Make Matariki shine

Published on Tuesday, 15 June 2021
Last updated on Tuesday, 15 June 2021

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Matariki was announced as a new public holiday to begin on 24 June 2022, and while there’s no holiday this year, it’s a great opportunity to embrace families with the Maori New Year spirit of community, belonging and sharing.

For educators, this year’s Matariki will be celebrated from 19 June to 11 July. Matariki plays an intrinsic role in Māori culture and describes the star cluster signalling the start of Maori New Year.

It is a celebration steeped in Māori legends, cultural believes and practices. This festival is a learning journey not only for young children but also for their families who may not know much about Matariki.

Illustrating this point is a story from the media website Stuff that highlighted the significant role that young children have in ‘bridging the gap’ in Pākehā knowledge of Matariki.

The article outlined the lack of knowledge about Matariki and stated: “The ‘most profound change’ in knowledge of the Māori New Year is within early childhood education, and experts believe this could be a powerful way to normalise it for all.”

While it has grown in prominence – and cemented in the calendar as a public holiday – the Stuff article found some adults responded with ‘blank looks and shoulder shrugs’ in response to a question about what Matariki represented.

It’s important to keep in mind that it wasn’t until the early 2000s that celebrating Matariki became popular with mainstream New Zealand.

The Stuff article draws attention to the importance and far-reaching influences of early education for connecting children with knowledge and understanding of our dual heritage so they can educate others. With this in mind, educators can develop a program to connect Matariki to Māori traditions and reflect on how to understand the meaning and relationship Matariki has for the people of Aotearoa today.

Understanding Matariki

The Matariki constellation is also known as the seven sisters and appears in the winter sky. While tribes will celebrate at slightly different times, it is traditionally a time for reflection, ceremonies, and events that welcome a promise of the New Year.

Matariki translates as ‘eyes of god’ (mata ariki) or ‘little eyes’ (mata riki). Historically, Matariki brought communities together to reflect on the year that had passed and plan for the year ahead. By the time Matariki appeared the crops had been harvested, seafood and birds had been gathered and storehouses were full. This was a time of celebration with waiata (songs); sharing kai (food), korero (talking). 

Many Matariki celebrations follow these same customs today, with the addition of flying kites, which are meant to represent the fluttering of the stars.

Some activities we might do now at Matariki include:

  • Have a celebration with friends and whānau
  • Learn or do some weaving
  • Learn about stars
  • Talk about our family history and stories
  • Fly kites
  • Watch kapa haka performances.
  • Learn about Māori origin stories and culture
  • Give respect to the whenua (land) on which we live
  • Learn more about how we can care for our Mother Earth Papatūānuku

For educators Matariki is an opportunity to foster knowledge, cultural connection and apply intentional teaching practices to explore the traditions of Māori New Year, reflecting on what it means in a Māori context, and what and how to link it to practises today.

Tips to engage families with Matariki

For early childhood education marking this culturally important event presents a rich and exciting learning opportunity to celebrate culture, promote learning and to build connections between school, families and community.

The most beneficial resource for early learning centres can be people in your community who have knowledge and experience in living culture. This opportunity connects young children with stories, songs, dance and language, as Maori whanau or a guest can create authentic and meaningful learning experiences.

In planning for Matariki make a list of themed experiences for the children to explore during the celebration and actively seek opportunities for families to participate.

Promote family engagement by seeking their insights and feedback on Matariki activities and events.

Use feedback to guide your active learning ideas, projects and invite family and extended family to key events. Your program could include key engagement occasions such as:

  • Invite parents, carers or extended family to visit and share their stories, sing or play music
  • Plan a performance presented by the children and hold a Matariki hākari (feast) where each family contributes including food from their country of origin or a family favourite
  • Open your doors during scheduled craft activities for family to drop in and work with the children
  • Organise an incursion to connect the children to Matariki heritage and history. Invite families who may want to learn more for themselves about Matariki
  • For family that can’t attend, ramp up the digital resources with photographs and stories sent daily via your established communication channels
  • Create a Matariki movie, ePortfolio or a small hardcopy folder to send home, highlighting the nature of Matariki and learning activities children engaged with.

Key points on engaging families with Matariki include fundamentals such as:

  • Asking for family input on activities and ideas
  • Engaging in two-way communication
  • Be reciprocal by inviting families to share their unique knowledge and heritage
  • Provide fun and useful learning activities for the home
  • Invite families to be involved in activities

Fun and learning Matariki activities

Check out last year’s Matariki article for super-fun and simple ideas to celebrate, including links to fun resources such as creative crafts, food ideas, tree planting and links to online stories such as the award winning The Little Kiwi’s Matariki by Nikki Slade Robinson.

References and further reading

Matariki for kids: Christchurch library

Matariki: What’s On

Museum of New Zealand: Matariki teaching resource

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