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A curriculum for all children

Content from pages 12–15 of Te Whāriki: Early Childhood Curriculum


Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi engari he toa takitini.

I come not with my own strengths but bring with me the gifts, talents and strengths of my family, tribe and ancestors.


In Māori tradition children are seen to be inherently competent, capable and rich, complete and gifted no matter what their age or ability. Descended from lines that stretch back to the beginning of time, they are important living links between past, present and future, and a reflection of their ancestors. These ideas are fundamental to how Māori understand teaching and learning.

Kaiako and tamariki making music together.

In Te Whāriki children are positioned as confident and competent learners from birth. They learn by engaging in meaningful interactions with people, places and things – a process that continues throughout their lifetimes.

This curriculum acknowledges that all children have rights to protection and promotion of their health and wellbeing, to equitable access to learning opportunities, to recognition of their language, culture and identity and, increasingly, to agency in their own lives. These rights align closely with the concept of mana.

This section sets out expectations of inclusive and responsive practice that acknowledges diversity. A fundamental expectation is that each service will offer a curriculum that recognises these rights and enables the active participation of all children, including those who may need additional learning support. Attention is given to broad characteristics of infants, toddlers and young children and the implications of these for curriculum.

Content sections

Identity, language and culture

Learner identity is enhanced when children’s home languages and cultures are valued in educational settings and when kaiako are responsive to their cultural ways of knowing and being. For Māori this means kaiako need understanding of a world view that emphasises the child’s whakapapa connection to Māori creation, across Te Kore, te pō, te ao mārama, atua Māori and tīpuna. All children should be able to access te reo Māori in their ECE setting, as kaiako weave te reo Māori and tikanga Māori into the everyday curriculum.

Increasingly, children are likely to be learning in and through more than one language. Besides English, te reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL), some 200 different languages are in use in New Zealand, with Samoan, Hindi, Northern Chinese, French and Yue (Cantonese) being the most common. Children more readily become bi- or multilingual and bi- or multiliterate when language learning in the education setting builds on their home languages.

It is desirable that children in ECE settings should also have the opportunity to learn NZSL, an official language of New Zealand, and to learn about Deaf culture. For some children, NZSL is their first language, and services have a responsibility to support its use and development.

An inclusive curriculum

Te Whāriki is an inclusive curriculum – a curriculum for all children. Inclusion encompasses gender and ethnicity, diversity of ability and learning needs, family structure and values, socio-economic status and religion.

Te Whāriki holds the promise that all children will be empowered to learn with and alongside others by engaging in experiences that have meaning for them. This requires kaiako to actively respond to the strengths, interests, abilities and needs of each child and, at times, provide them with additional support in relation to learning, behaviour, development or communication.

Offering an inclusive curriculum also involves adapting environments and teaching approaches as necessary and removing any barriers to participation and learning. Barriers may be physical (for example, the design of
the physical environment), social (for example, practices that constrain participation) or conceptual (beliefs that limit what is considered appropriate for certain children). Teaching inclusively means that kaiako will work together with families, whānau and community to identify and dismantle such barriers.

For Māori an inclusive curriculum is founded on Māori values and principles and is strengths- based. Kaiako seek to develop mutually positive relationships with mokopuna and to work with whānau to realise high expectations.

Infants, toddlers and young children

Each child learns in their own way, which means there can be wide variation in the rate and timing of learning and in developing the capacity to apply new knowledge and skills in different contexts. This is reflected in the saying ‘ā tōna wā’.

Children’s capabilities often fluctuate from day to day. Within minutes they can be both dependent and independent, influenced by temperament, health, the environment or people’s expectations. A curriculum for the early years must be flexible enough to accommodate these fluctuations, providing familiar experiences alongside new opportunities for exploration and challenge.

Children’s learning and development is also shaped by cultural expectations about what they should be capable of doing and when and where it is appropriate to demonstrate those capabilities.

While all children are different and their learning trajectories are influenced by the social and cultural context, there are nevertheless typical characteristics and patterns that can be observed in the years from birth to school entry.

Māori use a range of words to describe phases in the development of mokopuna. ‘Piripoho’ refers to the act of breastfeeding. While feeding, the pēpi is held close to the heart, where they are able to safely observe their surroundings and begin to become familiar
with people. ‘Kōnakunaku’ are mokopuna who have progressed to eating solid foods. At this stage they are physically mobile and beginning to communicate verbally. ‘Kōhungahunga’ is another term used to describe the early years of a child’s life.

It can be useful to think of child development in terms of three broad, overlapping age ranges: infants (birth to 18 months), toddlers (one to three years) and young children (two and a half years to school entry). Although learning and development generally follows a predictable sequence, for some children progress in some areas may require further assessment, planning, intervention and support.

The following sections set out some of the typical characteristics of infants, toddlers and young children and include some guidance for kaiako. More detailed guidance is included with each strand (see pages 22–50).


Infant standing up against a table.

Physical, cognitive and socio-emotional growth and development are more rapid during infancy than in any other period of life. Neural pathways formed during this period are the foundations for all future learning.

Infants are learning rapidly and depend on sensitive adults to respond to their individual care needs. Through caregiving practices such as those for feeding and changing (sometimes referred to as ‘caregiving rituals’), infants are learning to trust and that they are worthy of love. Recognising their rights as children, kaiako are respectful of infants and, where appropriate, enable their agency.

Many children first experience ECE settings as infants; this is a significant transition for them, their parents and whānau.

Infants’ growing interests and capabilities

  • From birth, infants can communicate their needs and, increasingly over time, anticipate events. They rely on kaiako to sensitively observe their cues and gestures in order to meet their needs and provide opportunities for learning.
  • Infants are rapidly acquiring communication skills, which kaiako support through thoughtful interactions within a language-rich environment.
  • Infants are developing trust that their physical, emotional, cultural and spiritual needs will be met in predictable ways. They need the security of knowing that a familiar adult is nearby.
  • Infants learn through respectful, reciprocal interactions with people, places and things and require a peaceful environment where kaiako pay careful attention to the level of sensory stimulation.
  • Infants can be subject to rapid fluctuations of health and wellbeing. For this reason they require consistent and attentive care.
  • Providing for the care and education of infants requires specialised knowledge and practice. A curriculum for infants recognises the importance of individual care moments for learning. It is essential that kaiako work in close partnership with parents and whānau to support the transition of infants into the ECE setting and that they communicate regularly about the child’s changing interests, needs and capabilities.


Toddler standing by play equipment

Toddlers are developing their identities as autonomous learners. They may be starting ECE for the first time or transitioning between or within settings. They are discovering how to navigate the expectations they encounter in different contexts. Their desire to explore and know their world, to increase their independence and to have greater control can be supported by familiar, sensitive adults who know and understand them.

Toddlers are rapidly developing their physical, social, cognitive and language capabilities. They need many opportunities to engage in rich and rewarding experiences with people, places and things.

Toddlers’ growing interests and capabilities

  • Toddlers are active, curious, and seeking to make sense of their world. They enjoy testing limits, causes and effects as they develop and refine their working theories. Kaiako support them by being attentive to their interests and providing opportunities for both new and repeat learning experiences.
  • Toddlers communicate both verbally and non-verbally and are developing both receptive and productive language skills. Their language learning is supported through conversations, stories and songs in which they play an increasing part.
  • Toddlers are learning to self-regulate, amidst feelings that are sometimes intense and unpredictable. Kaiako support self-regulation by staying calm and offering them choices.
  • Toddlers participate and learn through observation, exploration and social interaction. They take increasing leadership in cultural practices and everyday routines and activities.
  • Curriculum for toddlers is responsive to their rapidly growing capabilities. It provides opportunities for individual exploration, as well as engagement with peers, in experiences that extend their learning and foster their creativity. Kaiako take care to build on toddlers’ strengths and interests when they transition to a new setting. Toddlers can become bored or frustrated if learning expectations are set too low or too high. While providing clear and consistent boundaries, kaiako acknowledge and respect toddlers’ rights to have increasing agency.

Young children

Young child leaning towards camera with a big smile

Young children have increasing capacity for language and inquiry and for understanding other points of view. They are becoming much more aware of cultural expectations, understanding that different cultures have different expectations and that what is appropriate in one context may not be appropriate in another.

Their capacity to cope with unpredictability and change is also increasing, especially when anchored by the emotional support, respect and acceptance of kaiako. They are learning to plan and monitor their own activities. They are developing a greater awareness of themselves as learners and increasingly prefer interactions with their peers.

A curriculum whāriki for young children provides a rich array of primarily play-based experiences. By engaging in these, children learn to make sense of their immediate and wider worlds through exploration, communication and representation. Young children are developing an interest in literacy, mathematics and other domain knowledge. They can exhibit highly imaginative thinking.

Young children’s growing interests and capabilities

  • Young children recognise a wide range of patterns and regularities in the world around them and will question, explore and test things they find puzzling or unexpected.
  • They recognise and respond to ‘nonsense’ and humour.
  • They are increasingly able to see their family and whānau, home, marae or ECE setting in the context of the wider world.
  • They have new capacities for knowledge development, symbolising and representation, and growing confidence with language, recognition of letters, numbers and environmental print, and sounds in words, rhymes, songs and music.
  • Many are becoming competent bilingual or multilingual speakers.
  • They enjoy being creative, expressing themselves through art, music and dance.
  • Their developing literacy and mathematical abilities embrace new purposes, such as reasoning, verbal exploration, puzzling and finding out about the physical and social world.
  • Their greater working memory contributes to their capacity for telling stories, reciting waiata and karakia, developing more complex working theories and problem-solving strategies, sustaining attention and being more persistently curious.
  • They are developing social skills that enable them to establish and maintain friendships and participate reciprocally in whanaungatanga relationships.
  • They are beginning to be able to see another person’s point of view.
  • They are establishing, consolidating and refining locomotor and other movement skills, and they are seeking greater physical challenges.
  • They are further developing their learner identities through the use of strategies such as planning, checking and questioning and by reflecting on experiences and tasks.
  • They use play opportunities, talking about and trying out ideas with others, and their imaginations to explore their own and others’ cultures and identities.
  • Kaiako support the learning and development of young children by providing opportunities for them to experience new challenges, pursue self- selected learning goals and participate in longer- term projects. Such opportunities encourage them to expand their capabilities and extend their learning repertoires, and support them in making a smooth transition to school or kura.


"The real strength of Te Whāriki is its capacity to establish strong and durable foundations for every culture in Aotearoa New Zealand, and in the world ... Te Whāriki rests on the theory that all children will succeed in education when the foundations to their learning are based on an understanding and a respect for their cultural roots." Reedy & Reedy (2013)


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