Māori Language & Culture: Essential Learning for Kiwi Children

"Māori language and culture are essential to our (Aotearoa New Zealand's) identity as a country, so it makes sense that we would want our children to grow up knowing, valuing and participating in them."

• Whether at home or in an early learning centre, we can encourage this in many ways:  In early childhood groups this bilingual aspect of New Zealand life can be reflected in what is on the walls, in the picture books, in songs and stories, in activities undertaken, and in the attitude of all families attending as well as in the concepts of aroha (love, caring, concern) and whānau (family). Both are values that enrich any play group. – Gwen Somerset, Work and Play

Benefits Of Bicultural Experience

Among other things, bicultural experience helps children:

  • understand and value their own and others' cultural identity
  • appreciate other languages, cultures and worldviews
  • learn another language (pre-school children are particularly receptive to learning new languages, without too much effort) appreciate their identity as New Zealanders, whether Māori or Pākehā.

Dramatic Play & Māori Culture

Storytelling is an integral part of Māori culture. It is how Māori have passed down history, myths and genealogies.

In this context, dramatic play could consist of dressing up and enacting a myth or part of Māori history, providing a vivid and memorable experience of Māori culture.

Dramatic play is important because it helps develop social and language skills; allows the expression of positive and negative feelings; teaches children to negotiate, take turns and resolve conflict; and helps children make sense of the world.

Ideas For Māori Language & Cultural Experience

Learning and performing a kapa haka, with costumes
Learning days and months of the week in Māori using magnetic resources
Using poi or rākau sticks
Using Māori language balls/bean bags
Making Māori bread or having someone prepare a hāngi
Telling a story using magnetic resources, such as Maui Goes Fishing
Using koru-shaped sponge paint shapes
Listening to music CDs (e.g. He Waiata Tamariki)
Reading Māori language books on animals, feelings, colours and everyday words
Learning from language charts
Using flash cards
Putting Māori language puzzles together
Visiting a marae or going to a Māori festival or event

Essential Equipment

Here are some of the things Playcentre recommends as part of an adequate set-up for early learning centres:

Dolls depicting Māori babies/toddler
For boys: piupiu, headband, sash
For girls: piupiu, headband, bodice, korowai for poroporoaki (farewells), huritau (birthdays) or special occasions
Manipulative-play toys depicting Te Ao Māori: colours, food, numbers, life cycles etc.
Māori waiata/chant/haka CD
Booklet/poster of waiata/haka
Poi, long and short
Māori sponge shapes
Māori language posters/charts – alphabet, songs, numbers, colours etc.
Māori version of the Tiriti o Waitangi
Traditional myths and legends
Images of whanau/tamariki in cultural setting
Magnetic stories
Hand puppets: weta, pukeko, pungawerawera (spider), kiwi etc.
Natural materials for collage: muka, raupo, flax seed, different types of shells, riverstones etc.
Adult library: Māori dictionary, marae protocol, Māori games and waiata, karakia

The Playcentre basic equipment list


  • Look for natural ways to incorporate/teach Māori language and culture in everyday life (e.g. count in Māori for hide and seek, or teach about food handling (tikanga) when children sit down to eat).
  • Label objects with Māori names.
  • Choose some simple Māori words and phrases and use them on a regular basis: kia ora (hello), haere mai (come here), kai (food), e noho (sit down). Always use correct pronunciation.

Te Whāriki & Bicultural Experience

Te Whāriki is the first bicultural curriculum statement developed in New Zealand and advocates a proactive and holistic approach to incorporating Māori language and culture into early childhood education.

To learn more about Te Whāriki, visit the website.

Our thanks to the Auckland Playcentre Shop for permission to use this article. Great play starts here.