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An Introduction To Early Years Education In New Zealand

An Introduction To Early Years Education In NZ

As a parent, moving to a new country comes with a whole extra set of challenges, not least of which is settling your children into a new school or nursery. In New Zealand, the compulsory school age is six, but children generally start the term after they turn five. Prior to that, most children either attend preschool or kindergarten, both of which use the Te Whāriki model of education. 

In this article, we’ll explore what this means for your child and how it differs from the UK system. 

What Is Te Whāriki?

The translation of Te Whāriki is “woven mat”, describing how the foundational principles and goals are woven together to create a framework for education. And, like weaving, every mat is different – there are no set guidelines for curriculum content or methodology. 

New Zealand emphasises the importance of social and cultural learning, as well as relationships, for young children from birth through school enrollment. While “relationships” were traditionally focused on playing nicely with others, New Zealand’s approach includes emphasis on a child’s relationship with the natural environment and their geography too. 

The curriculum states the goal of facilitating:

“Competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society.”

  • Early Child Curriculum, New Zealand Ministry of Education

‍The Principles of Te Whāriki

Te Whāriki has four main principles that guide early years teachers.

1. Whakamana – Empowerment

The early childhood curriculum gives the child the ability to learn and flourish.

2. Kotahitanga – Holistic Development

The early childhood curriculum emphasises that children learn and grow holistically.

3. Whānau Tangata – Family and Community

The larger world of family and community is an important aspect of early childhood education.

4. Ngā Hononga – Relationships

Children learn from people, places, and things through responsive and reciprocal relationships.

These four principles are then woven through the five strands of child development to constitute developmental, cultural, and learning goals. The strands are:

  • Wellbeing | Mana atua
  • Belonging | Mana whenua
  • Contribution | Mana tangata
  • Communication | Mana reo 
  • Exploration | Mana aotūroa

What Does This Mean For Your Child?

Long story short, what does Te Whāriki mean for your child? 

While not vastly different to the UK’s EYFS system, you’ll find that there is less focus on academic prowess and more on your child’s personal development. Children aren’t treated as empty vessels that need to be filled with knowledge. They are seen to carry the wisdom of their ancestors, they simply need guidance to bring out their best. 

You’ll find more schools incorporating the values of Te Whāriki into their practice too. Many primary schools now use play-based learning for new entrant classes and continue to incorporate “loose parts” or free play within the curriculum until Year 6. 

You can learn more about Te Whāriki at myece.org.nz

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