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Mana aotūroa

Strand 5 Exploration

Content from pages 46–50 of Te Whāriki: Early Childhood Curriculum


The child learns through active exploration of the environment.

Ko te whakatipuranga tēnei o te mana rangahau, me ngā mātauranga katoa e pā ana ki te aotūroa me te taiao.


This strand is about supporting infants, toddlers and young children to explore, learn from, respect and make sense of the world. Their exploration involves all aspects of the environment: natural, social, physical, spiritual and human-made.

Children learn through play: by doing, asking questions, interacting with others, devising theories about how things work and then trying them out and by making purposeful use of resources. As they engage in exploration, they begin to develop attitudes and expectations that will continue to influence their learning throughout life.

Diverse ways of being and knowing frame the way respect for the environment is demonstrated. Kaiako develop understandings of how children and their whānau make sense of the world and respect and appreciate the natural environment. Children may express their respect for the natural world in terms of respect for Papatūānuku, Ranginui and atua Māori. Kaitiakitanga is integral to this.

For Pasifika children, the skills and knowledge that reside in elders, families and community provide the foundation for their independent explorations.

Exploration | Children are critical thinkers, problem solvers and explorers

Mana aotūroa | Children see themselves as explorers, able to connect with and care for their own and wider worlds

Content sections


Learning outcomes

Evidence of learning and development

Children experience an environment where: Over time and with guidance and encouragement, children become increasingly capable of: These outcomes will be observed as learning in progress when, for example, children demonstrate:
Their play is valued as meaningful learning and the importance of spontaneous play is recognised Playing, imagining, inventing and experimenting | te whakaaro me te tūhurahura i te pūtaiao
  • Ability and inclination to cope with uncertainty, imagine alternatives, make decisions, choose materials and devise their own problems.
  • An understanding that trying things out, exploring, playing with ideas and materials and collaborating with others are important and valued ways of learning.
  • Confidence in play and a repertoire of symbolic, imaginative or dramatic play routines.
  • Ability to pursue an interest or a project for a sustained period of time.
They gain confidence in and control of their bodies Moving confidently and challenging themselves physically | te wero ā-tinana
  • Curiosity about the world and the ability and inclination to share interests with others.
  • Confidence in exploring, puzzling over and making sense of the world, using such strategies as setting and solving problems, looking for patterns, classifying, guessing, using trial and error, observing, planning, comparing, explaining, engaging in reflective discussion and listening to stories.
  • Use of all the senses and physical abilities to make sense of the world.
  • Control over their bodies, including locomotor and movement skills, agility and balance, and the ability, coordination and confidence to use their bodies to take risks and physical challenges.
They learn strategies for active exploration, thinking and reasoning Using a range of strategies for reasoning and problem solving | te hīraurau hopanga
  • Recognition of different domains of knowledge and how they relate to understanding people, places and things.
  • Ability to represent discoveries using creative and expressive media, including digital media.
They develop working theories for making sense of the natural, social, physical and material worlds Making sense of their worlds by generating and refining working theories | te rangahau me te mātauranga
  • Curiosity and the ability to inquire into, research, explore, generate and modify working theories about the natural, social, physical, spiritual and human-made worlds.
  • A sense of responsibility for the living world and knowledge about how to care for it.

Examples of practices that promote these learning outcomes

Kaiako are aware of the history of Māori exploration and navigation. They encourage mokopuna to connect to this legacy by providing safe and challenging environments and experiences.

Kaiako recognise the relationship mokopuna have with the environment. They support them to fulfil their responsibilities as kaitiaki of the environment. For example, kaiako encourage mokopuna to observe nature without harming it.


Infant standing up against a table.

  • Everything in the immediate environment is chosen for its potential as a learning resource. Kaiako provide open-ended and sensory-rich resources for infants to explore.
  • Kaiako respect infants’ motor progression and allow their physical development to unfold naturally at their own pace. Safe and stimulating objects and furnishings are provided for infants to move, hold on to, balance against, or pull themselves up on.
  • Infants have a variety of sensory experiences including fresh air and a range of smells, temperatures and sounds. They experience different indoor and outdoor play spaces, such as smooth floors, carpet, grass and sand.
  • Consideration is given to the aesthetic and sensory environment, ensuring that it includes pleasing contrasts in light, colour, design, sound, taste and smell.
  • Infants have opportunities to observe and play with, and alongside, other children and adults.


Toddler standing by play equipment

  • Toddlers have opportunities for active exploration and creative expression with the support, but not the interference, of kaiako.
  • Toddlers have access to open space that supports their interest in mobility and associated play interests, such as transporting materials.
  • Toddlers have opportunities to explore food textures and tastes.
  • Toddlers have opportunities to help take care of animals and living things.
  • Toddlers are encouraged to develop skills at their own rate and understand their own abilities and limitations. Kaiako wait for toddlers to indicate that they need assistance rather than assuming that they do.
  • Toddlers have access to a range of sensory-rich, open-ended and durable resources that support their holistic learning and development.
  • Kaiako build toddlers’ vocabulary, initiate questions and encourage curiosity and the development of working theories.
  • Toddlers have opportunities to collect, sort and organise objects and materials in a variety of ways and to develop a sense of order, for example, by grouping similar materials or putting things into their right place. They are encouraged to actively and creatively explore shapes, colours, textures and patterns.

Young children

Young child leaning towards camera with a big smile

  • Children are encouraged to feel comfortable about saying ‘I don’t know’ and risking failure. They are encouraged to talk about their play and to develop reflective skills.
  • Children’s curiosity is fostered and their capacity for sustained interests is extended. Suitable books, pictures, posters and maps are available for them to refer to.
  • Children experience activities that develop their gross and fine motor skills and offer varying degrees of physical challenge and reasonable risk. Such activities include climbing, balancing, hammering, hopping, turning, pouring and undertaking obstacle courses and construction projects.
  • Children’s repertoire of physical skills is extended by having access to big, open spaces and equipment such as skipping ropes, balls, racquets, bats, and balance boards,
    as well as through a focus on physical literacy.
  • The day-to-day programme and environment are organised in such a way that children can initiate purposeful, problem-solving activities and devise and solve problems to their own satisfaction using a variety of materials and equipment.
  • Children are encouraged to use trial and error to find solutions to problems and to use previous experience as a basis for trying out alternative strategies. They are encouraged to give reasons for their choices and to argue logically.
  • Children are encouraged to notice, describe and create patterns, for example, in painting and construction.
  • Children have opportunities to use language to plan, monitor and participate in imaginative play.
  • Children have opportunities to develop knowledge about the patterns and diversity to be found in the natural world. For example, they observe how animals and plants grow and what they need for their wellbeing.
  • Children have opportunities to explore how things move and how they can be moved by, for example, blowing, throwing, pushing, pulling, rolling, swinging and sinking. Children have access to technology that enables them to explore movement,
    for example, wheels, pulleys, magnets and swings.
  • Children have opportunities to develop spatial understandings by fitting things together and taking things apart, rearranging and reshaping objects and materials, seeing things from different spatial viewpoints and using a magnifying glass.
  • Children have opportunities to develop and explore social concepts, rules and understandings in social contexts with familiar adults and peers.

Considerations for leadership, organisation and practice

The environment offers a variety of possibilities for exploring, planning, reasoning and learning, with space arranged to encourage active exploration. New challenges and familiar settings encourage children to develop confidence.

The whole of the environment is used as a learning resource and is accessible to all children. Children are able to manipulate their environment by being provided with appropriate equipment. This may include ropes, nets, planks and boxes as well as natural elements, such as logs, sticks, rocks and mud.

Kaiako encourage a sense of kaitiakitanga by providing children with regular opportunities to connect with the wider natural environment and with materials drawn from nature.

Kaiako appreciate the importance of children exploring and testing their physical abilities by engaging in adult-supported risk-taking play. This kind of play includes experimenting with heights, speed, tests of strength and using real tools. Kaiako empower children to assess these risks through conversation.

Kaiako extend children’s play using a range of pedagogical strategies. They provide extra resources and suggestions on how to strengthen plans or activities in ways that extend learning and support the development of working theories.

Kaiako provide resources and equipment that encourage spontaneous play and the practising of skills, both individually and in small groups. Materials and tools are appropriate for the age group, in working order, accessible, and easy to clean and put away.

Kaiako plan experiences, resources, events and longer-term investigations that build on and extend children’s interests. Equipment is provided for scientific, mathematical and technological learning.

Kaiako encourage sustained shared thinking by responding to children’s questions and by assisting them to articulate and extend ideas. They assist them to take advantage of opportunities for exploration, problem solving, remembering, predicting and making comparisons and to be enthusiastic about finding answers together. They encourage children to know what is happening and why.

Kaiako provide resources and provocations that encourage children to use creative arts to express their thinking about people, places and things.

Kaiako know how to support children’s physical literacy.

Procedures are in place for the safe and hygienic housing of pets and for conservation, recycling and waste disposal.

A reference library is available for kaiako, as well as information for parents on nutrition, children’s physical activity and growth, and how play is important for learning and development.

Questions for reflection

Kaiako are invited to use these or their own questions to support reflective practice.

  • How might children be encouraged to connect with and care for their worlds in ways that are responsive to Māori values?
  • How might children explore the natural and living worlds while remaining respectful of the cultural beliefs and world views of others?
  • How might kaiako provide opportunities for children to develop and extend their physical capabilities with confidence?
  • How do kaiako empower all children to pursue challenges in ways that acknowledge their current physical and cognitive abilities and strengths?
  • In what ways might kaiako show children that their play and imagination are valued?
  • In what ways are children free to explore and be creative with a range of media?
  • How might kaiako make thoughtful decisions about which of children’s spontaneous play, interests and working theories might be used to create curriculum experiences?
  • In what ways can real tools (such as gardening tools, saws, microscopes) be used confidently for exploration that leads to meaningful learning and sense making?
  • How might kaiako encourage children to see a range of strategies they might adopt for exploration, thinking, reasoning and problem solving?
  • What domain knowledge would help kaiako to recognise, respond to and extend children’s generation and refinement of working theories?
  • How might kaiako create and model a culture of inquiry amongst children?
  • What opportunities exist for children to participate in longer-term projects that support the development of their working theories?

Curriculum support content and resources