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Māori taonga in early childhood settings.

Updated: May 26, 2023

I realised today after a conversation that what I see as everyday play items in an early childhood setting may be new or undiscovered by others. Or that they are items that are brought out on special occasions. These everyday play items are Māori taonga or cultural artifacts.

What do you have in your early childhood setting?

These are the ones I see as everyday items and at the same time taonga which is a contradiction. If something is everyday they are often not thought of as ‘special’ and if it is a taonga then it is not for everyday use. I want to challenge this notion.

Taonga are culturally valuable resources, objects, phenomena, ideas and techniques .

These are taonga that I would have thought before my discussion I would see in early childhood settings everyday and available for everyday play and engagement.

rākau or short sticks (tī tī torea).

There are usually wooden ones or ones made with magazines. I prefer the wooden ones as they make a noise to help keep in time. Traditionally they were used to develop wrist/arm/shoulder flexibility. They are kept in kept in a waikawa (basket), as are the poi.


The poi pictured here are made with a combination of plastic bags and cloth. I prefer the cloth and the plastic ones will be replaced once they are broken.

A great book to support this is The girls in the kakpa haka, which celebrates the art and beauty of poi. There is also Watercress Tuna & the Children of Champion Street where a tuna (or eel, in English) leaves his creek and visits the children of Champion Street. As he visits each one, they pull something out of his mouth and Roimata gets a poi and they all go out and dance.

Kete and shells.

Kete are traditionally woven from the leaves of the harakeke, with two handles at the top and in pre-European society, Māori had specific plantations of flax, which were their most important textile. I find the texture and rawness appealing. They are also durable and relatively inexpensive and if you have weave them yourself then just cost time.

The shells in the kete have come from many beaches across Aotearoa and each has a story and memory to tell. This is what I tell the children when the first come into the early childhood setting. This helps to explain how precious they are to me and the other Kaiako in the setting. The shells are fabulous as loose parts, in water play and with uku (clay).

Kete for play.

I find having these available support dramatic play and the retelling of pūrākau and stories. Some pukapuka that can support this are Tane and the starts which is sadly out of print, Taniwha by Robyn Kahukiwa and The Kuia and the Spider.

Kete for sentence of the week.

This idea came from. What I like about it is that at the end of the year or half way through you can take the sentences out and see and celebrate what you have learnt. You can also r-visit some you may have forgotten or not used in a while.

Korowai and kākahu.

Korowai (tasselled cloaks) developed from pake (rain capes). adorned with hukahuka, best describe as decorative tags. The hukahuka are made from rolled muka (flax fibre) and usually dyed black.

Love the symbolic meaning and understanding shared by Toi Te Rito Maihi (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Kahungunu) that the aho (connection) links to the whenu which is an older name for whenua which is the earth and connection to all elements including Io (the supreme being or creator). When you put the kākahu on you are connected to this and the knowledge of those who came before.

In te ao Māori the word kākahu can describe the type of clothing one might wear, and is also a word that is used when talking of Māori cloaks as a general term. These are usually adored with feathers.

It is good to be clear on what you have or are using as these are often used for graduation or fifth birthdays in early childhood settings. Slowly Kaiako are gaining this knowledge and can distinguish between the two and do not call all cloaks a korowai. They can also be used in the retelling of stories like Rona and the moon.

Harakeke ika.

These are fabulous for all ages, including young children. They are great for a treasure or heuristic basket or as a loose part for ephemeral art.

You can also weave whetū (star) and putiputi (flower . I am not the best at weaving but I could achieve the ika.

Understanding and conveying the tikanga.

I am no expert in this area and know what I know from the guidance of cultural supervisors, asking questions and seeking local iwi knowledge. Tikanga are the customs and traditions that have been handed down (Mead, 2003). They come from tika, things that are true and fair and ensure that Māori customary practices or behaviours are upheld. How do you approach the everyday and taonga contradiction? I believe I do this through the sharing and respect I have, share and role model with the children around the use and play with them.

Have I missed anything? Perhaps a whare?

What is in your setting?

Until next time hopefully sooner than last time.


(affiliate links are within this post)


Mead, S. M. (2003). Tikanga Māori: living by Māori values. Wellington, New Zealand: Huia

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