Laufatu o mamanu
Symbols and patterns
The symbols and patterns of Pacific cultures are a way to make sense of the world.
Symbols and patterns from a Pacific perspective connect people spiritually and to their surroundings.
Cultural practices in the Pacific are strongly influenced by the symbols and patterns in the environment. For example, tapa, tatau, carving, ietoga, ula, and la’ei carry multiple narratives and expressions of creation and connection that tells stories of culture, communities, traditions, and genealogy.
For children of Pacific heritages, the foundation for their explorations resides in elders, families, and communities. As children watch and join in cultural experiences they learn about and begin to interpret the patterns and symbols that have significance in their culture.
Children learn through exploration and build their competence in maths literacy and language by recognising the symbols and patterns in the natural, social, physical, spiritual, and human-made environments around them.
Te Whāriki states that “The environment is rich in signs, symbols, words, numbers, song, dance, drama, and art that give expression to and extend children’s understandings of their own and other languages and cultures”. Te Whariki (Ministry of Education, 2019, p45)
Including cultural symbols and patterns in early childhood environments and local curriculum design affirms and connects children to their culture and promotes creativity.
How do we apply it in practice?
We invite you to view the symbols and patterns video and consider how you are supporting Pacific learners to know their identities, languages, and cultures through symbols and patterns.
Learning about symbols and patterns involves mathematical concepts and problem-solving.
To grasp the abstract conventions of mathematics such as number and measurement, children first need frequent and equal opportunities to manipulate objects and make sense of the relationships between these, and hear mathematical concepts and vocabulary from kaiako and others around them. Consider patterns, sorting, shapes, and measuring.
In the video, you will see and hear tamaiti and kaiako involved in meaningful experiences that include symbols and patterns from different Pacific cultures.
Watch as kaiako:
- share the ways they integrate symbols and patterns into planned and spontaneous experiences and activities with tamaiti as part of their local curriculum design
- use their knowledge of traditional cultural materials and are creative about the ways they can provide alternative materials so that tamaiti can access and experience cultural activities in meaningful ways
- make use of the natural environment to access resources and materials
- intentionally discuss the symbols and patterns to extend children's interest and thinking, and connect to the materials, environment, and surroundings.
Ideas for your service
A significant feature relating to the transferring of cultural knowledge through symbols and patterns is the concept of tei laititi-tei matua, similar to the Cook Island Māori concept of tuakana-teina, where older tamaiti take on the role of teaching younger tamaiti. It is critical that kaiako honour the personal cultural knowledge and experiences that Pacific tamaiti bring with them to the early childhood service and provide opportunities for tamaiti to use this knowledge to strengthen their sense of their identities, languages, cultures, belonging, and wellbeing.
The artwork of tamaiti is displayed in the centre and shared with families via an online learning documentation system such as Seesaw, on Facebook, and in learning journals or portfolios.
- Engage with your Pacific parents and community to find out about the symbols and patterns that are culturally important to them, and how they would like to see them represented in your service.
- Think about Pacific art as part of a wider way of life. In this video, art is seen not as something you hang on the wall, but as something purposeful, to be worn, and danced in. What kind of art could you do with tamaiti that shows a similar purpose?
- Adornment is one of the many ways Pacific children will see patterns and symbols in their lives. Have lots of shells, feathers, flowers, wire, seed pods, and string or ribbon, so that children can recreate the adornments they see worn by their families at home, at church, or at special events.
- Encourage tamaiti to see symbols and patterns in the natural world and in their everyday lives. Look for patterns on animals, leaves, and feathers. Make repeating patterns with flowers or sticks, or in the sand. Look for symbols on flags or clothing, and in books or photographs. More traditional Pacific patterns can be created with natural materials and made into outdoor artworks.
- As a team, learn about cultural practices that are influenced by symbols and patterns. Think about the significant activities you were involved in as a child, or that tamaiti are involved in now. Many Pacific cultures have objects that show symbols or patterns that are presented or used on special occasions, like hiapo or tivaevae. Letting tamaiti explore these rituals means they are making sense of what they see adults do, as well as seeing the connection with symbols and patterns in their lives here in Aotearoa.
- Think of ways that you can connect with Pacific symbols and patterns through maths games, art activities, language games, dance, and drama experiences.
- When children are involved in experiences and activities, engage in conversations with them about the patterns and symbols you can see.
- Think about the ways you can invite children and their fanau to share cultural resources and materials they may no longer be using, and repurpose them for an art activity.
- Use resources that are easy for you to source in your local community, and substitute when you can’t get authentic materials. Create a collection point at the centre where families can leave found materials that you could use for arts.
- Explore patterns and shapes with printmaking techniques, such as stamping, rolling, stencilling, or PVA prints.
- Allow younger children and babies to investigate symbols and patterns with larger objects, like large painted stones or coconut shells. Put paint in closed ziplock bags and let them draw with a finger. Make stamps with sponge or cardboard rolls.
In your service:
- What regular opportunities do children have to experience the stories and symbols from their own and other cultures?
- Do all children experience fair and equitable access to participation in opportunities that include cultural symbols and patterns?
- How can you engage in conversations with tamaiti to grow their awareness of the symbols and patterns in their surroundings?
- How do you support children to recognise cultural symbols and patterns in your service and beyond in the community?
- What do you know about Samoan tatau (tattoo), Tongan ngatu, (siapo/tapa), Cook Island tivaevae (quilts), and Niuean kahoa hihi (woven necklaces)? How can you share this with tamaiti to connect them to the symbols and patterns of different cultures?
- What natural resources can you source from your local environment for children to use in cultural activities such as threading necklaces, weaving titi and ‘ei making.
- How could you use what you have learnt here to help drive your local curriculum planning?
- How could you discover the aspirations parents and families have for their tamaiti in the arts?
- How are you intentionally drawing children's attention to the mathematical concepts inherent in symbols and patterns (matching, repeating, shapes etc)?
These reflective questions and provocations remind us of the holistic ways that the four key Pacific art areas are interconnected and woven together.
Knowing your tamaiti and their families and community well, and allowing them to explore their languages, cultures and identities through symbols and patterns, gives them the tools to explore their connections to the past as well as where they are right now.
Each Pacific heritage has its own unique way of looking at the world - explaining that world through symbols and patterns is common to all Pacific cultures. The repetition of symbols and patterns over time and their continued use in rituals and everyday life has helped to keep languages, cultures, and identities alive.
Toku fenua ko toku tofi
My land is my birthright