September 22, 2022

Developing a sense of place: Indigenizing early learning environments with He Pī Ka Rere  

“A developing sense of place is linked to a sense of belonging. A sense of belonging contributes to children’s overall social and emotional development.” (Epstein 2009)

Children are born ready and eager to explore our physical world and begin developing their sense of place in early childhood. Equipped with curiosity and their five senses, young children set out to explore their environment to make sense of the world around them.

Māori have understood the importance of this for generations, weaving pūrākau (stories of origin) and takaro (play) together, so tamariki have an embedded sense of place in the world, tūrangawaewae.

Bringing this knowledge into the modern world, He Pī Ka Rere was created to nurture and develop the whole being of tamariki (children). He Pī Ka Rere connects traditional Māori knowledge through games and activities to whakapapa and expands knowledge of language, waiata (singing), arts, and Te Ao Māori (Māori world view).

He Pī Ka Rere has been trialled in five mainstream early childhood education (ECE) centres in West Auckland, involving 215 tamariki and whānau (families) through 17 interactive sessions with kaiako (teachers) and tamariki taking part. The trial demonstrated clear success and achievement across every indicator, including knowledge, movement, activity and self-directed play. View the full evaluation here.

Rautaki Māori (Māori Systems Lead), Mike Tipene Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, continues.

“Trialling He Pī Ka Rere in mainstream early learning environments evidenced the kaupapa physical, emotional and social benefits for all children to enjoy at their own level of capability – with success for everyone who participates. Kaiako unanimously reflected on how tamariki were improving their movement skills, using Te Reo daily and interpreting their place in the world using Atua (gods).”

“Continued participation of tamariki in He Pī ka rere throughout their time in ECE will provide them a basic level of Te reo Māori and Māori concepts that will enhance their move into primary school.”

Kaiako also shared how He Pī Ka Rere enabled less confident tamariki to grow physically and socially assured. One child who was a shyer member of the classroom has since found new confidence in movement and gone on to play social sport:

“[Through He Pī Ka Rere, he started] using different parts of [his] body, crawling and collecting the cones, balancing on the rope. Later he was playing with the ball, kicking it around. After seeing this, his parents got him involved in rugby; he started to make more friends. He grew that confidence from learning how to move his body.”

Centre kaiako

One kaiako cited an example of a boy described as having limited physical ability:

“He was outside, he’d drawn a hopscotch, and was doing the stances of boys with rākau that we’d learned with matua and jumping through, encouraging the teacher to watch – said he was Tū.”

Centre Kaiako

Other reported benefits were that Kaiako enjoyed using Atua to help tamariki develop a sense that they are “part of something bigger” with the belonging and identity benefits that this brings. One example was a teacher who would link a windy or stormy day to the Atua Tāwhirimātea, actively moving away from the idea of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ weather:

“Tāwhirimātea letting us know he’s here today – Tāwhirimātea is out – we’ll need our raincoats.”

Centre Kaiako

Another tamariki shared, “I am Tane Māhuta – I made all the stars!”

Kaiako feedback consistently noted the unique and authentic nature of He Pī Ka Rere, with multiple references to its non-tokenistic application of Tikanga and Te Reo. Kaiako particularly valued that their involvement with the programme had contributed to a deeper understanding of how to work biculturally.

“We are told [in training] that it’s important to incorporate … dual heritage, but we are never really taught how other than [use] waiata and karakia… it’s skimmed over…not realistic in practice. Whereas this programme makes it a real, natural part of our practice.” – Centre Kaiako

He Pī Ka Rere was also a springboard for kaiako to learn about Te Ao Māori, with many kaiako since starting Te Reo (language) classes.

With the clear successes of He Pī Ka Rere, the initiative is poised to soar to new heights, with partners Healthy Families Waitākere and Toi Tangata currently developing a plan for expansion across more ECEs soon.