Te Whatu Kete Matauranga: Weaving Māori and Pasifika infant and toddler theory and practice in early childhood education

Funding year: 
2 years
University of Waikato
ECE sector
Project start date: 
January 2015
Project end date: 
March 2017
Principal investigator(s): 
Dr. Lesley Rameka
Research team members: 
Ali Glasgow
Research partners: 
Victoria University of Wellington; three Te Wānanga o Aotearoa Early Learning Centres; three EFKS A'oga Amata


Project description

In this project we utilise the metaphor of weaving three kete mātauranga, baskets of knowledge: Māori; Pasifika; and Polynesian. Traditional/contemporary knowledge, theory and practice of infant and toddler education and care will be collected for Māori and Pasifika early childhood services. This will be integrated into a Polynesian kete for mainstream early childhood services.

The research explored how early childhood services can better integrate culture into teaching practices by creating culturally responsive, infant and toddler teaching and learning theory and practice guidelines. We aim to create new knowledge—theoretical statements about teaching and learning by reclaiming traditional and contemporary Māori and Pasifika knowledge, practices and understandings of the care and education for infants and toddlers and by reframing these understandings for contemporary early childhood services. We utilised this culturally-grounded rationality as a basis for the development of theory and culturally-embedded practice in Māori and Pasifika early childhood services. Lastly, we will use the findings from our work with Māori and Pasifika services to create theoretical statements which will include theoretical themes, practice guidelines and examples of practice for mainstream early childhood services. The overall aim of the project, therefore, is not only to support culturally-embedded infant and toddler provision in Māori and Pasifika early childhood services, but to provide culturally relevant theory and practice for all early childhood teachers and services.

Why is this research important

Early childhood has an important role in building strong learning foundations to support the development of competent and confident learners. Early childhood services, however, continue to fail to meet the needs of Māori and Pasifika children including infants and toddlers (ERO 2010). Key to educational success for all children is the acknowledgement that children are culturally located and the recognition that effective education must embrace culture. To date, there is a noticeable gap in the literature with regard to Māori and Pasifika perspectives of infant and toddler provision. The aim of this project is to address this gap.

Key findings

Culturally responsive theory and practice for Maori/Pasifika infants requires relationships with, and understandings of te Ao, te tamaiti and te whānau Maori/Pasifika. Reclaiming, reframing and realizing Māori and Pasifika cultural knowledges in contemporary early childhood contexts, is critical to the development of these relationships and understandings. The research highlighted the importance of reclaiming cultural knowledges including valued skills, knowledge and attitudes, and identity markers. Reframing these knowledges required that kaiako draw upon cultural tools/practices/artefacts to support valued traits, competencies and relationships. When realised cultural knowledges; reflected teacher’s understandings of valued learnings, were underpinned identity and belong within communities, and empowered Māori and Pasifika infants and toddlers.

Implications for practice

Currently, most Māori and Pasifika infants and toddlers are cared for by early childhood services teachers who use predominantly western theoretical lenses. Culturally responsive provision for infants and toddlers requires that Māori and Pasifika:
• cultural knowledges and competencies be foregrounded in Initial Teacher Education;
• cultural tools, practices and artefacts be authentically and meaningfully implemented in early childhood services;
• cultural knowledges, values and beliefs be modelled, encouraged and valued.
Traditional Māori and Pasifika caregiving practices and beliefs for infants and toddlers offer an important alternative to dominant western theory and practice, prevalent in current early childhood provision. This alternative highlights that:
• cultural worldviews are located within specific community contexts;
• whānau/community contributions are fundamental to culturally located practices;
• kaiako must seek cultural expertise from the community.
Maori and Pasifika constructs of infants and toddlers differ in kind and emphasis from the western constructs, espoused and normalized in early childhood theory and practice. Key implications include recognition that:
• infants and toddlers are competent no matter their age;
• culture is critical to identity development and children’s sense of belonging;
• tuākana/tēina partnerships are essential for optimal teina/tuākana learning;
• kaiako foster tuākana/tēina relationships, by stepping back;
• mixed age early childhood settings are compatible with tuākana/tēina practices;
• tuakana/teina learning is a culturally responsive pedagogical approach.

Our Partners

Patti Howarth - Te Wānanga o Aotearoa - Te Puna Whakatupu o Ngā Kākano o te Mānuka Cindy Wills - Te Wānanga o Aotearoa - Te Puna Whakatupu o Whare Āmai
Ani Rikihana - Te Wānanga o Aotearoa - Te Puna Whakatupu o Raroera Te Puāwai
Saddie Fiti - EFKS Aoga Amata Newtown
Bridget Kauraka - Punanga Reo Kuki Airani Berhampore
Rita Iosefo - Matiti Akonga Amata


Lesley Rameka                    Ali Glasgow

Contact details

Dr Lesley Rameka 
Phone:  07 557 8743
Email: lesley.rameka@waikato.ac.nz
Te Kura Toi Tangata Faculty of Education,
The University of Waikato