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Te toitūtanga


Environmental Education for Sustainability (EEfS)

EEfS goes beyond “caring for the environment”. It is about the global social, cultural, and economic wellbeing of all people – as well as our planet, and the biodiversity that relies upon it. EEfS encompasses an overlapping matrix of global citizenship, democracy, and the environment.

In the context of the early years curriculum, EEfS involves ideas and practices associated with sustainability, climate change, critical thinking, identity, community, and kaitiakitanga.

One of the taonga of the Tiriti o Waitangi is kaitiakitanga, meaning stewardship, protection, and preservation. It is a way of respecting and caring for the environment, based on a Māori worldview.

Kaiako support mokopuna to engage respectfully with, and to have aroha for, Papatūānuku. They encourage an understanding of kaitiakitanga and the responsibilities of being a kaitiaki by, for example, caring for rivers, native forest, and birds.

Te Whāriki, page 33

There are three dimensions to EEfS, each suggesting a different role for learners and teachers. While the first two are important, it is working in the third dimension – education for the environment – where the impact of learning is most substantial and sustainable.

  • Education in the environment – for example, visiting a place of environmental interest.
  • Education about the environment – for example, researching places, things, and events (including cultural narratives).
  • Education for the environment – for example, tamariki as active citizens (civic actors) and agents of change with a degree of action competence to advocate for a healthy environment and society.


Children gardening.

Learner focus 

There are strong synergies between early learning and the characteristics of EEfS. Both highlight attention to learning dispositions and working theories.

The three dimensions of EEfS call for different approaches to teaching and learning practice.

1. Education in the environment

Kaiako take tamariki on a planned excursion to the local park. Tamariki explore the space, kaiako engage in learning conversations before returning to the early learning setting.

2. Education about the environment

Kaiako follow up a conversation regarding the rubbish in the creek. Tamariki had noticed the rubbish when they walked over the bridge to the park. Photographs are displayed for discussion. Kaiako document the tamariki comments.

3. Education for the environment

Through learning conversations with kaiako, tamariki come to understand that the rubbish in the creek is a problem. Kaiako see this as a potential and rich opportunity for tamariki to learn about agency, citizenship, and taking civic action to improve well being for “people, places, and things”. The conversations with tamariki – which are documented – become more solution focused and draw in the support of whānau. They decide to inform the local council. A photo display, together with a list of the tamariki concerns and ideas for solutions, are sent to the council office. Tamariki are informed that the council agree to support a “clean up” and have signs erected to care for the waterway. Each time the tamariki visit the park, either with the early childhood service or whānau, they check in on the well-being of the creek.

Kaitiakitanga at Te Puna Reo o Puhi Kaiti

Erana Haerewa describes how tamariki, guided by Kaiako and a local environmentalist, have become kaitiaki for the inanga in a local river at Te Puna Reo Māori o Puhi Kaiti.

  • Transcript

    Transcript Transcript

    Ko Pātangata te maunga, ko Wharekahika te awa ko Hinemaurea te marae, ko Ngāti Porou te iwi, ko Tūwhakairiora te hapū, ko Horouta te waka. Ko wai ahau? Ko Erana Haerewa ahau. Nō Wharekahika, nō Ngāti Porou hoki. Ko au te kaihautū o te waka o Te Puna Reo o Puhi Kaiti. Tokoono ōku tamariki, tokowaru ōku mokopuna. Kei a ratou aku taonga mō apōpō. Tēnei te mihi ki a koutou i tēnei rā.

    My name is Erana Haerewa and I am the tumuaki of Te Puna Reo Puhi Kaiti. We are a Māori immersion centre, licensed for 37 tamariki. We have 11 kaiako within our team and our curriculum delivery is based on Ngāti Poroutanga. Our kaitiakitanga project here at Te Puna Reo is focused on the whenua and for our children to be connected to Papatūānuku. The project here, sustaining the inganga, started from a little boy who was very, very keen on the outdoors and marine life. His dad is a marine biologist in Tauranga Moana and he was bringing that learning back into Puna. Through my networking and my contacts within the community, I was able to source an environmentalist to come on board with us and work with us for a year with our Kaitiakitanga practice and project where we helped sustain inanga. The children made inanga rolls. They visited the streams and they measured the life of the inanga in the streams, they planted trees, they really became engaged in that learning and passionate about wildlife and doing their bit for Papatūānuku. The results were amazing because now we’ve got keen little marine biologists here at Puna Reo and that learning has gone back into their own lives and with their own whānau. Children engaging and wanting to go to the beach and kohikohi rāpihi go fishing so the families have really become engaged.


Fulfilling the promise of a rich curriculum through EEfS

It is the third dimension – education for the environment – that is most likely to bring about changes in attitudes and behaviours for individuals and communities. In other words, where deeper learning for tamariki is likely to take place. This learning includes tamariki developing:

Action competence

Tamariki develop action competence when they engage in problem solving, and take action with a shared vision for improvement for the environment. Competence aligns with being able and willing to be a participant. Action is concerned with behaviours, movements, and habits.


When tamariki experience a rich EEfS curriculum in the early years, they begin to develop an environmental identity (also known as ecological identity). This identity helps determine how they orientate themselves to the world around them. Tamariki with a strong sense of environmental identity begin to personalise and consider wider global issues. They are therefore more likely to be proactive within their context.

A sense of agency

An understanding that through their mana and their voice they can make a positive difference. Their ideas and opinions count. When tamariki feel they have agency, practices and knowledge are more likely to become embedded.

Curiosity and a sense of wonder

The complexity within environmental sustainability issues presents excellent opportunities for inquiry, curiosity, and wonder.


Te Whāriki 2017 encourages kaiako to support young children to have “a sense of themselves as global citizens” (p.12), recognising that “As global citizens in a rapidly changing and increasingly connected world, children need to be adaptive, creative and resilient” (p. 7). EEfS also provides opportunities to introduce tamariki to concepts of democracy and citizenship where they can be both problem seekers and problem solvers. When tamariki act collectively for a common goal of mutual benefit, they become “civic actors”.

Understanding of kaitiakitanga

Place-based education is a powerful and practical way for tamariki and communities to explore and understand the tikanga of their local context and mātauranga Māori. Place-based experiences enable tamariki, whānau, and kaiako to develop attitudes and dispositions to think and act as kaitiaki. It does this by weaving the curriculum with the local environment, its history and that of local hapū, and those who hold mana whenua.

Domain knowledge

EEfS is a platform for cross-curriculum domain knowledge (maths, literacy, and science).

Role of kaiako

The role of the kaiako in EEfS is to co-construct learning pathways as tamariki develop working theories in response to the world around them. Kaiako do this by providing provocations and modelling curiosity and inquiry. They also contribute by igniting and strengthening community connections and projects around EEfS with tamariki.

Kaiako who are effective supporting EEfS are those who:

  • have knowledge and understanding around the benefits of communities of practice
  • include place-based education and understanding of mātauranga Māori in their curriculum design
  • surface what matters here for EEfS in their context
  • are creative and articulate in identifying the cross-curricula domain knowledge in EEfS
  • grow their EEfS knowledge base and build capacity in others
  • are informed about the impacts of climate change
  • advocate for EEfS in strategic thinking, policy, and future visions
  • create measures of success to highlight the impact of engagement.

Ko te manu e kai ana i te miro, nōna te ngahere. Engari, ko to manu e kai ana i te mātauranga, nōna te ao

The one who partakes of the flora and fauna, that will be their domain. The one who engages in education, opportunities are boundless.

Mātauranga Whakauka Taiao / Environmental Education for Sustainability Strategy and Action Plan, 2017-2021