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Local curriculum design is not one dimensional

Story of practice: First Years Preschool Dannevirke

Key points

  • Weaving a local curriculum involves the whole community
  • There are numerous threads of interest to local curriculum design

First Years Preschool Dannevirke is a community-based childcare centre that has been operating since 1966. It is licensed for 56 children and they have a team of 23 kaiako.

They designed their local curriculum based on the things that mattered to them:

  • the histories and stories about the people and places in their community
  • a passion for science
  • fostering leadership in their team.

Lisa, the centre manager says, “This centre is immersed in this town, in this town’s history and what is important here. Te Whāriki outlines the importance of belonging. Children’s sense of belonging starts in their home, with their whānau, and grows and extends to the places they go and connect with over time, their centre, their street, their area.”

Challenges prompt a rethink on local curriculum

Kaiako initially were overwhelmed when they grappled with designing a local curriculum. But they created a draft local curriculum policy. When they presented this draft policy to their management committee, the Vice Chair commented that while it was a wonderful document, it didn’t really say anything about Dannevirke and the community. 

The team had to think about how to connect their philosophy and their local curriculum policy to their practices. Lisa said, “We were saying things that we will do and we aspire to but we didn’t say anything about what we are doing now. Like we had a broad statement about talking to tangata whenua which actually didn’t recognise the two iwi who are mana whenua.”

Gathering input into local curriculum

The centre embarked on a consultation process that lasted over six months. They used a mix of questionnaires, surveys, and face-to-face conversations with whānau, kaiako, and the management committee.

The team noted that living in a place for years can mean much is taken for granted. New kaiako did not know the connections through the area but brought in different perspectives.

Start where your feet are

A teacher-only day supported kaiako to understand their local area.

In the morning they went on a bus ride with kaumatua from the marae, stopping at significant Māori historical sites in the area to learn about them. Lisa said in their local curriculum they now recognise tangata whenua as two iwi - Ngāti Kahungunu ki Tāmaki-nui-ā-Rua me Rangitāne o Tāmaki nui-ā-Rua. “We acknowledge and respect both iwi as part of our community and centre whānau.”

In the afternoon they went to Norsewood and met an historian to learn about the Scandinavian settlers of the area. Scandinavian immigrants came to the area in 1872, when the government brought them to New Zealand to fell the forest that covered much of southern Hawke’s Bay and to farm the cleared land.

This teacher-only day gave the teachers a chance to start where their feet are and gain insight into the historical context of the area and. Lisa commented, “I believe, kaiako can’t teach what they don’t know, so it is our responsibility to get to know our local history and to understand our communities’ priorities.”

Local curriculum impacts intentional teaching

The knowledge kaiako gained of the local area impacted their intentional teaching practices.

Planned experiences with children included exploration of local stories with visits to Kaitoki Marae (Rangitāne) to learn about a local taniwha, Peketahi. This led to creating artwork and dramatic play.

Artwork above the door of Peketahi the Taniwha.

Similarly, participating in the local Chamber of Commerce art competition brought Vikings into the centre. Excursions to sites of significance and art were again a medium for introducing Scandinavian culture.

Artwork of Scandinavian histories with shield and axe.

Alongside these planned experiences were in-the-moment teaching opportunities. Kaiako shared with children about what they knew, what they didn’t know, and what they wanted to find out. This stimulated further teaching and learning opportunities.

The many threads of local curriculum

Local curriculum is not one dimensional. Kaiako, alongside their centre community explored what matters in their place and found there were many threads to weave into their local curriculum design. Their process integrated Te Whāriki with dialogue with kaiako, children, their families, members of their community, and with their philosophy.

An important aho (thread) for the centre has always been a strong focus on science in the curriculum. They believe in kaiako having strong domain knowledge and giving children real answers to their questions about the world around them. The centre’s local curriculum policy says: “Kaiako value exploration through science as a way of learning for children as this supports them to make sense of the world they live in.”

Another aho is growing leadership within the teaching team. One of the key areas in their philosophy is rangatiratanga/leadership. It states that, “the recognition of shared/distributed leadership enables all kaiako to become involved in leadership through an area of expertise, strength, or interest”.

It is a priority in the centre to give all kaiako regular opportunities to both grow and hone their leadership practices. Regular feedback, guidance, and support allows high quality leadership practices to flourish.

Local curriculum: the things that are really important

First Years Preschool Dannevirke were creative about the ways they used resources and professional development opportunities to support their journey. They used critical reflection, local knowledge, and their community networks to shape their learning priorities. Their local curriculum reflects not just their setting, but also their community.

Lisa said, “This local curriculum stuff was daunting. We took pages and pages of notes but as we got into it, it kind of morphs into what you do anyway, everyday, all day. It’s about the things that happen often, the things that we hold dear to your heart, the things that are really important.”

Steps you can take:

  • How is the philosophy and local curriculum priorities put into practice in your setting?
  • What would ‘starting where your feet are’ look like in your setting?
  • How can you connect authentically with mana whenua and the pūrākau that are important to them?
  • How can you and your team come to a shared understanding about the everyday things that contribute to your local curriculum?
  • How do you create a network of intergenerational community members to consult with about local curriculum?