Add to collection
  • + Create new collection
  • Maria Sammons, Sophia Banu Ali, Leena Noorzai and Melanie Glover of Iqra Educare describe their centre’s experiences as part of a Teaching and Learning Research Initiative-funded research project.

    Role-play and whānau sharing are valuable ways to connect home life with early childhood centre life. Role-play offers limitless scope for identifying and celebrating all components (cultural, social, emotional and entertainment) in the child’s world in a fun and meaningful way.


    Iqra Educare in Hamilton was established to fill a need in the local community for supporting refugee and migrant families to settle in to early childhood education. The centre’s philosophy embraces the whole whānau, not just the child. It is a place where cultural identity could be maintained while children adapt to a new home and place with a tangible sense of belonging.

    Iqra Educare’s philosophy embraces:

    • holistic care for each child and whānau
    • Islamic beliefs and values that underpin the curriculum
    • knowledge of the wider world
    • co-constructing learning experiences in a creative environment
    • the use of Te Whariki, philosophy of Reggio Emilia, Islamic values and the Treaty of Waitangi
    • the value of family and cultural heritage
    • responsive reciprocal relationships with families
    • warm relationships where children enjoy a sense of security and belonging.

    Our journey

    It was by watching the tamariki in spontaneous play and seeing them act out scenarios from their own experiences that prompted the encouragement of role-play at Iqra Educare. We had noticed that the connection with whānau strengthened with the use of props (cultural artifacts) from home. Whānau were approached to bring to the centre artifacts precious to their culture and also to share customs such as dance and storytelling.

    During our journey, we explored a range of ideas:

    • The religious pilgrimage of Hajj was talked about and explored.
    • Stories from whānau were sought and included in discussions.
    • Pictures were supplied by whānau and friends.
    • Dua (supplication) and waiata were explored.
    • Relevant videos shared by whānau were watched.

    Suggestions by the tamariki on ‘performing’ the Hajj (a religious pilgrimage) were considered, which led to a small version of the pilgrimage enacted at mat time around a model Kaaba (a cube-shaped building at the centre of Islam’s most important mosque). The interest in the Hajj role-play grew and was extended in several ways. The large playground box was decorated as the Kaaba. The white clothing was made for the tamariki to dress in, in accordance with Hajj tradition. The dua was downloaded to be played through a stereo system placed on the Kaaba. Children took turns to enact the Hajj scenario.

    The beginning

    Our tamariki were playing in the sandpit having a kōrero about their families preparing to go on the Hajj. A child started talking about going around the Kaaba and singing songs. A teacher who was listening to all this declared that she would love to see what the Kaaba looks like. The curiosity of the teacher led the child to start making a model of the Kaaba in the sandpit with sand and blocks.

    This play continued at mat time with the use of props (Kaaba as a painted cardboard box) and playing a recording of the chanting accompanying the Muslim pilgrimage during the Hajj. This grew with the suggestion from the tamariki that they take on this role-play outside in the playground. The teachers assisted by wrapping the large playground climbing box in black material and trimming it with gold to model the Kaaba, and a member of the community sewed white traditional clothing and headgear similar to those that Muslim pilgrims wore. The role-play was repeated at the request of the tamariki over and over again.

    How role-play supported learning

    Stage setting by a senior colleague influenced tamariki and staff to engage in dramatic play. The concept of children being free to express themselves and work out theories or understand elements of their culture and religion is empowering. The retention of information delivered through the role-play was high, supporting a love for learning. Each role-play saw children developing greater attention to details and increased participation. Role-play has become the most popular vehicle for learning in our centre.

    Questions we asked to ascertain children’s knowledge:

    • Why is the Hajj celebrated?
    • What does the Hajj look like?
    • What is done in the Hajj?
    • Why is the Hajj performed?
    • How does participating in the Hajj make you feel?
    • Who is the Hajj shared with?

    By using the medium of role-play, tamariki can develop better recall skills and enjoy the process of learning. By learning through movement, a developmentally sound approach, there will be more resources used, more creativity explored and more recall accessed.

    Children learn very effectively through intent participation actively observing and listening-in as adults carry out everyday tasks and behaviours.

    Rogoff, Paradise, Mejía Arauz, Correa-Chávez & Angelillo, 2003


    Initial public perception of our Hajj role-play included these questions:

    • Why would an early childhood centre want to role-play the Hajj pilgrimage?
    • Why go through all the effort to make the props for the Hajj to be true to one in real life?

    At our centre, the Te Whāriki strand Belonging was investigated through role-play, interview (parents/whānau) and group participation (cultural cooking). The opportunities for information sharing using these strategies were high, and all stakeholders had time and desire to participate in some, if not all, forms of these activities.

    Role-play nurtured and supported dispositions and learning skills identified in Te Whāriki. Children developed a sense of pride in their identity (culturally and religiously) and were able to express and enjoy who they are and what they have to offer others. They were able to explore why it is important to know who they are, why they do what they do and feel what they feel. They learned about respecting and connecting with others (culturally and religiously). The ability to persevere, question and share is pivotal in role-play. It also aids in the development of resilience, compassion, empathy, courage, curiosity, confidence and responsibility.

    We recognised the following outcomes through role-play at our centre:

    • Joy and recall by the tamariki including closer connections between centre and home life.
    • The process and outcome of the role-play was appreciated and expressed by whānau.
    • The tamariki had a lot of fun – something that can’t be underestimated – while exploring their culture and religion. They gained a deeper understanding of why the adults in their lives do what they do in line with their religious values and beliefs and how that makes them feel.
    • The feedback from whānau indicated that this activity was relevant to the community. All feedback was positive!
    • The outcome was far greater than was initially expected – the amount of knowledge retained, belonging that was felt and fun that was had.
    • An unexpected outcome was the tamariki’s desire to keep repeating the role-play of the Hajj pilgrimage.
    • Some whānau had a great sense of pride in what their child was role-playing, and many shared images and videos of their child in role-play with relatives overseas.
    • Emails have been sent to the centre from whānau overseas to thank staff for giving children the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the Hajj in meaningful ways.

    By offering and requesting input, deep relationships have been nurtured and the level of understanding and respect for all has grown. By knowing someone’s story and beliefs, one can afford them the real and tangible feeling of belonging. By providing an environment of valuing contribution, centre settings can facilitate a sense of belonging.

    Children are highly motivated in their learning by the desire to become active and effective members of families, communities and cultures. They are born ready to learn the ways of those around them.

    Rogoff et al., 2003

    Reflections, challenges and adaptations

    • Encouraging whānau to share and participate in providing props and information for role-play.
    • Public perception/query – what was the value?
    • Managing behaviour (tamariki) was a challenge at times. Positive guidance techniques were effective in this area.
    • Adding more Hajj props expanded the scope of the role-play and children’s participation.
    • The importance of bringing items of cultural significance from whānau into early childhood settings cannot be underestimated.
    • By active participation in role-play, tamariki develop a love of learning.
    • Whānau and tamariki gain further appreciation of their religion and culture, empowering them to value and share their beliefs with others.

    The learner’s identity is recognised and supported by reciprocal relationships with family, enabling educators to gain access to funds of knowledge and material artifacts. By gaining trust from whānau, educators can gain a deeper understanding and better access to artifacts, props and knowledge.

    Science in the early years

    Role-play and drama provide opportunities for children and teachers to explore a range of ideas, including scientific ones. From simple acting out of observations to negotiating conflicting understandings, role-play can be a safe way for children to share working theories and to work through ideas that are different from their own.

    Providing opportunities for children to act out their science ideas can help teachers understand children’s working theories and alternative conceptions, enabling them to then use questioning, discussion and provocations to challenge thinking. Drama can also help make visible phenomena that are difficult to observe – for example, the pollination of flowers.

    The Science Learning Hub explores the use of drama in science education in a range of teacher PLD articles.

    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.


    Rogoff, B., Paradise, R., Mejía Arauz, R., Correa-Chávez, M., & Angelillo, C. (2003). Firsthand learning through intent participation. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 175-203. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.54.101601.145118


    This article was written by Maria Sammons, Sophia Banu Ali, Leena Noorzai and Melanie Glover, Iqra Educare, 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
          Go to full glossary
          Download all