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Pacific arts and whānau

Your child’s early learning service will want to support and make connections to your child’s home language and culture. Te Whāriki, the early childhood curriculum specifically acknowledges the educational aspirations of Pacific peoples and emphasises the important responsibility of kaiako in understanding, supporting, and responding to the diverse cultures, languages, and identities of all tamaiti in their service.

Child being dropped off at preschool and the teacher meeting the child and the parents at the gate.

Your family’s culture and home language

What could you share with your child’s teacher or early learning service that could support them to better understand and learn about your child’s culture, languages, and values? What would you like them to share with you?

All whānau pass on important cultural knowledge to their tamariki - often without even realising. Every day, you will be passing on to your children your beliefs, values, expectations, and family traditions.

There is a saying in Samoan “Fa’asino mai ona ou iloa lea fai” - Show me and I will learn!

Observing and participating are valuable ways of learning in the early years. Elders will complete a task, and children will watch and copy. At home, they may learn from being with older siblings or cousins, too.

Learning about art with your child doesn’t mean that you have to complete art projects, or gather lots of materials. Talking, exploring, and making together will contribute to their development and strengthen their sense of identity as a learner.

On this page are some ideas to help you support your tamariki to learn more about Pacific arts.


Father and son reading a book together in their own language.

Storytelling increases your child’s language development. Repetition helps improve vocabulary and encourages children to become storytellers themselves. Tell stories in whichever language you feel most comfortable in - any language development is good language development. Storytelling is a great way to also encourage your child's mathematical thinking.

Listening to stories is often combined with physical closeness and quiet time. This helps your child feel safe and secure.

  • Tell family stories.
    All children love to hear stories of family events, or stories about their whānau when they were young. Family stories are a great way for young children to begin to learn their whakapapa - who is in their family and where they came from.

  • Tell old or traditional stories.
    Telling stories, from your own or another culture, helps explain the world to your child and encourages creative thinking. If it is a story from your own culture, your child is learning important history, as well as cultural rituals and moments of everyday life.

  • Listen to stories together.
    You don’t always have to be the one telling the stories. The PELP Pacific dual language books are a range of books written for younger children in English and Pacific languages. Audio versions of each story are available to listen to.

  • Encourage your child to make up or retell stories.
    Their toys make great characters, and you can make simple puppets from paper bags, old socks, or ice block sticks if you want to act it out. Or just enjoy listening to them as they recreate some old favourites, or make up new stories of their own.

  • Use books in creative ways
    When you read stories to your children, pause, and invite them to share what they can see in the pictures, or what a character may be thinking or feeling. You might leave a blank at the end of a sentence for them to fill in and talk with them about how the written words in the story relate to the pictures.

  • Encourage mathematical thinking
    Look for mathematical concepts in stories for example counting – how many, prediction – how many left now, adjectives – height, width, depth and sequencing – before and after, today and tomorrow, beginning, middle, and end.


Grandmother's hands weaving on her lap.

Many cultures create woven objects and Aotearoa has an abundance of materials to use for weaving. Weaving is great for development as children explore what they can see, smell, and feel. When children learn to weave they are developing fine motor skills that they will also need to use later when writing or drawing.

Weaving is also an opportunity for children to begin to see mathematical concepts in cultural artefacts. Socially and culturally, they are learning how to work independently or alongside others and learning about the objects and rituals that are important to their family.

Find woven objects. Once you start looking, woven objects are everywhere, from homes to libraries to shops to museums. Most woven objects are okay for children to handle. Encourage your child to describe what they hold - what does it smell like, feel like, and look like? Is it rough or smooth? Soft or hard? Heavy or light? Big or small? What shape is it?

Rather than being purely decorative, woven objects are likely to have a function. See if your child can guess what an object might be used for. Get them to make a connection to times in their lives they have seen woven objects, like fine mats at funerals or weddings, and baskets when collecting shellfish, or hanging out washing.

Many plants in Aotearoa can be woven, or you can use household materials like paper or old plastic bags, like bread bags. If using natural materials, children can help prepare the leaves. Talk to them about ways to gather and prepare materials that are special to your culture.

Let children watch someone weave for a while so that they see the rhythm and repetition of it. Choose larger things for small fingers to weave in, like feathers or large leaves. Most children are going to need to try weaving a few times before they really master it, so encourage them to stick with it, and start with something very simple.

Talk about mathematical concepts with children such as over, under, through, across, and counting the weaving pattern.

When gathering weaving materials demonstrate measurement by using your body, for example, it needs to be as wide as 2 hands, or make it as long as 6 footsteps.

Symbols and patterns

Tapa cloth and the patterns on them.

Exploring symbols and patterns helps children to develop early mathematical thinking.

Various symbols are seen in contemporary and traditional Pacific art and can represent parts of the natural world, and important people or places.

Symbols are seen on flags and coats of arms, as well as on tapa cloth like siapo (Samoa), masi (Fiji), hiapo (Niue) and ngatu (Tonga) and stitched items like tivaevae. Patterns are seen in tatau and on fabrics and carvings.


Practice simple repeating patterns with easily found materials like stones, sticks, leaves, or feathers. The pattern could be based on shape, colour, or size.

Look for patterns in everyday life, in the natural world, and in objects around the home. This could be on fabric like shirts, i’e lavalava, te towels or bedding.

Make an ‘ei katu or ula, threading flowers onto string or thin wire in repeating patterns.


Exploring symbols is an opportunity for children to learn about what is important to a culture. Each Pacific Island has its own national flower and bird and these are often depicted in art, featured in stories and found on everyday objects, like money, flags, or tapa. Children can listen to stories about the importance of these symbols and find them in picture books or family photographs.

Some symbols have a special meaning, and some are representative. Different symbols are used in Tapa cloth and tatau and many of these symbols represent the natural world. Tattoo symbols are found right across the Pacific, and their simple shapes and lines make them easy to draw. Try a small whiteboard and pen, cotton buds and black paint, or a stamp made out of sponges. If any of your family have Pacific tatau, they may be able to show them and tell the story of why and how they were chosen.

Music and dance

 Two children dressed up and dancing on a mat in their room.

Each Pacific island has a distinctive music and dance style. Songs are sung for work, worship, and enjoyment. Many songs have actions that connect children to Pacific languages and movements. Wellbeing is enhanced when children are able to respond to rhythm and sounds that they recognise and can connect to.

Sing simple songs that you know from your own childhood. Infants will respond as they hear your voice and a familiar tune.

Anything can be a drum, and young children can make their own rhythms, or play along to pre-recorded music.

If you feel nervous about dancing, watch some YouTube clips with your child and learn the dance together.

Just listening to music fires up a young brain. Have music on at home or in the car. Children can dress up and move in their own way.

Actions are great for teaching repetitive motor skills that help with muscle and brain development and help to tell a story.

The beat and rhythm of music and the ways children move their bodies as they dance are all part of early mathematical learning. Talk with children about the sequence and patterns of sāsā and siva.