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  • Amanda Cloke and Louise Treweek of Hamilton Hillcrest Kindergarten describe their centre’s experiences as part of a Teaching and Learning Research Initiative-funded research project.

    Our journey started with four passionate teachers – Rajam, Christine, Louise and Amanda – plus our wonderful teacher assistant Vicky. Our team investigated how our practice could be enhanced to help our immigrant families settle in to our kindergarten with a strong sense of belonging. All the team brought with them diverse knowledge and experiences, which provided a basis for our understanding of belonging and how we can further support our whānau and each other through our collaborative practice. Rajam and Vicky shared their experiences of when they immigrated to Aotearoa New Zealand and how this impacted on them. This gave us lots of inside knowledge and understanding to enhance our practice.

    Our kindergarten has always prided itself on being a multicultural community of learners due to our close proximity to the University of Waikato. Drawing from Te Whāriki, we embrace the partnership of te Tiriti o Waitangi and the richness that this dual cultural heritage brings to our tamariki. We recognise and respect the importance of diversity and inclusiveness. We promote and encourage the sharing of knowledge to create a sense of belonging for children and parents.

    The real strength of Te Whāriki is its capacity to establish strong and durable foundations for every culture in Aotearoa New Zealand, and in the world … Te Whāriki rests on the theory that all children will succeed in education when the foundations to their learning are based on an understanding and respect for their cultural roots.

    Reedy & Reedy, 2013

    Our journey

    As we embarked on our research it was important for us that our families’ cultures were visible within the kindergarten. We wanted children to have multiple opportunities to experience and share their peers’ cultures and to develop an understanding and respect for each other.

    Children who come from different cultural, ethnic or language backgrounds feel a sense of welcome and acceptance when stories from their lives become part of the daily routine.

    Zabel, 1991

    Some approaches we included during this project were:

    • side-by-side reading in two languages with books
    • inviting parents to read for us in their language and/or share stories from their own culture
    • using props to enhance stories and allow children to revisit these on their own
    • drama
    • puppet shows
    • inviting storytellers to come in to us.

    Reading stories

    Reading is highly valued within our kindergarten. We provide a library day each week where children choose two kindergarten books to take home in their personalised library bag to share with whānau. We are also located next door to Hillcrest Library, which we visit regularly. On one of our visits, we came across the book Leo the Late Bloomer written in Mandarin. This sparked an idea to read the same book in two languages to our tamariki.

    At mat time, we compared the books. We talked about the differences in the writing and the identical pictures. Amanda read one page in English then Vicky read the same page in Mandarin. It was interesting to see the children’s reactions to the spoken language. To begin with, the children were silent and attentive, and then they got the giggles. Teachers noticed the Chinese students that normally were disengaged during story time when we read in English were now fully engaged while hearing it in their own language.

    From here, we explored other storybooks in dual languages but discovered that children lost interest when the stories were too long. This led us to ask our parents for support in delivering more meaningful stories for our ESOL students. We invited parents to come in to read in their own language or share traditional stories from their homeland. This had mixed results, and we now know children need to move and participate fully in order to develop their working theories. We decided to move away from the dual language reading and have more interactive storytelling experiences.

    Adding meaning to storytelling

    It was important for us to encourage the involvement and expertise of parents to achieve a greater sense of belonging through cultural connections. With our parents, we explored a variety of ways to deliver meaningful multilingual storytelling. To enrich learning experiences for children, we introduced props and opportunities to interact and act out favourite Māori stories in a variety of spaces within the kindergarten.

    Stories, including myths and legends, enhance cultural awareness. They are an effective way of imparting knowledge about the land we live on and its historical importance to us. Lived experience with the land forges a connection to it. Our cultural families’ natural whenua (homeland) is not here but they can forge new connections here by sharing experiences with others. Biculturalism is about us living together and sharing knowledge. Stories can give children a glimpse into other people’s world view.

    There is a responsibility to keep the stories of our land alive for new generations, including those who come here. When you understand people’s history and where it has come from, you have a better understanding, respect and empathy for who they are and what they bring. Our teachers haven’t been raised in te ao Māori but we are committed to te Tiriti o Waitangi. It is part of our ethics and philosophy to share this really important part of our bicultural connection to people, places and things. When you understand where you are living and its people, it creates a sense of belonging.

    We learned that books or stories need to be:

    • visually simple
    • lift flap or similarly interactive
    • fun
    • favourite classic stories
    • rhythmic and repetitive
    • CD stories.

    De Plaen, Moro, Pinon-Rousseau, and Cisse (1998) … suggest that working with a story in both the original language and the host country language can create an intermediate space between the child’s two cultures, and thus make it easier to establish linguistic, family, and intrapsychic relationships.

    Rousseau, Lacroix, Bagilishya & Heusch, 2003


    This research experience enhanced our enthusiasm and passion about what we are doing and brought new direction, ideas and possibilities to share cultural experiences within our kindergarten community in order to create a sense of belonging for our immigrant families. It strengthened our partnership with parents, and teachers gained more knowledge about our children and their families. Parents showed a keen interest and willingness to share their family customs and culture and seemed honoured and proud to be a part of this process. Seeing the parents’ reactions was also confirmed to us that they valued these experiences and connections.


    Our teachers are limited in their ability to speak other languages, but through reflection, we make a genuine effort to include keywords and culturally visual representations into our storytelling experiences. We believe it is very important for our children to have a strong sense of belonging built from the connections they make with their peers, teachers and the environment. By introducing different cultures to our children, it helped them to learn, understand and appreciate the values and beliefs of children from different cultures. Having a strong sense of belonging allows children to be who they are meant to be.

    Science in the early years

    Storytelling is also an essential part of science education. Children need to hear stories about science and the scientists who have contributed to the scientific knowledge that we use every day. These stories have the potential to allow students to see themselves as scientists – to understand the importance of dispositions such as curiosity and perseverance.

    It is important that these stories about science include a diverse range of perspectives. Our Māori and Pasifika children need to be aware of the deep understanding of the natural world that their ancestors and whānau have generated through observation and testing. This knowledge is sometimes referred to as mātauranga pūtaiao. Articles and webinars on the Science Learning Hub such as Mātauranga Māori and science and Mātauranga Māori are designed to grow teacher understanding.

    Related content

    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.

    You might also be interested in our webinar Science through picture books where Dr Nicola Daly discusses the importance of picture books and demonstrates how they can be used to support science learning.


    Reedy, T. & Reedy, T. (2013, December). Te Whāriki: A tapestry of life. Keynote address presented to New Zealand conference on ECEC in cooperation with the OECD ECEC Network, Curriculum implementation in ECEC: Te Whāriki in international perspective, Wellington.

    Rousseau, C., Lacroix, L., Bagilishya, D., & Heusch, N. (2003). Working with myths: Creative expression workshops for immigrant and refugee children in a school setting. Art Therapy, 20(1), 3-10.

    Zabel, M. K. (1991). Storytelling, myths, and folk tales: Strategies for multicultural inclusion. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 36(1), 32-34.


    This article was written by Amanda Cloke and Louise Treweek, Hamilton Hillcrest Kindergarten, 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.

      Published 20 June 2021 Referencing Hub articles
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