Insights from the centre families at Manukau Central Kindergarten (MCK) in Wiri has seen more Pacific and Māori culture in its centre and increased interaction from families.
Incorporating Pacific and Māori culture in the early childhood education (ECE) environment has enabled the teachers of MCK to ensure children are better cared for holistically, meeting not just educational and physical but emotional and cultural needs of families in the area. Research has shown that focusing on children’s wellbeing and emotional development, and in this case with an emphasis on cultural identity, has positive outcomes for children (Education Hub, 2022).
Culture influences how we think, consider things, act, and communicate. For example, by speaking with parents and listening to feedback about their teachers, they began to incorporate Māori and Pacific teaching and learning practices which include culture, music, te reo taketake me ona tikanga within the Kindergarten’s everyday practices.
“It was listening to the Pasifika and Māori voices of our families at our centre that helped us change our approach to teaching,” says Suzanne Magatogia, ECE teacher – Manukau Central Kindergarten.
“By respectfully acknowledging and being responsive to the identities, languages, and cultures of the children. Staff could create a stronger environment where there is a smooth transition for children from home to the ECE setting, in conjunction with developing their self-esteem and confidence,” she says.
Magatogia explained that the ethnic makeup of MCK staff was not reflective of the children attending the school. They sought parents’ views on how they could redesign their teaching to suit the needs of the pupils. Parents revealed a desire for MCK teachers to embrace the cultures of the children.
Healthy Families South Auckland (The Cause Collective) delivered a series of five capability-building workshops with a selection of local Early Childhood Education Centres, including MCK, which saw participants learn the basics of design-thinking and how to run design challenges with families at the centre.
“Our workshops that we held with Healthy Families South Auckland (The Cause Collective) made a positive impact on how to engage with our families,” says Magatogia.
Systems Innovator Ashlynn Ale says the workshops have shown teachers different ways to communicate with their centre parents and find solutions to their concerns.
“It’s incredibly important that local centres embrace the cultural diversity of centre families to give them the best start to life. The suburb of Wiri has a population of 5,355 as per the 2018 New Zealand census. Of that population, the Pacific makes up 47% and Māori 31.%,” she says.
“Parents and staff at MCK can be confident that their children will be able to actively participate in activities where Pacific and Māori culture is celebrated. Children from MCK transition to local primary schools such as Manukau Central School which sits adjacent to their property.”
“As a result of the co-design workshops, our participants including those at MCK, reported that the relationships with their centre whānau had been strengthened in the process, influencing behaviours towards being healthy and well as a community,” says Ale.
Siata Tavite, People and Practice Lead, Healthy Families South Auckland (The Cause Collective) says initiatives like this help to improve the health of young children in their first 1000 days of life by making them feel valued.
“Recognition of culture and identity in early childhood education is extremely important to the lives of Pacific and Māori children. It gives their worldviews and attitudes legitimacy and makes them feel like they truly belong,” she says.
“This can have a positive lifelong impact for them out in the world. When families are part of a community, they feel protected and confident to participate in activities that enhance their health and wellbeing for their future.”
“We talked with parents about their cultural values at Christmas and the positives about the season for their families,” says Magatogia who collated a book consisting of the ways families celebrated Christmas.
“The book is special because it’s a collection of stories from all the families at MCK. We thought that because our children love books,families can read together and learn about other cultures.”
The project has helped bring families and staff together at MCK. A printed copy of the book was provided to each family and a bound copy is kept at the centre for teachers and children to read together.