Crawshaw Kindergarten Head Teacher Gail Megaffin describes her centre’s experiences as part of a Teaching and Learning Research Initiative-funded research project.
I am a collaborative teacher and leader. I believe working together is far more effective than working alongside each other with individual agendas. Communication and relationships guide my practice. Getting to know each tamariki and their whānau is key to guiding their learning. All ākonga bring knowledge, skills and value. Each child needs and deserves an individual approach. My teaching style is more side coaching than directive, and I care deeply about the outcomes for children. I have a diploma in child protection, and I choose to work in communities with high socio-economic need. I believe children need to experience wellbeing and belonging – to feel safe and nurtured – before they are able to focus on anything else. Then, with quality guidance, they can soar.
Crawshaw Kindergarten is in Hamilton and operates under the umbrella of the Waikato Kindergarten Association (WKA). It provides education and care for up to 40 children from 2 years to school age. WKA has a commitment to providing quality, inclusive services that effectively meet the diverse educational needs of all children attending.
At Crawshaw Kindergarten, we have a very diverse group of children, many of whom are priority learners. We currently have 62% (24) of our children identifying as Māori, five as New Zealand European, two Cook Island Māori, one Tongan, one Niuean, one Kiribati, one Cambodian, one French, one Indian, one Sri Lankan and one from the Congo. Our philosophy embraces te Tiriti O Waitangi and celebrates children’s individuality, ethnicity and diversity. We provide planned and spontaneous learning opportunities that are equitable for all children. Each child’s contribution is valued, and we encourage curiosity and enthusiasm.
My thinking about transition is that it is not an occasion – rather a period of time where children are supported and empowered through a changing state or circumstance. We approached transition from a Māori perspective, appreciating the child’s cultural history – their own ways of knowing, being and doing. Therefore, each experience of transition was unique. My prior relationship with each of the children and their family underpinned my approach to this kaupapa.
The focus on flexible transition to school processes was something I had been thinking about and working towards for some time. This was also influenced by a depth of knowledge and relationship with our families, supported by a strengthening relationship with the local school. The idea of treating children as unique individuals with their own cultural context needed to be embraced by kindergarten, whānau and school for the transition process to succeed. It was a personal passion that I had highlighted through my involvement with the Ministry of Education’s Learning Support External Advisory Group on which I was privileged to represent WKA. This also involved collaboration with outside support agencies to support children’s learning and behavioural needs.
This project, Belonging through transition, was guided by the Te Whāriki premise that children be “nurtured like a precious seed to ensure their survival and inculcated with an understanding of their own importance” (Reedy, 2013). The mahi was also supported by the theory that “each child is on a unique journey. They come into the world eager to learn and into family, whānau or ‘aiga that have high hopes for them. Teachers, educators and kaiako in ECE settings work together in partnership with the family to realize these hopes … Te Whāriki supports children from all backgrounds to grow up strong in identity, language and culture” (Reedy, 2013 ).
The things we wanted to nurture included empowerment and affirmation of children’s own value and confidence in their ability to communicate, participate and contribute. We also wanted to foster their sense of place in family and community – a strong sense of belonging. We wanted all the children to gain an understanding and appreciation for cultural differences while recognising the sameness of basic needs and aspirations. We wanted them to celebrate themselves and others, valuing uniqueness and diversity.
Family and community were at the heart of this project. Each situation needed a sensitive, culturally appropriate approach, with a willingness by kaiako to be humble in their place as learners. We are not the experts here, but we are the role models and support for our tamariki.
Relationships were an integral part of these understandings, encompassing family, culture, history and community. We wanted children to develop empathy and support each other with tuakana-teina, patience and perseverance in connecting with others. We wanted them to build trust, to feel safe in reaching out to others – to participate and contribute in a secure environment.
We initially worked on deepening relationships with children and families through sharing children’s achievements and showing interest in them. We then used pepeha and oral histories to deepen our understanding. We encouraged children and families to bring a cultural treasure to share at kindergarten, which created a rich experience for provoking further knowledge sharing.
Discussion with kaiako about the process of transition to school recognised the importance of supporting tamariki and whānau, some of whom did not have the time or the courage to take their children on regular school visits. We decided that the child’s key teacher would attend some visits with whānau and, if appropriate, may take the tamariki to provide the strongest transition for each individual.
Where our professional judgement showed that children needed extra support through transition, I met with the school management team, new entrant teachers and external support agencies to plan ways to meet these individual needs.
Some strategies included:
- extending the transition period out to be a more gradual process
- adapting the number of visits that a kaiako supported the family for moral support
- allowing a tamariki more-frequent shorter visits, perhaps gaining in length over time
- providing opportunities for old friends to return from school to kindergarten to play with the transitioning child
- having school children collect the child from kindergarten to accompany them to school
- a child with self-regulation/behavioural difficulties was able to attend school daily for a short period, gradually extended to longer times, followed by a visit to kindergarten for a debriefing kōrero with me, then to be collected from kindergarten by his guardian.
Throughout the process, we celebrated success and consolidation. More recently, whilst visiting school with transitioning children, I began photographing our recent kindergarten leavers and writing learning stories to show their whānau how well they were settling.
Over time, tamariki became more competent and confident through this flexible transition-to-school process. They have settled well and become socially confident. Families have greater belonging at kindergarten and trust even more in their relationships with both us and the school. Our kaupapa has been affirmed through kōrero with whānau, tamariki, school kaiako and unsolicited verbal feedback from the new school principal: “X is a very socialised child. He is a great kid and a good learner. You did a good job.”
We had begun with open-ended outcomes for this approach to transition. The process was planned as an individualised flexible progression, based on hopes rather than preconceived notions, with safety nets in place. I was surprised at how enthusiastically this flexible approach was embraced and enhanced by the school, as this has not always been my experience. This project has helped strengthen our already strong relationship. Parents have developed support networks and more meaningful relationships within the community, and kaiako who worked together in the project gained mutual understandings and professional respect.
My main message to teachers wanting to enhance children’s sense of belonging through transition is to get started, then be open to revision and to refocus throughout the process. Although things did not always go to plan through unforeseen obstacles, we came to see things through different lenses and achieve positive outcomes for tamariki and their whānau.
Science in the early years
In this article, the author states, “All ākonga bring knowledge, skills and value.” This idea is an important one when considering the development of children’s science knowledge and skills.
When planning for science teaching, it is important to provide opportunities for children to share their experiences and to build on these so that the science learning is meaningful. This may result in a variety of ideas about how the world works, and teachers need to feel confident to model valuing different ways of knowing including mātauranga Māori.
Alternative conceptions – individuals’ understandings that are different from commonly held scientific knowledge – are valuable ways in to children’s working theories. Articles such as Alternative conceptions about light and shadows are helpful in reminding teachers of the different understandings children can hold. Through provocations, questioning and play, teachers may challenge children’s thinking.
The other teacher projects involved in this research give a rich array of insights, strategies and tools that will inspire and generate ideas for teachers.
- Constructing pathways to belonging in early childhood education (Linda Mitchell)
- Forming connections between identity and place (Pakuranga Baptist Kindergarten)
- Belonging through storytelling (Hillcrest Kindergarten)
- Belonging through cuisine – an extraordinary food experience (Carol White Family Centre)
- Belonging through role-play in early childhood (Iqra Educare)
- Creating connections and fostering identity (Iqra Educare).
Reedy, T. (2013). Tōku rangatira nā te mana mātauranga: Knowledge and power set me free. In J. Nuttall (Ed.), Weaving Te Whāriki: Aotearoa New Zealand’s Early Childhood Curriculum Document in Theory and Practice (2nd ed., pp. 35–53). Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research.
This article was written by Crawshaw Kindergarten Head Teacher Gail Megaffin as part of a Teaching and Learning Research Initiative-funded research project Strengthening belonging and identity of refugee and immigrant children through early childhood education.