Planning an ECE education programme for Matariki

Planning an ECE education programme for Matariki

Matariki is an incredibly busy and exciting time for us at Te Papa as we put on a big programme of public events, and educational visits for schools.

Our new ECE and family education specialist Martin Langdon was thrown in the deep end the moment he started by delivering countless educational programmes to children during this year’s Matariki.

Martin shares how he structured his Matariki educational programme and some highlights he took from it.

image of stars in the night sky
Night sky Canterbury, 2014. Photograph by Tom Hall via Flickr. CC BY-ND Gen 2.0

Ka rere a Matariki, ka wera te hinu.
As Matariki raises the fat is heated.

Hitting the ground running

The first programme I was tasked to develop was a Matariki programme to connect those aged three to six – our youngest education audience. Within three weeks of being at the museum I was on the floor delivering to different ECE groups.

Luckily for me, my core interests are in New Zealand and Māori art, and history. My previous experience with programming around Matariki meant I could easily be guided by the spaces and taonga on display at Te Papa to create an engaging programme.

When I was growing up in Papatoetoe, South Auckland we didn’t seem to get much teaching around Māori culture let alone Māori-specific observances such as Matariki. Fast-forward 30 odd years and it’s great that we as a wider nation are embracing the star cluster of Matariki and connecting to its traditions and how we collectively prioritise moments of reflection, thanks, and celebration.

What is Matariki?

Matariki refers to a cluster of stars (known to some as Pleiades) that rises in the southern hemisphere in mid-winter.

These heralding lights traditionally signal the start of a New Year or new cycle of seasons for Māori. It’s a winter celebration – a chance to reflect on the past seasons, successes, and lessons. It’s a time to learn and share histories and stories with the community, and write the new lesson/stories into the arts to ensure their influence on the future.

Delivering the programme

For the delivery and content of our programme I looked to flesh out the learnings that schools and communities were now engaging with – as a starting point most groups have become familiar with Matariki as ‘seven stars’. Groups often come in having read about ‘seven sister’, ‘seven kites’ and ‘Seven patupaiarehe’ this is a great starting point.

(Note: different iwi around Aotearoa have differing stories, traditions, and celestial locators.)

The kaupapa for Matariki ECE

Our programme looked to develop the ways in which Matariki is connected to Māori traditions and how we might understand the meaning and relationship Matariki has for the people of Aotearoa today.

We placed an emphasis on five connecting strands that were focal points for a range of activities during this time of year.

  1. Matariki (Māori tradition, language, culture)
  2. Whānau (family and extended supporting groups)
  3. Whenua (Land, country, nation)
  4. Kai (food, to eat, consume, feed)
  5. Kōrero (talk, communicate)

The space and taonga we use in the museum were Mana whenua to enhance these connections.

Teaching diagams
The five learning strands, 2017. Photograph by Martin Langdon

Rather than just talking about this kaupapa, the tamariki (children) would explore three whare (house, building)

Participants explored:

  • Wharepuni (mākōtukutuku)
  • Wharenui (central meeting house ‘Te hau ki turanga’)
  • Pātaka (food storage house – ‘Te tākinga Pātaka’)

Activities in the programme

Crawling into a Wharepuni, we looked at the materials, technology, and sharing of knowledge that would help keep the Whānau warm – especially during the time of Matariki in mid-winter.

We linked the tradition of the arts, whakapapa and storytelling, and how this time would be used to share kōrero around understanding these forms and lessons. We also emphasised Matariki as a time where new kōrero could be the impetus for new art, waiata (song), and kōrero to be created.

The last whare we explored was the Pātaka, arguably be the most important ‘house’ during Matariki. This food storage house would be full of kai (food) at this time of year. All the hard work in the seasons leading up to winter would enable the whānau to spend more time inside, sustaining the people during the harsher months and also providing space and time to reflect, create, and share.

To conclude this programme we played an action game where groups of tamariki would create actions in response to the five Matariki kupu (words).

The new actions would be learnt as a whole group and then we had heaps of fun performing these new actions when the kupu were called out.

I must say the amazing and creative response actions created by all the participating groups were so good. As the calls got faster and faster hilarity and laughter ensued.


Since this programme we’ve received many great responses from ECE and school groups. This helps us continue to develop ideas and activities to celebrate and connect with Matariki, not just as a star cluster, but also by using our guiding strands and looking to involve the communities and whānau.

I started this blog with a Whakataukī (Proverb, significant saying)

Ka rere a Matariki, ka wera te hinu.
As Matariki raises the fat is heated.

It’s one thing to translate Whakataukī, but to understand its relevance and meaning is to truly explore it poetic potency.

Fat was used to preserve kai in naturally made storage containers like pōhā, hue, etc. The efforts to store this kai could now be enjoyed and shared with the whānau during Matariki – sustaining the people but also the culture and kōrero.

Please share with me how you celebrated Matariki in 2017!

images of matariki activities done at East Harbour Kindergarten
Photographs courtesy of East Harbour Kindergarten


  1. Thanks Martin…I really enjoyed reading how you authentically made connections with our lives and Matariki. We can all relate to that and it makes matariki come alive and be relevant to us all especially children. I also liked your idea of hands on exploration of the whare……you have a fresh ideas and activities that challenge us to look anew at how we teach Matariki. I agree too that the embracing of te reo and tikanga Maori and Polynesian is wonderful and will have a positive impact of NZ children both individually and collectively as they learn and develop a more inclusive society.
    Shame we live in Levin – its quite a way for children to travel to you.
    Any thoughts of taking your inspiring approach on the road? You could carry smaller artefacts with you to share te papa to a wider audience and enrich ECE teaching at the same time. Whatever happens thanks your example of a rich fun learning programme. Ka mau te wehi!

    1. Author

      Ngā mihi nui Johanna, I appreciate your comments.
      As a part of our educational review we are looking at outreach initiatives and how we can further connect and extend what we do here. As a part of our annual review, we are looking at outreach opportunities, including how our Virtual Excursions could be tailored to an early childhood audience.
      I will make sure your comments are included in this review to highlight a need to connect taonga and education outside of Te Papa.

  2. Awesome Martin! Thanks for sharing your thinking process and methodology. Good mahi.

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