Skip to content

Ngākau māhaki – grace is her gift

Key points

  • Tamariki are surrounded by the strengths of their ancestors
  • Whānau aspirations are present throughout the day
  • Kaiako use the traits of Māui to recognise and nurture giftedness

Te Ataraupo showing aroha to a another child much younger than her by talking to them over a low table.

At Karanga Mai Early Learning Centre in Kaiapoi, North Canterbury, kaiako regard themselves as part of the hapori of tamariki, whānau, and hapū. They work intergenerationally with parents, grandparents, and whānau to nurture a te ao Māori world view of giftedness. As Nat Hape, Kaiwhakahaere, says “Tamariki do not come to us in isolation; they arrive at Karanga Mai embraced by the strengths, skills, and gifts of their ancestors – Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini – an embodiment of the mana of their tīpuna.”

One of the special characteristics of early learning centres that are attached to teen parent units is that whānau, usually the young mothers, are available alongside kaiako and tamariki throughout the day. Often, the mothers are still living with their mātua (parents) or other members of their whānau. This offers many opportunities to unpack the gifts of tamariki with grandparents or great-grandparents at home. “Whānau, in the fullest sense of the word, are nurtured holistically at Karanga Mai," Nat says.

Recognising the gifts tamariki bring

Kaiako believe that all tamariki arrive full of potential and stand with mana. They recognise children’s gifts in numerous ways. For them, it’s not just about curriculum areas, it’s a holistic approach, supported by Te Whatu Pōkeka and the characteristics of Māui.

Characteristics of Māui

Mana identity pride, inner strength
Manaakitanga caring, sharing, kindness, supporting others, being a friend
Whakakata humour, fun
Whakatoi cunning, trickery, cheekiness
Pātaitai testing, challenging, questioning, curiosity, exploring, risk-taking
Māiatanga confidence, self-reliance, self-assurance, leadership, perseverance
Māramatanga developing understanding, working through difficulty, lateral thinking
Hononga tuakana, teina, ako, whanaungatanga

Nat shared her experience of meeting a young kōtiro, Te Ataraupo, who was almost 3 years old at the time. Nat says, “Her ngākau māhaki, her graciousness, was immediately apparent. We could see how she fitted in effortlessly, supporting others with manaaki aroha, to join in. Her depth and breadth of empathy was striking. We felt she was an old soul – her wairua is such that you know her tīpuna sit at her shoulders guiding her.”

Te Ataraupo being a tuakana by reading a story to a baby.

Putting professional learning into practice

At around the time Te Ataraupo started, the kaiako were participating in some Ministry of Education professional learning and development which focused on te ao Māori notions of giftedness. A series of webinars plus mentoring enabled the kaiako to explore notions of giftedness using the traits of Māui.

See Te Whatu Pōkeka as well as other frameworks like Mana Tū, Mana Ora.

A section from Mana tū, mana ora by Pita and Claire Mahaki resonated:


Tamati akonga i te kainga, tau ai i te marae

A child educated to be strong in their own identity stands as a chief on the land

Tamariki gifted in Rangatiratanga:

  • have mana amongst their peers
  • are visionary and strategic thinkers: their opinions are sought, valued, and considered
  • stand up for beliefs and values sometimes against adversity
  • inspire and motivate others to work for the common good
  • show initiative and motivation; see beyond the obvious to recognise what needs to be done
  • often have the mandate from the group as the spokesperson
  • can reflect and present controversial ideas with respect."

Many of these characteristics aligned with their observations of Te Ataraupo’s gifts and affirmed their te ao Māori worldview. Nat says, “Te Ataraupo led us, as kaiako, into some deep, deep kōrero and increased our knowledge of what giftedness means. She has an ability to think strategically about what is going on around her. This means she is often seen nurturing others (tuakana and teina) as they navigate their pathways through routines, rituals, and special events, such as Matariki, or welcoming manuhiri.”

Sharing giftedness knowledge with whānau

Sharing their observations of Te Ataraupo’s humility and graciousness created opportunities for kaiako to introduce indigenous beliefs about giftedness into their kōrero with whānau.

These talks revealed stories about Te Ataraupo’s tīpuna who had the same gifts. Kaiako could see how these gifts lived on in Te Ataraupo, strengthening intergenerational ties, and bringing to life the whakatauakī, Tū mai e moko. Te whakaata o ō matua. Te moko o ō tīpuna. (Stand strong, o moko. The reflection of your parents. The blueprint of your ancestors.) As Nat commented, “For us, it is all about te ao Māori. We live and breathe what we do in our hapori where tamariki and whānau are nurtured in te ao Māori – and whānau includes our tīpuna.”

Te Ataraupo sharing an experience of lying in the mud with another child

Questions to think about

  • In te ao Māori, all children are gifted. How do you ensure you recognise this?
  • What can you, as kaiako, do to nurture children’s gifts?

Useful resources 

Bevan-Brown, J.M. (2009). Identifying and providing for gifted and talented Māori students. APEX, 15(4), 6-20. Retrieved from:

Mahaki, P., & Mahaki, C. (2007) “Mana Tū, Mana Ora: Identifying Characteristics of Māori Giftedness”. Retrieved from

Ministry of Education, (2009). Te Whatu Pōkeka. Kaupapa Māori assessment for learning. Early childhood exemplars. Wellington, NZ. Learning Media

Ministy of Education, (2019). Learning support action plan. Ministry of Education. Retrieved from

You might also like ...