Parents and whānau
Mātua rautia a tātou taonga! Taua ana mai!
We must be united in caring for our children!
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
- Fostering bicultural practices in a multicultural community
- Fostering a sense of belonging: A community for grandparents
- Whānau engagement – the power of “be and become” questions
- Family funds of knowledge: A place for home visits
- Children’s rights in a multi-ethnic ECE centre
- Whānau appreciation for culturally visible practice
- Bicultural practice – a mindset
Top Kids Virginia Ave is an inner city early learning service in Auckland. It serves a multicultural community of over fifteen ethnicities including Māori, Pacific, East Asian, and Middle Eastern.
In the four-year-old room, the teaching team consists of kaiako who have immigrated to New Zealand from Afghanistan and India. This team have a particular interest in te ao Māori ways of knowing, being, and doing.
Encouraged and supported by their centre leader (Ngāti Porou), the team worked with tamariki on a project to build a small wharenui for the outdoor area. Researching and building the wharenui took a few weeks and tamariki learned about design, mathematics, and literacy – all in the context of building something purposeful.
A couple of Māori families attending the service noticed the efforts of kaiako to learn about the indigenous culture of their adopted country, and offered help and practical support in understanding and practicing tikanga.
For kaiako, the value of learning tikanga has been as much about “the why” as “the what”. For example, they hold a pōwhiri for each new family as a way of showing respect and hospitality and of passing on the stories and knowledge of those who have gone before.
Kaiako regularly hear and see the impact of their own learning and the changes they have made on tamariki and families, many of whom are experiencing tikanga and te reo Māori for the first time. Kaiako see:
- Māori whānau continuing to offer practical support
- parents and whānau thrilled and proud that their tamariki have taught them elements of Māori language and culture – waiata, stories, values, and protocols
- parents inspired by their tamariki and asking kaiako for resources to extend their own learning.
Kaiako say that their exploration of biculturalism within their curriculum has become a mindset and a way of giving back to their adopted country. It helps their many immigrant tamariki and whānau experience the sense of belonging that they themselves have gained. Through their interest, curiosity, and research, they have found many synergies between Māori values and those of their own cultural upbringings.
- Sustainable, practical model of whānau inclusion
- Immigrant grandparents belonging and learning
Northcote Baptist Community Preschool in Auckland predominantly caters for immigrant families from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. In their families, it is often the grandparents who are the main caregivers at home.
Three years ago, kaiako began to notice how isolated many of the grandparents seemed to be – living in a foreign culture with a dominant language that they didn’t speak fluently. When these grandparents brought grandchildren to the centre, they tended to retreat quickly or seem uncomfortable. Kaiako saw some grandparents walking the local streets alone while the children were at the centre.
Knowing that a confident, connected family contributes to a child’s sense of belonging and learning, kaiako decided to offer a regular grandparent’s morning tea, using a room next to the centre. Three years on, this continues to be an important aspect of “what matters here”.
Sometimes the grandparents just meet and chat. Other times, there is a topic or a guest speaker. The centre supervisor has always ensured that adult-child ratios can cover the release of one kaiako who can speak and translate in Mandarin. By having a presence, even when these sessions are purely social, kaiako get an insight into what the grandparents are curious to know more about.
Topics to come out of these conversations have included:
- mathematics learning in play (facilitated by centre kaiako)
- reading to children in their home language (facilitated by a school principal)
- links between oral health and learning (facilitated by an oral health professional)
- first aid for young children (facilitated by a first aid provider)
- the value of learning through play (facilitated by centre kaiako)
- digital technologies with purpose (facilitated by centre kaiako)
- understanding crime drivers and statistics (parent police officer).
Kaiako believe that the benefits of these regular morning teas have been significant. Changes they have noticed include:
- grandparents “striding into the centre with their heads held high” – greeting kaiako, often in their home language, and staying to participate in the learning experiences offered to their grandchildren
- increased trust and response in situations where kaiako need to have tricky conversations with families about a child’s learning
- greater confidence to contribute to curriculum and help with cultural celebrations (for example, grandparents once made 600 dumplings for an event in the Chinese calendar)
- a more connected relationship with grandparents that in turn impacts positively on kaiako expectations and interactions with the children.
When a child starts, kaiako make a point of telling the family and signing them into a Grandparent’s Morning Tea WeChat group. These actions have helped to make this initiative sustainable over time.
- Improving communication using plain English
- Learning about parent aspirations
Kaiako at Big River Educare, are undertaking an internal review of how effectively they encourage whānau involvement in the programme. As part of this, they made a point of viewing Te Whāriki webinars and discussing them as a team.
The webinar “Deciding what matters here” highlighted for kaiako that while their relationships with parents/whānau were very good, these seldom extended to in-depth talk about children’s learning. In particular, kaiako identified that their method of inviting parents' aspirations prior to a planning meeting often left parents feeling stuck for an answer or going along with what the kaiako suggested.
During the webinar, kaiako learned how another service successfully sought parents' aspirations by asking some very specific plain English questions. Inspired by this, Big River Educare kaiako decided to trial their own version of these and placed them in the hallway where parents/whānau pass. Their questions were:
- What do you value at Big River Educare?
- What is important for children to know and do?
- What do you want your children to be and become?
An analysis of the data suggested that overall parents/whānau found these questions easier to answer. It also highlighted that parents/whānau valued dispositional learning, something kaiako had not expected but were pleased to see and support.
Since the hallway survey, kaiako have trialled these same “be and become” questions when talking to individual parents/whānau and developing plans for each child’s learning. Early monitoring of this trial indicates that using these questions is leading to more “learning conversations” with parents/whānau, which in turn is making the curriculum more responsive to children’s life experiences and interests.
- Value of home visits
- Prioritising relationships for learning
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 New Zealand-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.
- Providing quality curriculum for refugee families
- Applying dignity and kindness as guiding values
- Adapting to parent aspirations
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., 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.
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.
This article written for an international, academic journal urges teachers to adopt more analytical and culturally responsive strategies so that children and families genuinely benefit from participation.
An anthology addressing the mental health and therapeutic needs of Pacific and Melanesian people.
Agee, M., McIntosh, T., Culbertson, P, & ‘Ofa Makasiale, C. (Eds.) (2013). Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago University Press.
An Education Review Office evaluation report focusing on the extent to which services provided well for whānau Māori.
A case study describing how teachers were able to incorporate a Pacific family’s funds of knowledge into their play-based curriculum and so avoid a “tourist curriculum” response to cultural diversity.
This describes an investigation of a whānau tangata centre attached to a kindergarten. This hub included a drop-in centre for parents, parent workshops, a whānau room, school and health centres liaison.
An investigation of how teachers in diverse settings practically implemented their values by drawing on the funds of knowledge and cultural capital of the families they worked with, weaving these values into the fabric of the national curriculum, Te Whāriki.
A report pulling together the research evidence on family and community influences on children’s educational achievement.
This page has practical suggestions for building effective partnerships with families and communities. The sections specifically address Māori, Pacific communities, and inclusion contexts. Written primarily for a school audience but with relevance to ELS contexts.
Through the kaleidoscope: Relationships and communication with parents
Author Helen Hedges looks at the intricacies of parent partnerships, why they are worth pursuing, and provides strategies for teachers to consider.
Hedges, H. (2010). Through the kaleidoscope: Relationships and communication with parents. The First Years: Ngā Tau Tuatahi/New Zealand Journal of Infant and Toddler Education, 12(1), 27–34.
This article discusses teachers’ experiences of visiting children’s family homes and ways these visits transformed relationships and curriculum.