Te Whāriki

Te Whāriki is the Ministry of Education's early childhood curriculum policy statement.

It is a framework for providing tamariki (children's) early learning and development within a sociocultural context.

It emphasises the learning partnership between kaiako (teachers), parents, and whānau/families. Kaiako (teachers) weave an holistic curriculum in response to tamariki (children's) learning and development in the early childhood setting and the wider context of the child's world.

Licensing Criteria Cover

Part C: Strand 5 - Exploration

The child learns through active exploration of the environment.

  • Goals
    • Children experience an environment where:

      • their play is valued as meaningful learning and the importance of spontaneous play is recognised;
      • they gain confidence in and control of their bodies;
      • they learn strategies for active exploration, thinking, and reasoning;
      • they develop working theories for making sense of the natural, social, physical, and material worlds.

      All aspects of the environment – the natural, social, physical, and material worlds – are part of the context of learning. This strand incorporates some of the strategies which enable infants, toddlers, and young children to explore, learn from, and make sense of the world. Implicit in the concept of the child as explorer is the importance of respect for the environment. Children learn through play – by doing, by asking questions, by interacting with others, by setting up theories or ideas about how things work and trying them out, and by the purposeful use of resources. They also learn by making links with their previous experiences. The attitudes and expectations that are formed at an early age will continue to influence a child’s learning throughout life. In early childhood education, as in later learning and development, exploration will be guided, supported, and challenged by adults and other children.

      There should be a recognition of Māori ways of knowing and making sense of the world and of respecting and appreciating the natural environment.

  • Relationships of the Strand of Exploration to the Curriculum Principles
    • This strand is founded particularly in the principles of Holistic Development and Empowerment. The child will experience open-ended exploration and play in an environment where the consistent, warm relationships help to connect the child’s experiences and where the tasks, activities, and contexts all have meaning for the child. Through exploration, children learn useful and appropriate ways to find out what they want to know and begin to understand their own individual ways of learning and being creative. These experiences enhance the child’s sense of self-worth, identity, confidence, and enjoyment. Because strategies and experiences in exploration build both on what children bring to them and on their own initiatives and reasoning, the links between Exploration and the principle of Family and Community are fundamental and valuable. Exploration involves actively learning with others as well as independently and helps to extend children’s purposeful and enjoyable Relationships.

  • Adults’ Responsibilities in Management, Organisation, and Practice
    • The environment should offer a wide variety of possibilities for exploring, planning, reasoning, and learning, with space arranged to encourage active exploration, providing both new challenges and familiar settings so that children develop confidence. Both indoor and outdoor environments, including the neighbourhood, should be used as learning resources.

      Adults should understand the progression and variations of children’s development and should provide time for gradual growth of independent skills such as feeding, toileting, and dressing.

      Adults need to know how to support and extend children’s play without interrupting or dominating the activity and should avoid unnecessary intervention.

      Adults should plan the daily programme to provide resources and equipment which encourage spontaneous play, activities, and practising of skills for individuals or in small groups. The materials and tools for children should be appropriate for the age group, work properly, be acessible, be stored at the right height, and be easy to clean and put away.

      Adults should plan activities, resources, and events which build upon and extend children’s interests.

      Equipment should be provided for scientific, mathematical, and technological learning. This includes such diverse resources as tape recorders, cooking utensils, and seashells, which may help children develop concepts.

      Adults should respond to children’s questions, assist them to articulate and extend ideas, take advantage of opportunities for exploration, problem solving, remembering, predicting, and making comparisons, and be enthusiastic about finding answers together. They should encourage children to know what is happening and why.

      Procedures should be in place for the safe and hygienic housing of pets and for conservation, recycling, and waste disposal.

      A reference library should be available for both children and adults as well as information for parents on children’s physical growth and the value of play in learning and development.

  • Continuity Between Early Childhood Education and School
    • Children moving from early childhood settings to the early years of school are likely to:

      • have extensive prior learning and experiences which provide starting points for further learning;
      • enjoy and be able to participate in adventurous and creative thinking through role-play, film-making, projects, and investigations;
      • have experience in making choices and decisions, setting their own goals, and using their initiative;
      • continue to develop their locomotor, non-locomotor, and manipulative skills in a variety of settings;
      • have some skills in using a range of equipment safely;
      • be able to share responsibility for the class and school environment;
      • be able to use discovery, invention, innovation, imagination, experimentation, and exploration as means of learning;
      • demonstrate flexibility and creativity in applying mathematical ideas and techniques to new problems;
      • be able to observe, compare, classify, and group objects;
      • have developed some initial strategies of active exploration in the wider context of the biological, physical, and technological worlds;
      • have begun to make sense of the living world by observing, identifying, and describing animals and plants and by investigating changes over time;
      • be ready to make sense of the physical world, for instance, by describing the properties of everyday materials and by investigating changes in different physical conditions;
      • have initial strategies for exploring observable features of Earth and beyond and appreciate their environment and its changes over time.
  • Goal 1
    • Goal 1

      Children experience an environment where their play is valued as meaningful learning and the importance of spontaneous play is recognised.

      Learning Outcomes: Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes

      Children develop:

      • the ability to make decisions, choose their own materials, and set their own problems;
      • the attitude that not knowing and being uncertain are part of the process of being a good learner;
      • an expectation that they take responsibility for their own learning;
      • the knowledge that trying things out, exploration, and curiosity are important and valued ways of learning;
      • increasing confidence and a repertoire for symbolic, pretend, or dramatic play;
      • the knowledge that playing with ideas and materials, with no objective in mind, can be an enjoyable, creative, and valid approach to learning.

      Questions for reflection


      What is the balance between child and adult-initiated activities, and how well does this balance reflect the principles and strands of the curriculum?

      How often, and in what ways, are the routines or activities changed to follow a child’s interests?

      What kinds of role do adults have when children are playing, and how do these roles promote children’s learning?

      How do adults react when children make “mistakes”?

      In what ways are meaningful opportunities provided for children to use real things, such as saucepans, garden tools, or keyboards?

      Examples of experiences which help to meet these outcomes

      For infants

      Care routines provide opportunities for playful interactions.

      Challenging playthings are easily within reach so that infants can both try out new things and explore the possibilities of the familiar.

      Infants have freedom to move and to practise and perfect skills.

      Everything in the immediate environment is regarded as a learning resource.

      For toddlers

      Adults are aware that all happenings have the potential for play and learning.

      Individual endeavour, curiosity, and exploration are seen as positive.

      Playthings are provided which are both challenging and predictable and can be used flexibly.

      Meaningful and, where possible, genuine contexts are provided for toddlers’ play and work. Brushes are used to sweep paths, for example, and water for cleaning walls.

      For young children

      Children are encouraged to feel comfortable about saying, “I don’t know” or risking failure.

      Children are encouraged to initiate purposeful problem-solving activities.

      Children’s growing capacity for sustained interest in something outside themselves is recognised and allowed for in planning the programme.

      Children have access to appropriate, functional equipment for pretend play, such as typewriters, calculators, brooms, empty boxes and cartons, scales, and hoses.

      Children are encouraged to talk about their play and to develop reflective skills.

  • Goal 2
    • Goal 2

      Children experience an environment where they gain confidence in and control of their bodies.

      Learning Outcomes: Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes

      Children develop:

      • increasing knowledge about how to keep physically healthy;
      • increasing control over their bodies, including development of locomotor skills, non-locomotor skills, manipulative skills and increasing agility, co-ordination, and balance;
      • strategies for actively exploring and making sense of the world by using their bodies, including active exploration with all the senses, and the use of tools, materials, and equipment to extend skills;
      • confidence with moving in space, moving to rhythm, and playing near and with others.

      Questions for reflection


      In what circumstances might children’s free movement and exploration need to be restrained, and how can this best be done within the principles of the curriculum?

      What kinds of versatile plaything and equipment are used, and how can the range be expanded?

      How is the range of play equipment selected and arranged to support physical development, and how well is it used to promote learning and growth?

      In what ways, and to what extent, are children allowed and encouraged to do things for themselves?

      What opportunities are there for children to combine physical activities with music, language, and problem solving? What are the outcomes of these opportunities, and are there more effective ways to provide such experiences?

      What safety checks are in place, and to what extent are they well organised, complete, and effective?

      Examples of experiences which help to meet these outcomes

      For infants

      Adults recognise that curiosity is a prime motivator for physical activity and allow infants to develop skills at their own pace.

      Safe things are provided to assist infants to move, for example, something to hold on to, to balance against, or to pull themselves up on.

      Playthings are provided that encourage pulling, pushing, fingering, mouthing, and grasping, that can be manipulated in a variety of ways, and that require minimal adult assistance.

      Infants are handled in a confident, respectful, and gentle way.

      For toddlers

      Toddlers are encouraged to develop skills at their own rate and to know and understand their own abilities and limitations. Adults wait to let toddlers indicate that they need assistance rather than assuming that they will.

      Toddlers have opportunities for active exploration with the support, but not the interference, of adults.

      Toddlers have access to an increasing range of playthings that can enhance both gross and fine motor skills.

      For young children

      Young children experience activities that develop both gross and fine motor skills and that offer varying degrees of challenge, such as balancing, hammering, obstacle courses, construction activities, hopping, turning, and pouring.

      The children’s range of physical skills is extended through access to such equipment as skipping ropes, balls, racquets, bats, and balance boards.

      Children are given the challenge of co-ordinating several variables at once, for example, controlling both force and direction when kicking a ball.

      Time is allowed for practising the skills of dressing and eating and for helping others to do so.

      Books and stories about the body are available for children to look at.

  • Goal 3
    • Goal 3

      Children experience an environment where they learn strategies for active exploration, thinking, and reasoning.

      Learning Outcomes: Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes

      Children develop:

      • confidence in using a variety of strategies for exploring and making sense of the world, such as in setting and solving problems, looking for patterns, classifying things for a purpose, guessing, using trial and error, thinking logically and making comparisons, asking questions, explaining to others, listening to others, participating in reflective discussion, planning, observing, and listening to stories;
      • the ability to identify and use information from a range of sources, including using books for reference;
      • a perception of themselves as “explorers” – competent, confident learners who ask questions and make discoveries;
      • the confidence to choose and experiment with materials, to play around with ideas, and to explore actively with all the senses;
      • the ability to represent their discoveries, using creative and expressive media and the technology associated with them.

      Questions for reflection


      Which learning strategies do the adults in the programme know of and value most?

      In what ways, and how effectively, do adults help children to find the right level of challenge?

      In what ways and how effectively do adults support and encourage children’s mathematical learning?

      In what ways, how often, and how effectively do adults encourage children to argue logically, to predict and estimate, and to give reasons for their choices?

      In what ways are the equipment, playthings, and environment related to other aspects of children’s everyday experiences?

      How are equipment and playthings selected and arranged to extend children’s understanding of patterns, shapes, and colours?

      What opportunities do children have to collect and sort objects for a meaningful purpose?

      What opportunities are there for children to take things apart, put them together, and figure out how they work, and how well do these opportunities promote children’s learning?

      What opportunities are there for children to engage in collaborative socio-dramatic play, and how does it contribute to their learning and development?

      Examples of experiences which help to meet these outcomes

      For infants

      Very young infants are positioned so that they have a wide field of vision.

      Infants experience different play spaces, such as smooth floors, carpet, grass, sand, soft and hard surfaces, and indoor and outdoor spaces.

      Infants have opportunities to watch and join in with other children and to see and hear new things.

      Infants have a variety of sensory experiences, including fresh air, experience a range of smells, temperatures, and sounds, and are allowed to move freely and touch things. For example, games for exploring their toes, faces, hair, fingers and those of other familiar people are encouraged and repeated.

      A variety of different kinds of material is available for infants to feel, mould, and explore.

      For toddlers

      Toddlers have opportunities to use different skills, such as listening, observation, remembering, reflection, decision making, and language skills.

      Toddlers are encouraged to recognise symmetry and pattern, including patterns such as one-to-one correspondence and matching.

      Toddlers are encouraged to manipulate quantities in ways that change them from continuous to discrete and back again, such as cutting up dough and squashing the pieces back together again or transferring water to small bottles and emptying them.

      Toddlers have opportunities to collect, sort, and organise objects and play materials in a variety of ways and to develop a sense of order, for example, by grouping similar materials or putting things into their right place.

      Toddlers have access to books and pictures about aspects of their everyday world.

      For young children

      The programme and environment are organised to enable children to initiate purposeful problem-solving activities, to devise problems of their own, and to solve them to their own satisfaction using a variety of materials and equipment.

      Children are encouraged to use trial and error to find solutions to their problems and to use previous experience as a basis for trying out alternative strategies.

      Children are encouraged to notice, describe, and create patterns, for example, in painting and onstruction.

      Children have opportunities to predict and estimate, for example, in apportioning shares or quantities.

      Children are encouraged to develop the ability to use symbols, make comparisons, recall, anticipate situations, and shift their focus away from the here and now.

      Children are encouraged to give reasons for their choices and to argue logically.

      Suitable books, pictures, posters, and maps are easily available for children’s reference.

      Children have opportunities to use language to plan, monitor, and participate in socio-dramatic play.

  • Goal 4
    • Goal 4

      Children experience an environment where they develop working theories for making sense of the natural, social, physical, and material worlds.

      Learning Outcomes: Knowledge, Skills, and Attitudes

      Children develop:

      • the ability to enquire, research, explore, generate, and modify their own working theories about the natural, social, physical, and material worlds;
      • an understanding of the nature and properties of a range of substances, such as sand, water, ice, bubbles, blocks, and paper;
      • spatial understandings, including an awareness of how two- and three-dimensional objects can be fitted together and moved in space and ways in which spatial information can be represented, such as in maps, diagrams, photographs, and drawings;
      • familiarity with stories from different cultures about the living world, including myths and legends and oral, nonfictional, and fictional forms;
      • working theories about Planet Earth and beyond;
      • a knowledge of features of the land which are of local significance, such as the local river or mountain;
      • theories about social relationships and social concepts, such as friendship, authority, and social rules and understandings;
      • a relationship with the natural environment and a knowledge of their own place in the environment;
      • respect and a developing sense of responsibility for the well-being of both the living and the non-living environment;
      • working theories about the living world and knowledge of how to care for it;
      • a growing recognition and enjoyment of “nonsense” explanations.

      Questions for reflection


      In what ways are children actively encouraged to try things out, in what circumstances are they left alone while they do this, and what does this contribute to their learning?

      How are experiences moderated for children of different ages so that the world is not too confusing?

      What genuine opportunities are there for children to change things and to explore the consequences of their actions?

      Are there agreed ways of dealing with children’s questions about such things as birth or death?

      What events might happen that could upset children, and how are these situations dealt with?

      Examples of experiences which help to meet these outcomes

      For infants

      The environment includes features which infants can become familiar with, recognise, and explore and which adults talk about.

      The environment provides contrasts in colour and design.

      Adults demonstrate that they share infants’ pleasure in discovery.

      Infants are helped to see familiar things from different positions, for example, close up or from a distance, and from the front or back.

      Infants are encouraged to try things out by using objects as tools and, for the older infant, by naming things.

      For toddlers

      Toddlers are encouraged and helped to name, think about, and talk about what they are doing.

      Toddlers have opportunities to explore the ways that shapes and objects fit together by using two and three-dimensional materials.

      Toddlers have opportunities to help take care of animals and living things appropriately.

      Adults initiate questions, and answer toddlers’ questions, about why things happen.

      For young children

      Young children have opportunities to develop knowledge about the pattern and diversity of the living world. For example, they observe how animals and plants grow and what these creatures need for their well-being.

      Children have opportunities to explore and discuss how things change and how they can be changed, for example, from hot to cold, from wet to dry, or from soft to hard. Children have access to equipment, such as egg beaters, a refrigerator, a simple pottery kiln, or an oven, to help them understand these concepts.

      Children have opportunities to explore how things move and can be moved, for example, by blowing, pushing, pulling, rolling, swinging and sinking. Children have access to technology to help explore movement, such as wheels, pulleys, magnets, and swings.

      Children have opportunities to develop spatial understandings by fitting things together and taking things apart; rearranging and reshaping objects and materials; seeing things from different spatial viewpoints; and using a magnifying glass.

      Children have opportunities to use two-dimensional materials, such as diagrams and photographs, and to create three-dimensional constructions, such as making a model from a picture or solving a puzzle from the photo on the box.

      Children have easy access to appropriate books for reference.

      Children have opportunities to develop and explore social concepts, rules, and understandings in social contexts with familiar adults and peers.