Blaiklock, K. (2010). Te Whāriki, the New Zealand early childhood curriculum: Is it
effective? International Journal of Early Years Education, 18, 201-212.
Ken Blaiklock, Department of Education, Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland,
Te Whāriki, the New Zealand early childhood curriculum, has received much praise
since its introduction in 1996. There is, however, little research evidence about the
implementation or effectiveness of the curriculum in early childhood centres. This
article raises questions about the structure and content of Te Whāriki. The holistic
and integrated nature of the curriculum means that subject content areas (e.g., art,
music, science, literacy) can be overlooked. The generalised nature of the guidelines
in Te Whāriki on programme planning allows for flexibility but may result in
children being provided with an inadequate range of learning experiences. Concerns
are also raised about the value of Learning Stories, a novel form of assessment that
was designed to align with the approach of Te Whāriki.
Keywords: Early childhood curriculum; Te Whāriki; New Zealand
The New Zealand Early Childhood Curriculum, Te Whāriki, was introduced in
1996 following a lengthy period of consultation with many groups and individuals in
the early childhood sector (see Carr and May 2000). The words, Te Whāriki, mean
woven mat in Maori and reflect the integrated and holistic nature of the curriculum.
A sociocultural emphasis is apparent throughout the document, as noted in the
introductory statement (Ministry of Education 1996, 9):
This curriculum emphasises the critical role of socially and culturally mediated
learning and of reciprocal and responsive relationships for children with people,
places, and things. Children learn through collaboration with adults and peers,
through guided participation and observation of others, as well as through individual
exploration and reflection.
The framework for Te Whāriki consists of four Principles and five Strands.
The four Principles are described as follows (Ministry of Education 1996,. 14):
The early childhood curriculum empowers the child to learn and grow.
2. Holistic Development
The early childhood curriculum reflects the holistic way children learn and
3. Family and Community
The wider world of family and community is an integral part of the early
Children learn through responsive and reciprocal relationships with people,
places, and things.
The five Strands of Te Whāriki are also described (Ministry of Education, 1996,
The health and well-being of the child are protected and nurtured.
Children and their families feel a sense of belonging.
Opportunities for learning are equitable, and each child’s contribution is
The language and symbols of their own and other cultures are promoted and
The child learns through active exploration of the environment.
A separate section of Te Whāriki, written in Maori, discusses the significance of
the Principles and Strands for Maori language immersion programmes. The English
and Maori texts are not equivalent but “parallel and complement each other”… “The
Maori curriculum is an integral part of the document and provides a basis for
bicultural early childhood education in New Zealand” (Ministry of Education 1996,
In the English language sections of Te Whāriki, each strand is subdivided into
three or four Goals. Each Goal includes a number of Learning Outcomes. Examples
of experiences to help meet the outcomes are provided for each Goal.
Praise for Te Whāriki
Since its introduction in 1996, Te Whāriki has received widespread praise, both
within New Zealand and internationally, as illustrated in the following quotes:
“To date, Te Whāriki has been greeted with enormous enthusiasm by the early
childhood profession, to the extent that it has taken on a gospel like status” (Cullen
“Engaging with Te Whāriki allows teachers to have their own learning journey
just as children have theirs. It is for this reason that so many early childhood
professionals feel privileged to have such a sound document to work with” (Tyler,
“ Te Whāriki has had an enormous impact on curriculum development in many
countries” … “Te Whāriki has gained international prominence as an early childhood
curriculum of great substance and importance” (Fleer 2003, 243-244).
“Te Whāriki is a world class early childhood curriculum and has been a
significant factor in putting New Zealand on the early childhood world stage. (Trevor
Mallard, Minister of Education, press release, 17 January 2005, cited in Nuttall 2005,
“[Te Whāriki] that’s basically our bible. We always look to Te Whāriki to
make sure we have done it correctly.” “Te Whāriki – gives the defining word on that
issue, because it is all in there.” “The value [of Te Whāriki] is enormous … It’s
Alvestad, M., and J. Duncan. 2006. "The value is enormous - It's priceless I think"
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dispositions of young children. New Zealand Research in Early Childhood
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professional development programme for discussion and reflection.
Wellington: New Zealand Council for Educational Research.
———. 2001. Assessment in early childhood settings: Learning stories. London: Paul
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services: Theory, policy and practice, ed H Penn. 53-73. Buckingham: Open
Cullen, J. 1996. The challenge of Te Whāriki for future developments in early
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developmental, constructivist, and ...? Australians listen carefully. In Weaving
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childhood curriculum document in theory and practice, ed. J. Nuttall. 7-15.
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