Making Te Whariki visible in Playcentre

Playcentres are frequently asked how they link their work in Playcentre to Te Whāriki. Are we expected to make overt links by writing a strand and a goal on each learning story or can we achieve this in different ways?

Te Whariki is a way of being

In working with Playcentres I have often observed that for many Playcentres Te Whāriki is a way of being rather than a way of doing. In other words they don’t strive to do Te Whāriki, it becomes a way of life. This is very visible in the core principles and how these closely link with the core philosophies of Playcentre. The principles provide us the underlying beliefs of the curriculum, children learn best :

  • In relationships with others
  • When their family is involved and when their learning is embedded in the context of their community
  • When they are empowered through making their own choices
  • When we acknowledge the complexity of the learning

Whakamana: Children learn best when they are empowered through their experiences. At Playcentre children actively construct their own learning through play. Playcentre sessions are designed to help tamariki to see themselves as competent and capable learners in that children can choose what they do, how they do it and for how long they choose to do it. Constraints are kept to a minimum.

Kotahitanga: Children learn best when we acknowledge the complexity of children’s learning. A Playcentre we place a high value on play opportunities that allow exploration and experimentation. Honouring the process of the child’s work is more important than the product itself. Learning at Playcentre is integrated into every Playcentre experiences. Adults strive to understand children’s passions and fascination and build on it by providing interesting and inviting play opportunities.

Whānau tangata: Children learn best when their learning is embedded in the context of the community. Being a whānau based organisation, whānau at Playcentre not only manage the centre, but are also the teachers of their tamariki. Most Playcentre whānau attend the Playcentre down the road and as such they bring the community into their centre. Children learn about the community and develop a sense of belonging from the parents working together.

Ngā hononga: Children learn best in a relationship with someone else.  Relationships are a key part of successful Playcentre sessions. Good relationships are valued and actively fostered through the cooperative practices. Children experience an environment where they can play alongside their siblings, parents, whānau and other familiar adults. Relationships are often extended beyond Playcentre sessions. People, and the quality of their relationships, are an integral part of a young child’s developing attitudes and beliefs.

Uncovering rather than covering

The intention of Te Whariki is to uncover possibilities, rather than cover specific developmental milestones or knowledge . It does not tell us what tamariki should be learning, but how they learn best. Instead of linking the strands to play and learning outcomes, we can turn it upside down and use the strands to evaluate whether we are creating potentiating learning environments for our tamariki either as individuals or as a group.

The strands are the goals

The strands of Te Whāriki set us some goals to provide a play and learning environment that are rich with possibilities and invite children to participate. Using these strands as a guideline to assess, plan and evaluate  will make Te Whāriki visible in our work:

  • Mana Whenua: How do we provide an interesting environment where our tamariki feels at home?
  • Mana Atua: How do we provide a trustworthy environment where our tamariki can thrive?
  • Mana Aoturoa: How do we provide the right level of challenge so that our tamariki are stretched?
  • Mana Reo: How do we provide a culture of listening so that our tamariki can share their thinking?
  • Mana Tangata: How do provide a collaborative environment where our tamariki can learn to work together?

Returning to the question of whether we need to link our documentation to Te Whāriki? When our programme is embedded in Te Whariki, it seem superfluous to overtly link stories and other document to Te Whāriki for the purpose of accountability. We can expect outside agencies to be informed readers, however at times overt linking can be a good teaching tool for families who are new to Playcentre and Te Whāriki.

How do you make Te Whāriki visible in your centre?


Ministry of Education. (1996). Te Whāriki: He Whāriki Mātauranga mō ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa: Early Childhood Education. Wellington: Learning Media.

Stover, Sue (Ed). (2003). (Revised edition). Good clean fun: New Zealand’s playcentre movement. Auckland: New Zealand Playcentre Federation. Page 38.


Quality at Playcentre

At Playcentre we continuously strive to provide quality education to our tamariki. However in order to strive to do better, we need to know what better looks like.

In a report recently published by the Early Childhood Education Taskforce (2011), it stated that “Quality in early childhood education encompasses both structures (e.g. adults’ qualifications, group size and ratio of adults to children) and processes (the patterns and interactions that occur between adults and children).” [Page 49]

This report has taken the traditional top-down approach on evaluation quality. While valid, it’s not the only measure of quality. Lillian Katz (1993) suggests there are four possible angles to review the quality of an early childhood education programme:

  1. A top-down perspective: Looking at quality from an adult perspective.
  2. A bottom-up perspective: Looking at quality from a tamariki perspective.
  3. An outside-inside perspective: Asesss how the program is experienced by the families it serves.
  4. An inside perspective: From this angle we consider how the program is experienced by the staff responsible for it.


Most of the literature examines quality by identifying selected characteristics of the setting, equipment, and program as seen by adults. Both The ECE Taskforce report (2011) and the Competent Child Study (2001) took this angle on quality. The Competent Child Study identified the following indicators for quality early childhood education (Wylie,Thompson, & Lythem, 2001):

  1. Adults are responsive to children.
  2. Adults join in with children’s play.
  3. Adults ask children open ended questions.
  4. Adults guide children in the use of activities.
  5. The learning environment is print saturated.
  6. Children are allowed to complete their work.
  7. Children can select their own activities from a variety of options.
  8. Children work together and support one another.


In a bottom-up perspective we would try to determine how the programme is experienced by the tamariki. Lillian Katz (2001) suggests we answer the following questions:

  • Do I usually feel welcome rather than captured?
  • Do I feel that I belong or am I just one of the crowd?
  • Do I usually feel accepted, understood, and protected, rather than scolded or neglected, by the adults?
  • Am I usually accepted rather than isolated or rejected by the majority of my peers?
  • Am I usually addressed seriously and respectfully, rather than as someone who is “precious” or “cute”?
  • Do I find most of the activities engaging, absorbing, and challenging rather than just entertaining or exciting?
  • Do I find most of the experiences meaningful, rather than frivolous or boring?
  • Do I find most of the experiences satisfying rather than frustrating or confusing?
  • Am I usually glad to be here, rather than eager to leave?

In a research study in Northern Island Walsh and Gardner evaluated  the early years’ classroom from the perspective of the child’s experience (Walsh and Gardner, 2005).  A number of key features emerged as indicators of quality learning environments for children:

  • Children are actively involved and engaged.
  • Children are able to make independent choices.
  • Children feel secure.
  • Children learn in the company of others.
  • Children’s learning is holistic and cover a variety of skills, knowledge and dispositions.
  • Children are encouraged to think and develop their own ideas and theories.

A literature review (Walsh and Gardner, 2005) identified nine key themes that would be integral to any high-quality learning environment, and these are summarized by the following keywords:

  • motivation
  • concentration
  • independence
  • confidence
  • well-being
  • social interaction
  • respect
  • multiple skill acquisition
  • higher-order thinking skills


At Playcentre the outside-inside and inside perspectives combine as whānau are teachers and teachers are whānau. Two key questions to ask here is ‘who holds the knowledge?’ and ‘how do we operate as a community?’.

Who holds the knowledge?

  • Do we have one or two people who hold all the knowledge and it is not shared with others? If that person moves on it will all fall down.
  • Do we have a core group of people hold the knowledge? Sometimes they are open to share the knowledge, but often information is not shared?
  • Is the knowledge distributed among all adults? Is knowledge freely shared and are efforts made to share information? Are new members inducted efficiently and given appropriate information?

How do we operate as a community?

  • Are individuals disconnected from each other? Is everyone doing their own thing?
  • Do we have a core group of people who express a sense of community? Is this group sometimes open to include others, but sometimes seen as cliquey?  Do we have a sense of insiders and outsiders?
  • Do we have a strong sense of community that permeates individual support, decision making, teaching and learning, and beyond? Do we have a strong sense of manaakitanga and whānaungatanga at the centre?

If we consider our practices from these angles, rather than just the adult perspective we can feel confident that we are on our way to provide a good quality learning environment for our tamariki.


ECE Taskforce. (2011), An Agenda for Amazing Children. Final report of the ECE Taskforce. Available at Last assesed 26 July 2011.

Katz, L. (1993). Multiple Perspectives on the Quality of Early Childhood Programs. Available Last accessed 21 July 2011

Walsh, G and Gardner, J. (2005). Assessing the Quality of Early Years Learning Environments . Available:  Last accessed 21 July 2011.

Wylie, C., Thompson, J., & Lythe, C. (2001). Competent Children at 8 – Families, Early Education, and SchoolWellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research. Available at Last accessed 21 July 2011.