[New Zealand] Te Whāriki 2017: a refreshed early childhood curriculum for New Zealand - Projects



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[New Zealand] Te Whāriki 2017: a refreshed early childhood curriculum for New Zealand

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New Zealand's early childhood curriculum document, Te Whāriki, was originally developed in 1996. At the time it was recognised as ground-breaking for, amongst other features, its bicultural, inclusive and holistic approach to curriculum and its aspiration for children:

"to grow up as 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" (Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 9).

In the twenty years since its introduction, there has been increasing evidence that whilst some New Zealand early childhood education (ECE) services were implementing the curriculum well, there were many that were struggling to offer the depth and breadth of curriculum experiences expressed in the aspiration statement above (Education Review Office, 2016). Calls for the curriculum to be reviewed came from several quarters, including the Advisory Group on Early Learning established by the New Zealand government in 2014 who recommended "the Ministry of Education commission an update of Te Whāriki" (Advisory Group on Early Learning, 2015, p. 15). This recommendation was adopted with the review of Te Whāriki beginning in August 2016.

A writers' group was established, comprising seven academics and highly experienced early childhood practitioners. The writing group undertook an initial re-drafting of the curriculum which was then released in late 2016 for wide-spread consultation. Following submissions on the draft revised Te Whāriki, the final document was launched in April 2017.

Key changes in the revised Te Whāriki 2017

Whilst Te Whāriki 2017 has retained the four overarching principles - Empowerment, Family and Community, Holistic Development, and Relationships - and the five strands and associated goals, one of the major changes has been the reduction in the number of learning outcomes from 118 to 20. Collectively, these learning outcomes articulate valued learning within the curriculum which all children should achieve, with support, as a result of their participation in ECE programmes. Table 1 below outlines the relationship between the strands, goals and learning outcomes.

 Children experience an environment where:Over time and with guidance and encouragement, children become increasingly capable of:
Wellbeing Their health is promotedKeeping themselves healthy and caring for themselves
Their emotional wellbeing is nurtured Managing themselves and expressing their feelings and needs
They are kept safe from harmKeeping themselves and others safe from harm
Belonging Connecting links with the family and the wider world are affirmed and extended Making connections between people, places and things in their world
They know that they have a place Taking part in caring for this place
They feel comfortable with the routines, customs and regular events Understanding how things work here and adapting to change
They know the limits and boundaries of acceptable behaviour Showing respect for kaupapa (customs), rules and the rights of others
Contribution There are equitable opportunities for learning, irrespective of gender, ability, age, ethnicity or background Treating others fairly and including them in play
They are affirmed as individuals Recognising and appreciating their own ability to learn
They are encouraged to learn with and alongside others Using a range of strategies and skills to play and learn with others
CommunicationThey develop non-verbal communication skills for a range of purposes Using gesture and movement to express themselves
They develop verbal communication skills for a range of purposes Understanding oral language *1 and using it for a range of purposes
They experience the stories and symbols of their own and other culturesEnjoying hearing *2 stories and retelling and creating them
Recognising print symbols and concepts and using them with enjoyment, meaning and purpose
Recognising mathematical symbols and concepts and using them with enjoyment, meaning and purpose
They discover different ways to be creative and expressive Expressing their feelings and ideas using a range of materials and modes
Exploration Their play is valued as meaningful learning and the importance of spontaneous play is recognised Playing, imagining, inventing and experimenting
They gain confidence in and control of their bodies Moving confidently and challenging themselves physically
They learn strategies for active exploration, thinking and reasoning Using a range of strategies for reasoning and problem solving
They develop working theories for making sense of the natural, social, physical and material worlds Making sense of their worlds by generating and refining working theories
Table 1: Te Whāriki 2017 strands, goals and learning outcomes (English only)

Alongside the reduction in the number of learning outcomes, the revised Te Whāriki 2017 has a stronger focus on kaiako *3 recognising and responding to children's language, culture and identity as an integral part of the curriculum experiences offered to children. Thus, for example, kaiako are expected to incorporate te reo Māori (Māori language) within their interactions with children and to incorporate Māori cultural values and knowledge within the programme. To illustrate, many ECE services have a strong focus on sustainability and incorporate Māori cultural practices in activities such as developing gardens and sharing the fruit and vegetables with families alongside using this produce to prepare food with the children in the programme. Such practices reflect manaakitanga (caring for others) and kaitiakitanga or "guardianship, responsibility and care for the environment" (Ritchie, Duhn, Rau and Craw, 2010, p. 2).

Alongside the bicultural nature of our country established by our founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand is becoming an increasingly multicultural society. There are now over 80 languages spoken by children who attend ECE and so focusing on learning that is important to the local community includes kaiako also being responsive to the home languages, cultures and identities of all children attending their service. New sections within Te Whāriki 2017 provide significantly more guidance about teaching practice to kaiako and to leaders within ECE services than was evident in the original curriculum. This increased guidance reflects greater understandings of the important role of leadership in contributing to the quality of ECE programmes. There is also an increased expectation that kaiako are able to "facilitate children's learning and development through thoughtful and intentional pedagogy" drawing on "a wide range of capabilities" (Ministry of Education, 2017, p. 59). Fifteen distinct areas of capabilities are identified, including being:

  • knowledgeable about play-based curriculum and pedagogy and able to conceptualise, plan and enact curriculum that is motivating, enjoyable and accessible for all children
  • able to integrate domain knowledge (for example, science and arts knowledge) into the curriculum
  • thoughtful and reflective about what they do, using evidence, critical inquiry and problem solving to shape their practice (p.59).

In addition to outlining these capabilities, throughout the document there are statements highlighting the expectations held of kaiako. As an example, the section entitled A curriculum for all children articulates children's rights to "protection and promotion of their health and wellbeing, to equitable access to learning opportunities, to recognition of their language, culture and identity and, increasingly, to agency in their own lives" (Ministry of Education, 2017, p. 12).

The challenges within Te Whāriki 2017

The familiar components of the original Te Whāriki have the potential to mask, to some degree, the deep challenges that are embedded within Te Whāriki 2017. As noted above, national evaluations of the extent to which ECE services were implementing the original curriculum undertaken by the Education Review Office indicated widespread variability in the depth and breadth of curriculum experiences offered to children. Addressing this variability requires kaiako to be much more intentional in how they plan for and offer curriculum experiences that enable all children to achieve the learning outcomes, with support and guidance, across the five curriculum strands. A key challenge for kaiako lies in making "intentional decisions about when to be engaged in or guide children's play, as well as when not to be involved as children self-explore or explore with peers, in order to support learning" (McLaughlin & Cherrington, in press, p.7).

The expectation that kaiako engage in bicultural teaching practices and that they are able to effectively support children's developing identities, languages and cultures is a further challenge offered by Te Whāriki 2017. A survey of diversity in New Zealand ECE found that practitioners were predominately Pākeha (New Zealand European) and whilst many teams may include ethnically diverse staff, kaiako from "minority ethnic backgrounds are often the only person of that ethnicity within the team" (Cherrington & Shuker, 2012, p. 82). When asked about the languages that kaiako spoke with children, 97% of respondents identified that they spoke English, 56.1% that they spoke te reo Māori and 10.1% that they spoke Samoan. The remaining seven languages used by kaiako with children identified by respondents were used with less than 10% of centres (Cherrington & Shuker, 2012). Clearly, the 80 languages used by children in ECE services (Education Counts, 2017) are unlikely to also be used by adults in the service to support children's learning.

A final challenge lies in the provision of continuing professional development to support kaiako in strengthening their practices and knowledge required to fully implement Te Whāriki 2017. The initial professional development offered when the revised curriculum was launched has focused primarily on helping kaiako to "unpack" and identify the changes in the curriculum. However, in-depth professional learning is necessary to address the recommendations of the Advisory Group on Early Learning for sustained professional development to support the implementation of Te Whāriki. At the time of writing it remains to be seen whether such professional development is provided to the ECE sector.

  • *1 In this document, 'oral language' encompasses any method of communication the child uses as a first language; this includes New Zealand Sign Language and, for children who are non-verbal, alternative and augmentative communication (AAC).
  • *2 For children who are deaf or hard of hearing, 'hearing' includes watching.
  • *3 Kaiako is the Māori word for teacher and combines a focus on both learning and teaching. It is used throughout Te Whāriki 2017 as an inclusive term to encompass both qualified teachers and those practitioners who do not hold teaching qualifications.


  • Advisory Group on Early Learning. (2015). Report of the Advisory Group on Early Learning. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
  • Cherrington, S. & Shuker, M.J. (2012). Diversity amongst New Zealand early childhood educators. New Zealand Journal of Teachers' Work, 9(2), 76-94
  • Education Counts. (2017). Language use in ECE. Wellington: Ministry of Education. Downloaded 6 April 2018 from https://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/statistics/early-childhood-education/language-use-in-ece
  • Education Review Office. (2016). Early childhood curriculum: What's important and what works. Wellington: New Zealand Government, 31 March 2018, Retrieved from http://www.ero.govt.nz/assets/Uploads/ERO-Early-Learning-Curriculum-WEB.pdf
  • McLaughlin, T. & Cherrington, S. (in press). Creating a rich curriculum through intentional teaching. Early Childhood Folio.
  • Ministry of Education. (2017). Te Whāriki. He whāriki mātauranga mō ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa Early childhood curriculum. Wellington: Ministry of Education.
  • Ministry of Education. (1996). Te Whāriki. He whāriki mātauranga mō ngā mokopuna o Aotearoa Early childhood curriculum. Wellington: Learning Media.
  • Ritchie, J., Duhn, I., Rau, C., & Craw, J. (2010). Titiro Whakamuri, Hoki Whakamua. We are the future, the present and the past: Caring for self, others and the environment in early years' teaching and learning. Wellington, NZ: Teaching and Learning Research Initiative.
Sue_Cherrington.jpg Sue Cherrington
Dr Sue Cherrington is the Associate Dean (Academic) in the Faculty of Education at Victoria University of Wellington. Sue has an extensive background in early childhood education, initially as a kindergarten teacher and, since 1992, in early childhood teacher education. Sue’s research and teaching interests are focused on professional development and learning within educational contexts and ECE teachers’ professional practices.