Parents and whānau

Mātua rautia a tātou taonga!

Taua ana mai!

We must be united in caring for our children!

Key ideas

Kaiako are responsible for establishing partnerships with parents and whānau and creating a sense of belonging for all.

Early childhood services that contribute to positive child and family outcomes are those:

  • where knowledge/funds of knowledge from home are valued

  • where both families and kaiako share responsibility for supporting children’s learning, as we know that when parents and whānau are involved in children’s education, this is beneficial for long-term achievement and success.

Children’s funds of knowledge are learnt in their whānau, communities and cultures and are brought to their early childhood setting. Funds of knowledge are gained through whānau, community and cultural practices and events, where children learn informally through observation and participation.

Working together, kaiako can identify culturally responsive teaching practices, drawing upon the funds of knowledge and cultural capital of the parents and whānau they work with.

By carefully weaving these into the fabric of their curriculum whāriki, each setting will create their own pattern and design.

Stories of practice

Child playing

Family funds of knowledge: A place for home visits

In a TLRI project, teacher-researchers adopted a funds of knowledge lens to analyse children’s interests and inquiries. One teacher reported visiting Hunter, a NZ-born child with dual Pasifika heritages, Cook Island and Samoan, and his family at their home.

At the visit she found out that Hunter lived with his mum and dad, his 9-year-old sister, and his two aunties, who are 11-year-old twins. Before the visit, due to Hunter’s dual heritages, the teacher had assumed that three languages would be spoken in the home. On the visit, however, she learnt that English is the main language spoken due to the parents’ belief that English was the best language to speak for a good education. It is only now that they are reviving some of their home languages and encouraging Hunter to learn these.

The teacher and parents discussed and increased their knowledge of Hunter’s interest in music, especially drumming. The funds of knowledge lens revealed that this capability and interest in music stemmed from music being a significant part of Hunter’s family and community life, particularly their church experiences. Hunter’s parents were so delighted that the centre had noticed and understood the significance of this interest that they bought Hunter a set of drums to play at home.

The teacher believes that “invisible barriers” were broken down by this visit. Although Hunter’s older sister had attended the same centre, his mother had come into the centre with her head down and would rarely communicate with teachers. Following the home visit however, the teacher noticed how much the mother’s demeanour had changed. She now smiled and communicated freely with all teachers. The visit highlighted the importance of home visits for counteracting assumptions and transforming relationships.


Hedges, H., & Cooper, M. (2014). Inquiring minds, meaningful responses: Children’s interests, inquiries and working theories. Final report to Teaching and Learning Research Initiative. Wellington: NZCER.

Children watering garden

Children’s rights in a multi-ethnic ECE centre

The Carol White Family Centre caters for a largely refugee migrant community. Most of the children’s parents attend an education programme in adjacent buildings. Bilingual support staff assist kaiako as they work with children, parents, and whānau.

Their curriculum is grounded and enhanced by knowledge and awareness of the refugee experience and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The teachers work to ensure the values of dignity and kindness are fostered in the centre and at home. They listen to, and cater for, parents’ educational aspirations through adaptations to the education programme, inviting family participation, and making visible and explaining desired learning.

The centre acknowledges the teaching role of parents and recognises how children learn within a social context from experiences that have interest and meaning for them. They provide rich opportunities for verbal and non-verbal communication to flourish.


Mitchell, L., Bateman, A., Ouko, A., Gerrity, R., Lees, J., Matata, K., . . . Xiao, W. (2015). Teaching and learning in culturally diverse early childhood settings.

Mitchell, L., Bateman, A., Gerrity, R., & Myint, H. (in press). Bridging transitions through cultural understanding and identity. In B. Perry, A. Garpelin, & N. Ballam (Eds.), POET: Pedagogies of Educational Transition. UK: Springer.

Reflective questions

Use these questions in team discussions to guide you through the process of developing and maintaining effective relationships with parents and whānau.

  • In what ways does the setting’s philosophy reflect the values and beliefs of the kaiako, parents, whānau, and community?
  • In what ways and how well does the setting’s curriculum whāriki respond to and value the children’s whānau and cultures?
  • How do we include diverse parent and whānau aspirations and expectations in the setting’s whāriki?
  • How do we find out about children’s funds of knowledge? How are these woven into the setting’s whāriki?
  • What does partnership with parents and whānau look like in the setting? How is a partnership different from a relationship with parents?
  • How effective are the setting’s partnerships with families? How do we evaluate the effectiveness?
  • How do we find out what supports a sense of belonging for parents and whānau in the setting?
  • How do we find out parents’ and whānau views about topical issues and concerns?
  • How do we work if tensions arise between different cultural norms, roles, responsibilities, and rituals?
  • What do we know about the local community? How can we find out more?

Implications for leadership

Leaders in early childhood settings focus on leading teaching and learning, and find ways to constantly reflect on, and evaluate, teaching and learning practices. Establishing priorities and foci for weaving a whāriki that engages authentically with parents and whānau, may include:

  • framing parents and whānau as important contributors to a whāriki, ensuring they have the opportunity to contribute to discussion about “what matters here”
  • visiting family homes to gain deeper insights into children’s interests, cultures, and funds of knowledge
  • engaging in wider community groups and events to understand community values
  • demonstrating strong leadership or “stewardship”, not only with children and educators, but also within local community and government agencies
  • advocating for practices in the ECE setting and the community that promote and celebrate the inclusion of diverse ways of living and being.

While positional leaders, such as head teachers and supervisors, have particular responsibilities associated with their role, all educators have responsibility for weaving a whāriki that engages authentically with families and community.

Connections to the principles

Empowerment – Whakamana

Each child will experience an empowering curriculum that enhances their mana and supports them to enhance the mana of others when the links between their home and the ECE setting are valued. Kaiako ensure that curriculum and resources are sensitive and responsive to the different cultures, heritages, and funds of knowledge children bring from their home context.

Family and Community – Whānau Tangata

Children’s learning and development is enhanced when culturally appropriate ways of communicating are used, and when whānau, hapū, iwi, and community are encouraged to participate in the ECE curriculum. It is important that kaiako develop meaningful relationships with whānau and respect their aspirations for their children.

Holistic Development – Kotahitanga

Partnerships with parents and whānau are vital to empower children’s holistic learning and development. The child’s whole context – physical surroundings, emotional context, relationships with others, immediate needs – will affect what they learn from any particular experience. A holistic approach sees the child as a person who wants to learn, the task as a meaningful whole, and the whole as greater than the sum of its parts.

Relationships – Ngā Hononga

Children learn and develop best when their culture, knowledge, and community are supported and respected and when the adults in their lives support them to make connections across settings. The curriculum and learning priorities should take into consideration ways to strengthen and enhance these relationships. The beliefs, assumptions, values, and attitudes of adults will add colour and texture to settings and the intricate patterns and designs of authentic whāriki.

Further resources

Agee, M., McIntosh, T., Culbertson, P, & ‘Ofa Makasiale, C. (Eds.) (2013). Pacific identities and well-being: Cross cultural perspectives. Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago University Press.

Biddulph, F., Biddulph, J., & Biddulph, C. (2003). The complexity of community and family influences on children's achievement in New Zealand: Best evidence synthesis iteration (BES). Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education.

Carr, M., Lee, W., & the Early Years Wisdom Group. (2010). Learning wisdom: Young children and teachers recognising the learning. Summary report to Teaching and Learning Research Initiative. Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

Clarkin-Phillips, J. and M Carr. (2009). Strengthening responsive and reciprocal relationships in a whānau tangata centre: A summary.

Cooper, M., Hedges, H., Lovatt, D., & Murphy, T. (2013). Responding authentically to Pasifika children’s learning and identity development: Hunter’s interests and funds of knowledge. Early Childhood Folio, 17(1), 6–11.

Cooper, M., & Hedges, H. (2014). Beyond participation: What we learned from Hunter about collaboration with Pasifika children and families. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 15(2), 165–175. doi:10.2304/ciec.2014.15.2.165

Cooper, M., Hedges, H., Ashurst, L., Harper, B., Lovatt, D., Murphy, T., & Spanhake, N. (2014). Transforming relationships and curriculum: Visiting family homes. Early Childhood Folio, 18(1), 22–27.

Education Review Office. (2012). Partnership with whānau Māori in early childhood services. Wellington, New Zealand: Author.

Hedges, H. (2010). Through the kaleidoscope: Relationships and communication with parents. The First Years: Nga Tau Tuatahi/New Zealand Journal of Infant and Toddler Education, 12(1), 27–34.

Mitchell, L., Bateman, A., Ouko, A., Gerrity, R., Lees, J., Matata, K., Myint, H., Rapana, L., Taunga, A. & Xiao, W. (2015). Teaching and learning in culturally diverse ECE centres. Hamilton, New Zealand: Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research.

The New Zealand Curriculum Online