The Wheke Project-Lyall Bay kindergarten
Many of the children who attend the kindergarten are Māori, and the kindergarten has a strong commitment to biculturalism and the principles of partnership embedded in the Treaty of Waitangi so that all children learn about their cultural heritage as New Zealanders, and affirm the position of Māori as tangata whenua. The teachers decided that an excursion to Ako Pai marae at Victoria University of Wellington College of Education could provide an important opportunity for children, families and themselves to learn about tikanga Māori and explore aspects of Māori art. During the course of the excursion the teachers, children and parents were able to experience the kawa of the marae visit and engage in drama and art activities that related to the visual art in the wharenui.
In the development of specific goals relating to the visual arts work, the kindergarten starting to make connections to the kindergartens ‘place’ in the community, and the teachers decided that exploring the Māori legend Te Whekenui a Muturangi (Kupe and the Octopus) would be an effective way to begin this process. Kathy Sule comments, “As we journeyed along in our explorations we looked at Māori art and we looked at some Māori legends. Te Whekenui a Muturangi was an obvious choice as our kindergarten is near the sea and according to the legend, this is where Kupe, chasing an octopus, discovered New Zealand/Aotearoa.”
Ako Pai Marae, the marae at Victoria University of Wellington College of Education, has a large painting of the legend in the meeting house and the teachers decided that an excursion to the marae to explore this painting could provide some exciting learning for children, families, and the teachers themselves. The marae experience to look at the painting in this context would support the Belonging goal in Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 1996) which encourages early childhood programmes to provide experiences for children in which “connecting links with the family and the wider world are affirmed and extended ... Most importantly for all the children, their families and the teachers the experience would provide “knowledge about the features of an area of physical and/or spiritual significance to the local community, such as the local river or mountain” (p.56).
As a direct result of the trip to the marae a large three dimensional wheke (octopus) was created by the children with help from one of the staff and one of the fathers. This was created out of pinex and plaster of Paris, and then painted by the children. It became another focal point of the programme and symbolic of the art and story telling experienced at the marae, as well as symbolising the cultural diversity of the kindergarten.
In 2007 the teachers continued with the theme of Te Whekenui a Muturangi and budget approval was given by the committee to complete a sculpture of the wheke for the outside area. The teachers and children began work with a local artist at the end of the year to create the concrete foundation for the work and this will continue with collaborative mosaic work to embellish the sculpture.
In July 2008 Te Whekenui a Muturangi was completed and the kindergarten had an end of term party to celebrate the hard work that had gone into its creation. The sculpture will continue to inspire on-going creative activity at the kindergarten.