Stories of practice from Pedagogical Leaders

Ngā Kaiārahi pūtoi ako | Pedagogical Leaders and Ngā Kaiāki Marautanga | Curriculum Champions inquire into practice

These stories of practice share how kaiako in early learning services (ELS) explored aspects of their practice, using an internal evaluation approach and focusing on one of the five key areas to strengthen in early learning.

CORE Education worked in partnership with the Ministry of Education to support these ELS in their implementation of Te Whāriki – He Whāriki Mātauranga mō ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa Early Childhood Curriculum (2017).

ELS engaged in curriculum inquiries with the support of Ngā Kaiāki Marautanga | Curriculum Champions and Ngā Kaiārahi pūtoi ako | Pedagogical Leaders.

The stories on this page give examples of the insights, learning, and outcomes for practice Pedagogical Leaders and their services gained.

Children sitting with their kaiako

A rich curriculum for every child

Student workbook.

“See ... I kept trying and I got superpowers!”

At Horizons Montessori Preschool, a culture of resilience has blossomed as children have developed their “superpowers for success” through an internal evaluation focus on challenge, risk-taking, and building resilience.

Through reflecting on Te Whāriki webinars, kaiako identified the need to ensure the environment had enough variety and challenge for all children, regardless of their ages and capabilities. They also wanted to increase opportunities for children to be physically active and to develop agency in keeping themselves emotionally and physically safe. These provocations led to the development of an inquiry question that explored how effectively kaiako empower learners to explore challenge and build resilience.

Data was gathered through a survey of both kaiako and parents. Children’s voices were recorded as well through a series of mat-time hui. Making sense of this data highlighted several areas for improvement, including the need to provide more interesting, challenging, and flexible equipment, (while understanding limitations on how this equipment should be used). Kaiako also found that tamariki would benefit from an increased capacity to assess and evaluate risk themselves, and that parents would benefit from understanding how kaiako are supporting children to grow their skills and pursue their physical interests and goals. To address these areas, kaiako undertook a range of actions, including:

  • taking account of ECE regulations and working closely with external agencies to understand the parameters of building their own challenging activities
  • constructing and purchasing equipment to support open-ended exploration
  • modelling and supporting emotional language to support children to express their feelings when learning becomes difficult
  • developing a display board from which tamariki can select the games, resources, and activities they choose
  • producing a book titled Yes, I can to draw attention to how Te Whāriki 2017 is being used to support kaiako practice
  • creating a display board of photos and stories from home and preschool showing engagement with new learning experiences
  • weaving a te ao Māori worldview into all documentation and pedagogy
  • communicating progress through monthly newsletters so that the whole community can work together towards shared goals.

These actions have resulted in tamariki having more opportunities to explore challenge, take risks, build resilience, and realise their “superpowers”. They have discovered new strategies to use when learning becomes difficult and to gain support from others. Tamariki have also developed skills in assessing risk and minimising potential hazards as they engage with the world around them. An appreciation of the learning that results from physically active play continues to grow, and more of these opportunities are becoming available to children at home or in their family community.


Assessment for learning – more than just learning stories

Best Start First Steps Palmerston North is a culturally diverse centre. Their internal evaluation focused on providing “a rich curriculum for every child”. Kaiako began by discussing the meanings of “rich” and “every child”. They were guided by Te Whāriki 2017.

Because children develop holistically, they need a broad and rich curriculum that enables them to grow their capabilities across all dimensions.

(page 19)

A curriculum must speak to our past, present and future. As global citizens in a rapidly changing and increasingly connected world, children need to be adaptive, creative and resilient. They need to ‘learn how to learn’ so that they can engage with new contexts, opportunities and challenges with optimism and resourcefulness.

(page 7)

Taking account of these statements, kaiako decided to start by analysing children’s assessment documentation to understand how effectively this was:

  • making children’s learning visible (past)
  • informing day-to-day interactions and experiences (present)
  • informing planning for the children’s progressions (future).

Their analysis highlighted that at times kaiako were viewing children’s learning only in the here and now, rather than over time. Many learning stories started with “Today ...”

Kaiako puzzled over this result. Could they answer the questions Do you know me? and Do you let me fly? They realised that they may not have this level of understanding of every child and without it, how could they provide a rich curriculum that speaks to each child’s past, present, and future? It was clear that they needed to actively seek information to deepen their knowledge. Kaiako turned to Te Whāriki to identify their next steps.

Portfolios may include annotated photographs, children’s art, recordings or transcripts of oral language, kaiako observations and learning stories.

(page 63)

The team were particularly interested in the notion of kaiako observations as they were currently using only narrative assessment in the form of learning stories. They wondered whether other forms of observation would strengthen their understanding of individual children.

Kaiako began to explore a range of observations and techniques, identifying how they could use these in manageable and meaningful ways to complement learning stories and increase their knowledge of individual children. They discovered that analysis derived from observations, such as photo time samples, photo event recordings, and video running records, when used alongside narrative assessment, deepened their understanding of children’s learning, passions, and strengths. As an added bonus, they also found that the more effectively they assessed children’s learning, the more specific the information shared by whānau about children’s learning and interests at home became. This allowed kaiako to provide a strengthened curriculum that recognises and builds on each child’s language, culture, and identity.

The journey is ongoing. Kaiako continue to revisit and reflect on assessment documentation to ensure children experience a rich curriculum that supports their learning and strengthens their identities as confident and competent learners.


Challenging thinking through evidence

Tu’utu’u le upega ile loloto.

Cast the net into deeper waters.

Barnardos KidStart Canterbury One is a home-based network of 16 kaiako supported by a visiting teacher who led the network’s internal evaluation. The kaiako identified that they would like to investigate how well they were providing “a rich curriculum for every child” in their homes. In this review, a rich curriculum was defined as the provision of all strands of Te Whāriki 2017. The assumption was made that evidence of the richness of the curriculum offered would be found in the assessment documentation completed by kaiako.

The initial investigation included an analysis of two months’ worth of assessment documentation recorded in an online portfolio platform. This investigation was carried out by the visiting teacher who was able to see all of the learning stories completed by the kaiako. This overarching lens identified that kaiako were focusing mostly on the strands of exploration, contribution, and communication in their assessment documentation. The belonging strand was poorly represented, and the wellbeing strand was not identified at all in learning stories.

This result surprised the visiting teacher who had witnessed many instances of kaiako providing children with learning experiences that promoted their wellbeing, belonging, and contribution. The question was, why was this learning not being documented?

The visiting teacher shared her findings with kaiako to gather their responses and reflections. These included:

“When I write a story there has to be some oomph in it, that’s why I probably write them on exploration.”

“Seeing the use of the communication strand quite high on the report makes me think. I would like to keep an eye on it. Am I allowing the children to make up their minds around their learning or am I driving this around my own interests?”

“I’m going to start looking at the other strands I am not strong in writing about, but I know we need to cover.”

The data from the document analysis was very powerful in promoting kaiako reflection and action. The visiting teacher has continued discussions during regular visits, prompting greater awareness of the importance of providing children with the opportunity to participate in all aspects of the curriculum. This awareness has led to kaiako, with the support of the visiting teacher, exploring Te Whāriki 2017 and engaging with it at deeper levels. Over the following month, the visiting teacher noticed that the children’s learning stories now included:

  • evidence of the breadth and depth of Te Whāriki
  • parent aspirations and children’s voices about their learning
  • increased parent engagement, as the stories have become richer, more complex, and more interesting.

The focus now is to ensure that kaiako are not only recording the full breadth of children’s learning but that they are using this information to plan experiences and design a curriculum that builds on this learning. Their journey is continuing – workshops are planned and more learning is needed, but they are well on their way.


Creating a rich learning environment for toddlers

Future Kids Ohaupo is a privately-owned care and education centre in rural Waikato. Kaiako in the toddler room believed they had a good selection of resources in a well presented environment. However, they noticed that children did not always engage with the resources in ways that kaiako expected. Analysis of initial observations identified that the toddlers were more engaged and challenged in their learning when resources were presented in smaller quantities and in different ways.

Their commitment to providing high quality learning opportunities, along with these findings, prompted kaiako to focus their internal evaluation on the question: How effectively do kaiako provide an environmental set up that maximises children's access to resources and best challenges and extends their learning?

The centre conducted a survey of parents to garner their thoughts about the resources available to support toddlers’ learning. The comments they received reinforced kaiako observations. Parents reported that they found “less is more” with toy presentation in their homes. They also commented about how they felt their toddlers engaged with the set-up activities when they arrived at the centre.

Acknowledging that well considered adult interaction is crucial to supporting children's learning, kaiako saw themselves as being the most important resource available to the toddlers. Considering these findings, kaiako identified ways they could enhance the environment to improve the toddlers’ learning opportunities. These changes included:

  • moving resources from larger display boxes into smaller boxes and baskets and putting blocks and small-world items directly onto shelves
  • providing a more dynamic small activity set-up to support children’s schema
  • purchasing a tepee where toddlers could explore enclosure and enveloping schema
  • providing sensory and science exploration items to enable the children to use the light box and engage in science-related learning
  • purchasing new resources to support children’s schema
  • moving staff routine activities to times that had the least the impact on children's learning, for example, cleaning up when the toddlers are resting.

Kaiako have noticed that the new room set-up engages children for longer periods of time, and the children are finding new ways of using resources in their schematic play. The increased complexity in children's learning is reflected in their learning stories.

Kaiako are constantly observing and reflecting on children's interactions with the learning environment and involving the toddlers in discussions about what happens in their room. They continue to consider how children can have agency over their environment and how it is responsive to their learning needs.

A focus on learning that matters here

Children on a playground.

Focusing on every child

Mā te ahurei o te tamaiti e ārahi i ā tatou mahi.

Let the uniqueness of the child guide our work.

Internal evaluation at Childspace Northland focused on: How effectively do we facilitate individual children’s learning and development through thoughtful and intentional pedagogy?

To begin to answer the question, kaiako explored what they understood to be “intentional teaching”, developing this definition:

It’s about weaving together what we know about individual children, our environment and community, and what we know about ECE theory and practice to decide how to plan and interact in the moment.

Kaiako used their definition to set the focus of their data gathering. This included engaging in observations and analysing documentation and communication with whānau to answer their inquiry question. Their findings evidenced that:

  • one whānau noted that their child was missing out on ngahere exploration (excursions into nature)
  • there were a greater number of group stories documenting learning than individual stories
  • meeting notes indicated that not every child had been discussed in meetings.

Analysing their data, they identified that, while they weave the curriculum well with the centre’s philosophy, a greater focus on some individual tamaiti needed to be included in centre planning.

Kaiako then asked: How can we ensure tamaiti have equal planning time to ensure they all benefit from intentional pedagogy that meets their needs?

Using the 20 learning outcomes cards from the Te Whāriki professional development workshop materials, kaiako undertook a team exercise to improve their focus on individual children. Each outcome was read aloud and the team identified tamaiti for whom this outcome aligned with their learning goals. Looking at learning this way put individual children at the heart and gave kaiako direction for working intentionally to progress children’s learning outcomes. Teaching plans were created to support this intentionality, referring to “Responsibilities of kaiako” on page 59 of Te Whariki 2017 to ensure aligned practice.

Kaiako have now allocated more time for planning and have started a book where they document notes on each child and record the child’s voice, so that they can see at a glance where each child is heading and their interests and goals.

This inquiry has resulted in the team planning a curriculum that provides greater support for individual children’s progress towards their learning goals, progress that has been recorded in their individual learning stories.


Children playing with toys.

Strengthening infant and toddler practice

He taonga te mokopuna, kia whāngaia, kia tipu, kia rea.

A child is a treasure, to be nurtured, to grow, to flourish.

Stokes Valley Community Childcare Centre recognised that their practice with infants and toddlers required strengthening. They noticed unsettled babies, overtired and stressed kaiako, and inconsistent assessment and evaluation practices. Kaiako wanted to investigate more deeply the issues contributing to these challenges, so made this the focus of their internal evaluation.

Targeted observations uncovered that kaiako practice with infants and toddlers was inconsistent and often rushed, with minimal conversation. As well, they found that rigid routines and older children were sometimes interrupting the play of infants and toddlers.

The team explored Te Whāriki 2017 to investigate how they could guide practice and improve learning outcomes for children. In particular, kaiako aimed to build their understanding of how to provide a physical and emotional environment that supported infants and toddlers to learn and develop.

This investigation highlighted the need for kaiako to:

  • allow time and space to strengthen relationships between kaiako and infants and toddlers
  • provide a calm and positive learning environment
  • provide safe places for infants and toddlers to explore
  • ensure flexible and unhurried daily routines
  • strengthen communication between kaiako and whānau.

An action plan to address these points is being put into place. Kaiako believed there was a need for infants and toddlers to have their own area to explore, discover, and learn, ā tōna wā (Te Whāriki, p. 13), in order to have safe places to explore. The centre trialled a number of strategies and are working to refine these. Kaiako are now consulting with an ECE environment expert to identify ways to support the provision of a safe, yet challenging learning environment for infants and toddlers.

The centre has also employed two new staff, including a “supporter” for infants and toddlers. This additional staffing has helped kaiako to slow down and engage in more meaningful conversations with children and whānau, providing an unhurried curriculum and strengthened relationships. While only small steps have been taken at this stage, kaiako are continuing to explore Te Whāriki 2017 to help them provide an optimal environment for infant and toddler learning and development.


Supporting complex play

Glenavon Early Childhood Centre is located on the grounds of Glenavon School. It caters for a transient, migrant, and culturally-diverse community. As a centre that values children being challenged, kaiako chose to focus their internal evaluation on how effectively the centre supports children to add complexity to their play. Te Whāriki, 2017 states that through complex play, children engage in deeper exploration, thinking, reasoning, and problem solving; testing their own working theories about the world.

A recent Education Review Office (ERO) report asked the service to review the display, range, and accessibility of resources available for children to motivate them to become persistent explorers and engage in complex play. Kaiako observations reinforced this need, identifying that children’s engagement with resources was limited and was influenced by their accessibility, range, and display. Children used the resources only for their designed purpose and in the areas allocated, for example, playdough in the playdough area and dolls in the family area.

These findings prompted kaiako, guided by the aspirations of Te Whāriki 2017, to look more deeply at what was going on. Data collection included the analysis of assessment and planning documentation, as well as kaiako reflections and anecdotal observations. Kaiako also consulted with whānau, seeking feedback on how they saw the environment as supporting children’s learning.

Making sense of this data, the centre found that play resources were under-used as a result of kaiako expectations for keeping the environment clutter-free and tidy. Children seldom revisited their play as they were asked to pack resources away before they moved to another area and before routine activities. Kaiako also identified that they spent a lot of time tidying and putting things away to make way for routine activities. These disruptions led to limited opportunities for children to engage in complex and sustained play. Children were also unsure where resources were stored, as the environment was continually changing, and the curriculum was time bound and mainly teacher directed.

Kaiako, confronted by these findings, wanted to change. They involved whānau, children, and the team in exploring how they could enhance and extend complex learning through play. A collective decision was made to develop a culture of respect, transforming the kaiako role into one that followed children’s leads and engaged with children in the moment. Actions included:

  • setting up the play environment in a consistent way for a term to ensure continuity and encourage children to revisit learning experiences
  • creating visual labels for resources and learning areas so that children know where to find them
  • providing a range of open-ended resources that are accessible, well-displayed, and reflective of tamariki interests and the local curriculum
  • mindful resourcing, moving away from plastic to more natural and heuristic resources, and including the introduction of real kitchen tools for family play
  • developing a Treaty of Care with the children, outlining how a culture of respect is enacted in the centre
  • changing to a rolling morning tea
  • reducing to one morning mat time and one tidy-up time at the end of the day.

Kaiako have found that having a consistent environment is supporting children to engage in complex learning through revisiting and extending their play. Children have greater choice, agency, and independence in the curriculum and therefore their play is no longer repetitive – each day it is unfolding in surprising ways. The Treaty of Care has supported children to become more responsible for themselves, each other, and for the environment (kaitiakitanga), and they are making better choices. Children are taking risks, problem solving, negotiating, and communicating their ideas to each other.

Kaiako are continuing to monitor children’s use of the environment and resources.


Practising sustainability in a rural kindergarten

Esk Valley Kindergarten has a philosophy that supports children demonstrating manaakitanga. For their internal evaluation kaiako chose to examine this aspect of their philosophy through the lens of sustainable practices. They explored how the curriculum reflected their priority of manaakitanga in the context of supporting sustainable practices.

Initially kaiako had clear, concrete ideas about what they considered to be sustainable practices. They included the creation of edible vegetable gardens, water conservation and collection, and waste reduction. As they began investigating current practice however, they quickly realised that their vision was about the destination, not the journey. This meant that they may have been missing rich learning opportunities for tamariki. In particular, they found that some vocabulary they used and concepts they talked about (for example, sustainability) were too abstract for tamariki to understand and connect to.

This finding prompted kaiako to put in place an action plan to provide experiences and provoke conversations to support tamariki to develop understandings about sustainability in ways that connected to their rural context. These experiences have included:

  • using sustainable resources whenever possible, for example clay has replaced playdough
  • purposefully weaving sustainability concepts into conversations with tamariki
  • supplying resources for play that connect to the lives of tamariki and provoke discussions about sustainability in a rural context.

One example of the plan in action involved kaiako cutting large pieces of paper into smaller ones, leading to a conversation about where paper comes from. Tamariki recognised that paper comes from trees, and that trees are homes for birds and a resource for making fence posts and sheds. Kaiako extended their understandings by reinforcing the importance of showing manaaki for our resources today so that they will survive for us tomorrow, and so making links to the concept of sustainability.

Fencing equipment was added to the resources for play. Tamariki spent entire days playing farms, making sense of their world, and through conversations with kaiako, linking farming practices to sustainability.

While it is still early in the process, learning outcomes for tamariki are emerging. As their understanding grows, they have begun to demonstrate manaakitanga for the environment A child who found a fallen bird’s nest took the lead in ensuring it was safely returned to the tree. The next day when a peer brought the same bird’s nest inside to show kaiako, the first child explained why the nest needed to be again returned to the tree.

Through this evaluation, the kindergarten has discovered the importance of new learning being connected to children’s lives and experiences. The need for kaiako to focus on small steps when instigating change has also been reinforced. The next step is to more actively engage whānau in this learning.


A focus on oral language

Grants Braes Kindergarten in Dunedin focused their internal evaluation on how they could better develop children’s, in particular three- and four-year-old’s, oral language to support their learning. Their initial assessments, using the Ministry of Education’s resource guidelines, Much More than Words Manuka Takoto, Kawea Ake, identified that over half their children would benefit from either communication or speech sound development.

Kaiako focused on a learning outcome from the Communication | Mana Reo strand of Te Whāriki 2017:

Over time and with guidance and encouragement, children become increasingly capable of understanding oral language and using it for a range of purposes | he kōrero ā-waha.

Kaiako explored how children who could benefit from extra support in communication or speech sound development could best be supported to achieve this learning outcome. They extended their inquiry by looking for evidence in children’s narratives of times when kaiako had supported children’s communication skills. The team discovered that most assessment stories did not identify the child’s next steps in their oral language development. They also found that all kaiako were not having input into every child’s portfolio, meaning that they were not casting their lens over all children’s learning. These findings prompted kaiako to reassess their processes and practices to ensure that all children are assessed by all kaiako, and that this assessment is documented to ensure children’s oral language progress is tracked over time. Kaiako were motivated to ensure that the kindergarten provides a teaching and learning environment that intentionally and thoughtfully supports children’s oral language. Following extensive reading, research, and discussions with a speech language therapist, they upskilled and initiated a range of teaching and learning strategies. These included:

  • connecting with the child before correcting their language
  • creating supportive peer relationships
  • engaging in “serve and return” conversations with children – a strategy which has proven to be more predictive of a child’s language development than the number of words spoken to them
  • providing whānau with the knowledge and strategies to reinforce these practices at home.

The speech language therapist observed kaiako practice and provided feedback to help them fine-tune their oral language teaching techniques and develop new teaching strategies. The speech language therapist continues to visit the kindergarten once a term to provide ongoing guidance and support. These visits provide an opportunity for professional collaboration where ways to support children’s language acquisition are discussed, and kaiako and whānau knowledge is deepened.

As a result of these initiatives the children’s speech sound development is progressing and they are participating more fully in sustained “serve and return” conversations with adults and peers. Their increasing vocabulary will help them to become strong and effective communicators.

Affirmation of identity, language, and culture

Child reading.

Supporting bilingual oral language development

Te Pārekereke o te Kī is a mixed aged, Māori-focused centre, which is part of the Otago University Childcare Association. As a bilingual centre, oral language is an important component of curriculum planning. Being a confident and strong speaker is a gift in te ao, therefore kaiako chose to focus their internal evaluation on how well they support tamariki’s acquisition of oral language. Data collected to inform this inquiry included analysis of:

  • the learning stories written over the past six months
  • event recordings of sustained conversations with each child
  • how often tamariki experienced waiata, stories, and listening activities during one week.

Analysis of this data revealed three areas that required work:

  • making language support visible in learning stories
  • having quality conversations with two-year-old boys, as practice with this cohort of tamariki was not as strong as with other groups
  • finding more opportunities to read books to all tamariki.

Staff identified a range of actions to improve practice in these areas, including:

  • creating specific language learning goals for two-year-old boys
  • focusing on language in learning stories
  • using direct quotes from children in assessment documentation to illustrate progress over time
  • planning more opportunities to read books throughout the day
  • making a concerted effort to speak te reo Māori during set hours each day.

Over the following two weeks kaiako implemented these actions, engaging in discussions with families to engender their support. In the third week, repetition of the initial data collection showed an increase in both the number of quality conversations with tamariki and the number of language experiences they engaged in. A review of the latest learning stories showed a strong focus on oral language. Oral language experiences offered to tamariki included:

  • kapa haka sessions twice a week
  • waiata before karakia kai and books being read at kai times
  • listening and speaking practice while supporting conflict resolutions and during karakia
  • reading, waiata, and listening and speaking in group hui
  • kaiako sustaining conversations with tamariki and seeking out quieter tamariki to kōrero
  • reading books from home that whānau have mentioned with tamariki
  • finding opportunities to extend language during free play and routine times, for example, oriori and “back-and-forth” conversations.

Positive outcomes are now evident. Kaiako have observed tamariki holding longer conversations with each other, listening, and taking turns. Tamariki are better able to solve problems and recognise and discuss their feelings, creating a more peaceful and cohesive environment. There have also been increases in tamariki’s understanding and use of te reo Māori. Older tamariki have begun to correct each other’s and even adults’ pronunciation of Māori. The review has enabled kaiako to examine what they are doing to support language acquisition. Their next step is to look at how they can also increase the mana of te reo Māori.


Keeping our language, culture, and values alive

Seugagogo A'oga Amata is a total-immersion, Samoan language early childhood centre. The a'oga’s philosophy is to maintain the Samoan language, culture, and values through everyday teaching and learning. This philosophy aligns closely with the focus of Te Whāriki 2017 on the importance of children’s identity, language, and culture and the engagement of parents and whānau in children’s learning. Kaiako believe it is their role to: be able to support the cultural and linguistic diversity of all children as part of promoting an inclusive environment. (Te Whāriki, p. 59). Parents choose Seugagogo A'oga Amata because they value this philosophy.

Initial observations identified that a number of parents spoke English in the a'oga, particularly those who were themselves learning Samoan. This was influencing children and other parents to speak English, contrary to the a'oga’s philosophy. The team discussed this issue and decided to make it the focus of their internal evaluation. They asked: How effectively do we maintain our language, culture, and values at Seugagogo A'oga Amata?

A questionnaire was created and distributed. This sought whānau responses about why parents were speaking English at the a'oga and feedback on ideas for how the Samoan language, culture, and values could be maintained. Findings confirmed parents’ aspiration for their children to learn, speak, and understand the Samoan language and identified ways that kaiako could more effectively support parents to do this as well. These ideas were developed into an action plan. Its implementation included:

  • kaiako putting up notices around the a'oga, reminding parents, families, and visitors to use the Samoan language only within the centre environment
  • kaiako making available video clips of the Samoan songs, stories, hymns, poems, lotu, myths and legends used in the a'oga for families to access on the children’s electronic portfolios. These resources support whānau to use and maintain the Samoan language and culture at home.

These actions have encouraged whānau to be more involved in their children’s learning. Some parents have enrolled in Samoan language evening classes to enhance their knowledge and skills in Samoan language and culture. Parents and families now acknowledge the a'oga’s philosophy by speaking only Samoan when they enter the centre. Many parents are now trying to speak Samoan, not only within the centre, but in their homes as well.

This internal evaluation has resulted in parents becoming more confident using the Samoan language in formal and informal conversations, while children speak Samoan more regularly at home as well as at the a'oga. This emphasis on the Samoan language keeps the philosophy of Seugagogo A'oga Amata alive and strong.


Making philosophy visible

Crossroads Early Childhood Centre is a church-based centre, established to be a place where whānau are welcome to play alongside their children, make friends, receive support in their parenting, and share their Christian faith.

The centre focused their internal evaluation on their localised curriculum or “what matters here”, particularly in relation to how well they were implementing Christian values. They chose a question that looked specifically at the visibility of these values in their assessment documentation.

Initial analysis of this documentation showed that their special character and philosophy were not being highlighted as much as they would have liked, with a low number of learning stories, wall displays, and entries on their planning wall reflecting their Christian character. This result did not reflect the importance of these values to kaiako and whānau.

To improve the visibility of their philosophy, kaiako undertook these actions:

  • linking the Fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) to Te Whāriki and Māori pedagogy as a resource for teachers
  • including the Fruits of the Spirit in their planning template
  • adding the Fruits of the Spirit to the welcome letter in the children’s profile books
  • adding a Christian focus to the planning wall
  • integrating bible superheroes into the curriculum
  • creating a list of Christian phrases from scripture to include in learning stories
  • creating a “Fruit of the Spirit in Practice” display on the wall, changing this display each term
  • creating an explanation of the Fruits of the Spirit for the welcome booklet and wall.

While kaiako began the action plan to increase the visibility of their philosophy in the children’s learning, they achieved so much more. A rich environment of meaningful and contextual learning has been created for children and whānau, with Christian themes woven throughout curriculum design and implementation. An example is the introduction of the biblical superhero, Jonah, and the tale of his epic adventure with the whale. Children made sense of, revisited, and retold this story through dramatic play, art work, and storytelling over a sustained period of time.

As a result of this evaluation, kaiako are more mindful of noticing when children reflect and practise the Fruits of the Spirit in their play, and they highlight this in children’s learning stories. The language kaiako use has changed from statements of faith, such as, God made you special, to focusing on children’s specific strengths, saying, for example, I have seen the way you reflect aroha in your caring for the other children. This model has strengthened planning for individual children, and kaiako now focus on children’s Christian character, strengthening and extending their gifts.

Focusing on the Fruits of the Spirit in action has created a shared understanding about “what matters here” between children, whānau, and kaiako. Kaiako have discovered authentic ways to highlight children’s Christian virtues and share these with children and whānau.


“Persons and buses can be a rainbow if they want to”: An exploration of gender-neutral education

Collectively Kids is a privately-owned, stand-alone ECE service located in Auckland. Their focus is on supporting children to develop ways of being, thinking, and acting that enable them to engage positively with environmental and social challenges. When considering the learning that matters to them, kaiako identified the need to think more critically about gender stereotypes, as these can limit possibilities and be a barrier to social justice.

Initial anecdotal observations identified that within the centre community, girls and boys were often being offered different experiences and different aspects of children were highlighted or valued based on their gender. This led kaiako to conduct an internal evaluation on the implementation of a gender-neutral curriculum.

Formal data gathering started in the learning environment. Time samples were collected to determine the activities tamariki were involved in. These showed there was a tendency for them to engage in experiences traditionally associated with their gender. In addition, it was predominantly girls who assisted in the infants’ and toddlers’ room – indicating the presence of, and reinforcing, gender stereotypical behaviours. These findings led kaiako to identify room for growth and following consultation with whānau, they undertook these initiatives.

Book reading strategies

To expand the representations of characters in books, kaiako changed the names and genders of characters, commenting on their feelings and motivations. They asked questions to engage tamariki in critical thinking about the story. Initially tamariki showed some reluctance to alter favourite stories. However, they grew to love the power they had to change them, seeing themselves in a wider variety of roles.

Environmental provocations

Resources were organised in ways to provoke different types of play. Kaiako set up the dolls in the sandpit, dinosaurs with necklaces, and blocks with the kitchen play. They noticed tamariki enjoyed these provocations. Playing in different ways increased their play repertoire. As well, different tamariki played together, resulting in a broader range of interactions.

Language use

Kaiako were mindful of the language they used, including their descriptors of tamariki and their actions. Girls became “strong” and boys became “caring”. Through this they noticed a change in how tamariki saw themselves. Girls in particular were proud to be called strong and would tell their friends.

Tuakana-teina relationships

A roster was created for all older tamariki to assist with caring in the infants’ and toddlers’ room. This allowed tamariki to see themselves as nurturing, capable of taking care of others, and possessing knowledge they could pass on.

A change in culture is developing and kaiako will continue to monitor and challenge gender stereotypical behaviours in the centre.


Bicultural practice in a hospital-based service

Starship Children’s Health is comprised of nine hospital-based early childhood services operating throughout Starship Hospital and the Greenlane Surgical Unit. Each service incorporates the whole ward, so that kaiako can provide specialised care and education for children who have been admitted to hospital – at their bedside, in treatment rooms, or in licensed playrooms.

Bicultural practice was identified as an area for improvement across each service’s Education Review Office (ERO) report. These reports became the impetus for a team-wide internal evaluation involving all nine services. To strengthen their practice, the team agreed to explore the question: To what extent does our approach reflect cultural responsiveness and affirmation of culture for Māori children and whānau?

Using the bicultural imperatives of Te Whāriki 2017 as a guide, initial investigations included an audit of the environment, as well as kaiako reflections. The findings identified that, while many kaiako reflected Māori culture through the environment and resources, understanding and reflection of te ao Māori was less apparent in kaiako practice. Pedagogy, along with resources, needed to be improved to make it more meaningful. Facilitated team discussions were held to understand current practice. These identified that there was a wide continuum of knowledge, experience, and understanding of te ao Māori and Te Tiriti o Waitangi among kaiako. Many had very limited experience and understanding, while others had a proficient grasp of the deeper concepts.

A strategy to strengthen practice focused on developing a shared understanding of what a culturally responsive curriculum consists of. Kaiako unpacked Rangimarie Rose Pere’s Te Wheke model, using the tentacles of this model to guide their reflections about how each concept related to their own setting and practice. This had a profound impact. As a team, kaiako began the valuable process of developing shared understandings. This resulted in their creating a matrix for culturally responsive practice to support planning and guide and evaluate practice.

There have been many challenges as the team is large (25 kaiako) and working in a hospital-based service has the added complexities of the variability of children’s health issues, a range of working environments, and inconsistent rolls. Many kaiako work independently and the team gathers together only once a week. This has meant that progress has been slow, but there has been movement. There is a strong commitment from the team and leaders have committed to furthering kaiako knowledge within the services and through external support.

A broader understanding of the concepts of wairuatanga and mana, and a strengthened commitment to learning and speaking te reo Māori has developed within the team. Playroom environments more adequately reflect te ao Māori in their resources, literacy, and the practice of manaakitanga. Openness, awhi, and manaaki have been enriched .

The team continues to enhance their culturally responsive approach, with Te Whāriki 2017 guiding their practice. Kaiako focused on three quality indicators for this review but will return to the original eight identified as their bicultural practices develop. They will gather data to monitor and judge the effectiveness of the changes against these indicators when they believe their bicultural practice is established.

The process of internal evaluation in this setting has been complex, and kaiako are designing the process to best suit their needs and ways of working. Their success has been due to keeping it simple, clear, and achievable, having strong quality indicators, a clear focus for reflection, and respectful forums for discussion and sharing.


Ngā toi ataata in early childhood education

Hill Street Early Childhood Centre is a small, community-based early childhood centre in Wellington. Their philosophy expresses a desire to work within more sustainable practices and a commitment to strengthening the integration of bicultural practices within the programme. This commitment includes taking regular excursions into their community to make connections to their place, particularly their maunga, Te Ahumairangi.

The centre’s internal evaluation was provoked by reflective questions in Te Whāriki 2017, in particular those that focus on the inclusion of the arts in early childhood curriculum design – What types of resources for the arts are regularly available to children? How often is creative and artistic expression encouraged in the centre? How do the art experiences we provide support language, culture, and identity? They settled on an evaluative question exploring how effectively they are providing opportunities for ākonga to use ngā toi ataata to develop different ways to be creative and expressive and to build strong identities as New Zealanders.

Kaiako undertook an audit of the art pieces in the environment. This identified that mostly famous European artists and their work were being featured, despite the centre’s commitment to biculturalism. Kaiako observations also uncovered that they were providing only limited opportunities for children under the age of two to engage with visual arts.

Focused discussions with ākonga revealed that they understood art as needing some sort of medium, such as paint or crayons, and that they may not understand art forms such as photography or wood carving.

Targeted interviews were held to give whānau opportunities to share their thoughts and ideas. These highlighted the value whānau place on the arts for enhancing happy and healthy societies, developing creativity, and supporting identity development. Whānau indicated a strong desire to see a sustainable approach to the arts, using natural materials, as well as the inclusion of heritage crafts and opportunities for “junk” play using recycled materials.

The findings from this evaluation provoked kaiako to make these changes.

  • Kaiako researched the fundamentals of ngā toi ataata and are now providing a wider and richer range of artistic opportunities for all children, particularly children under two years of age.
  • Ākonga are being exposed to more ngā toi Māori and artists, and as a result are building greater understandings of ngā toi Māori processes and protocols.
  • Kaiako provide more natural and sustainable resources for children to explore and use creatively.

Kaiako will continue to monitor outcomes. They believe that the changes they have made provide opportunities for ākonga to develop strong identities, culture, and language through the arts.

Parents and whānau engaged in their child's learning

Child's report on insects.

Whānau engagement in children’s learning

Paikea Kindergarten chose to focus their internal evaluation on whānau engagement in children’s learning, as this area is emphasised in Te Whāriki 2017 and is critical to tamariki success. To guide their inquiry, kaiako used indicators from Te Whāriki and He Pou Tātaki to identify quality practices. Data gathering included an anonymous survey of whānau, kaiako reflections, and evidence from children’s journals of learning. This data was analysed to establish areas for improvement.

The survey found high levels of whānau satisfaction, with 100% of whānau who answered the survey (response rate of 52%) being satisfied with the amount of information they received about their child’s progress and achievements. The majority indicated that they had sufficient opportunities to share their child’s capabilities and interests with kaiako, and they did not require further opportunities to contribute to their child’s journal of learning.

Other evidence, however, indicated that although kaiako gained a lot of knowledge from whānau, this was not always reflected in the children’s learning stories. Whānau voice collected verbally was not documented. In addition, while 80 percent of journals of learning included whānau aspirations for their children and these were linked to learning stories, it was not always clear what aspiration the story was linked to or why. Kaiako also realised that they could improve on letting whānau know about all the ways they could contribute to the children’s journals of learning.

A range of actions were undertaken to address these issues. These included the development of an information pānui, outlining the ways whānau could contribute to their child’s journal of learning. This pānui, given to all whānau, will in future be included in the enrolment process.

Kaiako reflected on, and made connections to information from whānau in children’s learning stories, even adding handwritten notes when these were appropriate. The children’s learning stories now include specific links to make clear their connections to whānau aspirations. For example: This story links to your whānau aspiration for you to be kind and caring. Kaiako have gone on to add links retrospectively to stories in the children’s current journals of learning.

The outcomes of this evaluation include:

  • improved abilities of kaiako to make connections between home and centre
  • increased whānau sharing and engagement in curriculum interest areas
  • a stronger sense of partnership between kaiako and whānau, resulting in a stronger sense of belonging for whānau and tamariki.

Kaiako hope that when tamariki review their learning journals in the future, they will see the positive outcomes of whānau collaboration in their learning. Kaiako will continue to monitor the children’s learning stories to ensure whānau voice remains valued and connected to their children’s learning.


Valuing in-home learning

Mauri is a Māori-immersion, home-based service located in the Far North. All kaiako, whānau, and management have a strong Te Hiku Māori lens. The curriculum they offer is relevant to, and steeped in, local knowledge and history. Te reo o te kainga (the regional dialect) is spoken with children and the service seeks kaiako with expertise in this who have learnt from kaumātua rather than at university.

This service started their internal evaluation by conducting an initial analysis of learning portfolios to identify the learning being prioritised by kaiako. This analysis identified that learning stories written about excursions (haerenga) seemed to have a greater identified richness of learning than learning stories set in the children’s homes. This surprising finding prompted the kaiārahi (visiting teachers) to gather further data to understand what was behind this gap between excursion and in-home stories. While home-based services often make more excursions than other ECE settings, kaiārahi recognised that the home environment is the primary place of learning so it was important to focus on how this environment supports the learning that matters.

Digging deeper, the team looked at why the stories about haerenga seemed to be so rich. They realised that these learning stories about haerenga recorded seldom-told history, and whānau contributed and responded more to these. Tamariki being taught by people who knew the history of, and cared about, their rohe was what made the excursion stories so rich. Kaiārahi then drew on a whakataukī from Te Whāriki 2017, Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini. They asked: To what extent do we seek what matters most in te ao Māori for each and every child?

During the investigation stage, kaiārahi discovered that the learning in homes had become so familiar that kaiako seemed to view it as less important. To highlight the learning that was happening in homes, kaiārahi intentionally used the language of the learning outcomes from Te Whāriki 2017 in documentation they shared with kaiako. This documentation included monthly visit records, learning story contributions, and comments on whānau voice.

As the internal evaluation continued, kaiārahi noticed that kaiako also started to use the language of Te Whāriki more often when describing children’s learning in their homes. As kaiako reflected on the value of routines, the in-home stories became more meaningful. The experiences children were being offered in their homes just hadn’t been being valued and recorded in rich ways.

As a result of this inquiry, kaiako are developing a culture of reflection and becoming active seekers and observers of learning that matters. When kaiako see tamariki playing, they consider their whole knowledge of the child, their whānau, and their home. Their implementation of Te Whāriki across all settings and contexts has been strengthened by this refocus.


Making links – connecting with whānau

Ninety percent of the children that attend Community Kindy Greenwood use the kindy van pick-up and drop-off service. Traditionally this has made having meaningful engagement with whānau difficult, as the kaiako do not see them regularly. Because of this, the BestStart Quality Education and Care (QEC) internal audit review team rated the centre as only three out of five for whānau engagement. At the same time, the centre was experiencing an increase in inquiries and enrolments, adding urgency to the need to connect meaningfully with whānau.

Kaiako decided to explore this area in greater depth and focused their internal evaluation by asking themselves: How well do we gather information about the funds of knowledge whānau bring with them to our centre in our transition/settling process?

Kaiako sought whānau input through a survey questionnaire. They were disappointed to find that many whānau lacked knowledge about their procedures for transitioning children into the centre. The response rate to the survey was also disappointingly low, possibly indicating low levels of whānau engagement. These results prompted a team commitment to engage more actively with whānau. There were positive results from the survey however. Kaiako discovered that whānau possessed a wide array of experience and knowledge in arts and crafts, music, sports, culture, kapa haka, and dance.

In response to the data, kaiako decided to:

  • develop a calendar of events to share with whānau
  • invite whānau to centre events
  • invite whānau to be resource people for the centre
  • seek whānau aspirations during the transition process
  • make transition phone calls for the first month of a child’s enrolment
  • send photographs home with new children
  • obtain a basic word list in the child’s home language
  • use siblings to support transitioning.

The centre is in the process of revising their transition procedure, in collaboration with whānau, to include these initiatives. Their implementation will help to build a culture based on whānau engagement and enhancing children’s and their families’ sense of belonging.

Kaiako have begun to learn some words in Hindi to help settle a child. Parents have expressed their appreciation for the information and photos they are receiving through the team of van drivers. They are delighted when they see their children settling well. Sharing videos through an online portfolio platform has also been popular – pictures do speak a thousand words!

This process has made kaiako aware of how much parents crave information about their children, while being unsure about asking for it, particularly when they cannot regularly attend the centre. The onus is on kaiako to provide information and initiate the close relationships between whānau and centre that are so important to children’s learning.

Personalised pathways to school and kura

Building connections

Four Seasons Rudolf Steiner Kindergarten is located in Taupo. Mokopuna transition from this centre into seven local schools as there is no Steiner school in the area. Four Seasons is a member of the local Community of Learning Kāhui Ako for which transition to school is a key focus. For this reason, along with the strengthened emphasis on pathways to school in Te Whāriki 2017, kaiako decided to focus their internal evaluation on the effectiveness of their transition to school processes. To support the inquiry, data was gathered from a range of sources, including:

  • notes from regular whānau interviews
  • records of tuakana meetings (held with children when they are four and a half years old), where children articulate their ideas about transition to school
  • kindergarten kaiako observations of, and discussions with, new entrant teachers during visits between the kindergarten and schools
  • a whānau survey specific to this focus
  • notes from a parent evening information discussion on “the older kindergarten child”.

Analysing this data, the centre discovered that:

  • parents felt more supported in the transition process when kaiako had closer relationships with schools and could talk confidently about how they worked
  • schools often had little understanding of Steiner education, and this knowledge gap had the potential to impact negatively on children’s transitions
  • the child’s voice, recorded at the tuakana meetings, was not being passed on to new entrant teachers, so opportunities for connections were lost.

Actions resulting from the evaluation include:

  • the addition of a a page about the child in their Journey Book (learning portfolio), which includes the child’s voice and outlines their strengths and interests, using the language of both Te Whāriki and The New Zealand Curriculum. These “one pagers” are now shared with new entrant teachers at visits so the teachers know more about the child before they start school.
  • the creation of a “borderland” of curriculum experiences in conjunction with the new entrant teachers. This borderland is made up of shared experiences across the different learning environments. Examples are Matariki storytelling, planting kōwhai seedlings, and knitting circles.
  • the allocation of 1–2 schools to each kaiako, where they become the “experts” who form close collegial relationships with the new entrant teacher and gain sufficient knowledge about the school to speak confidently to whānau.

While it is early days, kaiako are becoming more knowledgeable on the pedagogies and environments of the different schools. Enrolment statistics show increases in the numbers of children extending their time in early childhood education, allowing more planned and individualised transitions. The kindergarten plans to continue to embed these procedures to ensure a more robust, co-constructed, and individualised pathway to school for each child.


Taking learning through play to school

Whānau at Balclutha Playcentre were interested in exploring how well relationships within the playcentre, and with the local schools, were supporting mokopuna in their transition to school. Were playcentre whānau meeting Te Whāriki’s aim for all parties to work together to support continuity of learning?

Through the internal evaluation process, kaiako were surprised to find that in most cases whānau were leading the transition process with little input or support from playcentre members. They identified a need for a focus on strengthening the playcentre’s relationships with the nine schools it fed into.

Kaiako were also surprised to learn that some whānau did not see it as the role of playcentre to support transition to school, believing that this responsibility belonged to the other early childhood service the child attended. This finding highlighted the need to emphasise the importance of the role parents played in supporting their children’s transition to school. It prompted a sustained effort to reinforce the value of Playcentre philosophy and practices to children’s education. All whānau were invited to take part in workshops exploring the links between play and learning and how Playcentre supports children to take the next step in their learning journeys.

As a result, whānau have created a document designed to capture each child’s learning. This mini portfolio includes information about the child’s dispositions, prior learning, interests and strengths, and links these to the strands of Te Whāriki and the key competencies in The New Zealand Curriculum. Its original purpose was to highlight the child’s learning in a format that resonated with new entrant teachers. However, it has also helped to reinforce whānau understanding of the value of Playcentre practices. It shows how both curricula work together, allowing whānau, children, and school kaiako to connect children’s learning at playcentre and school.

As a next step, a folder with information and enrolment forms for all contributing schools is being created. The development of this folder has led to interesting conversations with children and space has been provided in the folder for children’s questions, valuing the child’s voice in the transition process. Children have identified that they would like photos of the school, past playcentre graduates, and school uniforms to be included in the folder. Gathering this information has strengthened relationships with schools, with new entrant teachers sharing information about schools’ transition programmes and arranging to visit the playcentre to speak to whānau. It is hoped that these relationships continue to grow and strengthen to support the continuity of children’s learning across the sectors.

Whānau are now beginning their next internal evaluation, looking at the ways whānau understand their role as kaiako at Playcentre.