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  • Jacqui Lees and Olivia Ng of Pakuranga Baptist Kindergarten describe their centre’s experiences as part of a Teaching and Learning Research Initiative-funded research project.

    As teachers at Pakuranga Baptist Kindergarten, we wanted to develop ideas about belonging and identity for our largely immigrant community. We decided to share stories about the places we come from using pepeha. We wanted to find out more about the cultural heritage of our immigrant families and to make connections to our local whenua. A principle of Te Whāriki is that children learn through responsive and reciprocal relationships with people, places and things. We planned to explore this.

    Intended learning outcomes

    The teachers began discussing what potential learning there might be for our children in this project. We felt possibilities for deep learning about culture and identity included the following:

    • Children will develop working theories about their worlds – their families and their home countries and also about Aotearoa, the place that they now call home.
    • They will make connections between people, places and things in their home countries and also here in Aotearoa.
    • They will learn about each other, different cultural ways of being, ways of knowing and ways of doing.
    • Families will be invited to take part in the project and share their stories with us. In this way, children will be able to share their cultural funds of knowledge.
    • Children will be encouraged to use their home languages to think through and represent their ideas.
    • Children will develop a deeper sense of their own mana atuatanga – their uniqueness and spiritual connectedness – as they explore relationships between the spiritual, social and natural worlds that they are part of.


    Pakuranga Baptist Kindergarten is a community-based centre that has been operating since 1974. We serve an ethnically diverse community, with families from China, Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan, India, Sri Lanka, Burma, South Africa, Samoa and New Zealand. Our governance team has responded to the needs of the community by intentionally looking to ensure that our teaching team is also ethnically diverse. We are licensed for 40 children aged from 2–6 years. We have a whānau approach so we operate as a mixed-age environment.

    Our kindergarten philosophy is that we provide a learning environment that nurtures each child’s head, heart and hand – a place where manaakitanga and whanaungatanga form the basis of our relationships with children and families. The values of wonder, respect, collaboration, responsibility, imagination and openness underpin everything we do. The teachers listen to children’s working theories and from this develop provocations and experiences in which children can extend their thinking. We work within a Tiriti-based paradigm to create an environment where children can develop a sense of themselves and of those from different cultural backgrounds as vital worthwhile people each with uniqueness and value. We encourage our children to see that we not only live in the world but we create the world in which we live.

    Our journey

    Our team wanted to make connections with the places that our children come from to acknowledge who they are and their cultural identity, and we wanted to do this in a way that is real and meaningful in a bicultural context.

    The teachers began to research place-based education, listening to ideas from Wally Penetito (2009) who writes about place-based ways of knowing. Penetito suggests that Māori practices of pepeha – who am I, where am I and what is the nature of this place? – illustrate place-based ways of knowing and enable children to position themselves within the cultural and natural stories of that place. We wanted to explore and learn about how “place-based education would affirm our children’s identity by providing the context where they develop an understanding of themselves as active citizens in connection with community, are able to engage with concerns and customs of their communities culture, and make connections to the history and ecology of their unique locality”. This seemed to fit well with ideas from Te Whatu Pōkeka – Kaupapa Māori Assessment for Learning – Early Childhood Exemplars, which have also influenced our teaching pedagogy.

    As we discussed these ideas, we felt pepeha was the perfect entry point for our work. We talked with families to gather information for their pepeha, and then the children and teachers began to research on the internet to find out more about these important mountains and rivers in their home countries. To explore these ideas further, we then asked our children to draw them. We often ask our children to draw their ideas – we believe that drawing is a first order literacy. Drawing enables children to tell their stories, but not only that, it allows them to think through and then rethink their ideas. These drawings provided the initial data that we used as we progressed through our investigation to evaluate how children’s thinking was changing and to understand what they might be learning.

    We asked questions to provoke children’s thinking as we worked alongside them. We use questions intentionally as a strategy to support children to wonder and to develop and modify their working theories. We asked questions such as:

    • Why do mountains and rivers have names like us?
    • Why do mountains and rivers have names in different languages?
    • Do the mountains and rivers in different countries know each other?
    • Do mountains have their own story? What might it be?

    As they looked at their mountains on the internet, the children were able to tell us more. Listening to and discussing children’s ideas allowed us to think about new possibilities.

    I have been to Stone Mountain in China. The mountain’s made by stones. They are very tall and big.

    Xin Xin

    Wu Yi is the mountain that is close to Fu Jian. I went there with my family.


    We also began to hear stories about the mountains in our area.

    Maungarei is the mountain that is close to my house.


    Pigeon Mountain is close to my house. There are lots of trees on top of the mountain. They can’t talk so they don’t need names like us.


    While we realised we couldn’t visit the mountains in China, we could visit our local mountains. As we prepared for our trip to visit our maunga, Maungarei/Mt Wellington, we asked the children to use their imagination and predict what they would see and to create a 3D model of their ideas.

    Then we asked them to draw their work. We believe that, as children change strategies for representation, they are able to see things from another perspective and refine their theories.

    Our trip was an adventure in more ways than we had anticipated. When we got to Maungarei, we discovered that they were felling trees so the gates were locked and there was a guard there who told us we could not go in. However, we quickly came up with an alternative plan to go to Ōhuiarangi/Pigeon Mountain instead.

    We gave the children cameras to photograph the things that captured their attention. As the children revisited their photos, they revised what they had created on the model. The mountain and river and the environment surrounding them were different from what they had hypothesised, so they decided to change them.

    Now that the children were satisfied with their 3D construction, we asked them to draw the 3D model that they had made. We hoped this would enable a kind of recognition (re-cognition) – or a rethinking of their ideas.

    What worked well

    Our teachers were happy to embrace uncertainty and follow children’s ideas and thinking.

    Using their bodies to pretend to stand on the mountain enabled children across our age range to participate and share their ideas. Listening to each other’s ideas enabled children to rethink and modify their theories.


    Arriving at Maungarei to find it was closed was a challenge, but being flexibly minded allowed us to come up with other options.

    Revisiting the children’s photos, we realised we were unsure who had taken which photos.

    Children’s learning

    As well as learning many of the things we hoped they would learn, we saw that children also:

    • developed rich oral language skills
    • explored the arts, including drawing, painting, dance and collage as tools to think through and represent their ideas
    • developed an understanding that we are all different and that this makes the world an interesting place
    • developed an understanding that we don’t have to agree about things – we can have different ideas and still be friends
    • developed an understanding of themselves as active citizens in connection with the local mountains who care about the ecology of these unique and special places and have become kaitiaki of them.

    These experiences were shared with families and have supported families to feel a sense of connection with this place.


    We wanted to think about our children’s relationship with their home countries and also with the local area, with the mountains, with the rivers and with the landscape of our community. The idea of a place-based education gave us a framework to develop these ideas further and to see how they connect to cultural identity. Rather than just superficial knowledge, we began to know this place deeply and understand its significance to us.

    Every child lives someplace. And that someplace begins to matter when children are invited to know where they are and to and to participate in the unfolding life of that place – coming to know the changes in the light and in the feel of the air, and participating in a community of people who speak of such things to each other.

    Pelo, 2008

    Science in the early years

    Place-based education provides important opportunities for children to engage in science.

    In this article, children developed their sense of belonging by connecting to their local and home country landscapes. These connections support children to look closely at and value their environment.

    Children created a representation of their maunga, and like scientists, they then gathered more information and used this to change and develop their model. This process helps children to develop and refine their working theories about the natural world.

    The Auckland volcanoes have important cultural and scientific significance. This article provides information about the Auckland volcanic field. More resources can be found in the volcanoes topic or in this interactive on New Zealand volcanoes.

    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.


    Pelo, A. (2008). Rethinking early childhood education. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools.

    Penetito, W. (2009). Place-based education: Catering for curriculum, culture and community. New Zealand Annual Review of Education, 18, 5-29.


    This article was written by Jacqui Lees and Olivia Ng, Pakuranga Baptist 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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