic, healing… it’s more soothing, like the spiritual component.”

  • “She is learning what I can’t teach her. She is getting more benefits, understanding her culture, the values, knowing who she is. I know she will have similar values, respect for elders, she will know the marae, to sit, listen, and hear karakia.”

Kaimahi Voices

  • “As kaimahi we embrace our own values and beliefs we were brought up in. We are receiving knowledge from koroua and kuia, knowledge that has been handed down and is being woven with whānau and tamariki.”
  • “I had to step back, watch, listen, look and focus on strengths that all kaimahi, whānau, and children bring with them to the puna. We learn from one another.”
  • “Kotahitanga is an approach we take to our mahi… it’s about collaboration, being able to challenge and find our way around challenges.”
  • “It’s all about providing a place where being Māori is normal, feeling safe is a given and listening is something we do naturally.”
  • “We invest in our children’s education… we need to make sure they receive the best possible opportunities. That’s our commitment and our job.”
  • “My strategy was to build a relationship with the team, trust what they were doing and network with the community.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 2:39 pm, 26 April 2016

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