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Early Learning: Supporting learning from home resources

The Ministry of Education wants to support teachers and whānau with children’s learning from home. We hope you will find these resources useful. Remember that everyday life provides constant opportunities for children to learn.

Learning happens in every language. If your home language is a language other than English, use that language when communicating with your child. You can use your home language to talk about activities provided and the activity can be completed in English (or in your home language).

Setting the scene

Things to play with

Children learn through play. They do it all the time, often without really thinking about it. They also learn by taking part in everyday activities like getting dressed and helping to sort the washing. For example, when children help to fold or sort the washing they can learn mathematics (shape, pattern, number), and that they make a valued contribution to their family.

Check out this short video, where a parent uses socks to create a fun lesson for her children.

Kia hia ngā tōkena? | How many socks? — Te Whāriki Online

Children can learn through play with things from around the house. For example, they can play make-believe or create games using empty cartons, fabric, dress-ups, pots and pans from the kitchen, and natural materials such as collections of leaves or stones from outside. They might have a favourite toy or character, and by joining in with their play you can turn this into a shared learning experience.

Babies, toddlers and young children will often play and learn using the same things in different ways. Take, for example, an empty container from the kitchen:

  • A baby might think, ‘What is this?’ To find out, they could explore it with their mouth, hold it between their fingers, or move it from hand to hand.
  • A toddler might think, ‘What can I do with it?’ To find out they could roll it along the floor or down the steps, or see what other items they can fit inside it.
  • A three- or four-year-old might think, ‘What else can it be?’ These children could stand on it to create a balance game, or use it in a pretend pirate game.

Play ideas for learning has more ideas about things in the home to play with.

Play ideas for learning (PDF, 7.5MB) — Ministry of Education

Learning in everyday life:

Space

The way the space at home is organised can change how children play, share and get along with each other.

You can avoid conflicts and help children focus on what they’re doing by making some separated spaces in a room. For example, a protected space behind a couch could be used by two children to build towers with boxes, while another child dances in the main part of the room. Perhaps noisy play can happen in a hallway or bedroom, while a school pupil is studying in the main room.

Over time, the way spaces are made and used might follow a pattern. For example, pretend or creating things from ‘junk’ play could work well (and take over the living area) in the morning, while in the afternoon, the same space could be used for reading, drawing, or sorting the washing together.

Children of different ages often like playing together but sometimes they’ll also want to do their own thing. A high table can create a space for older children to do things that are unsafe for babies, or to play with things that are easily broken. For babies, try to make space on the floor that is safe for them to move around freely and maybe to climb. Cushions can be good for climbing on and over.

Routines

Routines are the regular things we do every day. They are different in every culture and in every home.

Most of us like some kind of structure to our day, and routines help provide young children with a familiar rhythm to their day. Whānau might like to sit with them in the morning and plan the day together.

Routines help children prepare for what is going to happen next, and learn to trust that their needs will be met. Routines are often used to ensure children’s wellbeing, health and safety, incorporating such things as sleeping, washing, eating, and toileting.

Routines can also help children to learn to take responsibility for themselves and others, and this helps them to feel capable. It also helps  parents and caregivers to know when to make time for the things they need to do.

Familiar routines help children learn to:

  • understand the order of things (first, next, last), which also helps them to learn to wait for some things
  • manage their feelings (they may feel grumpy, but they can cope knowing it is almost meal time)
  • do things for themselves (washing, eating, dressing, toileting).

Some resources to help you consider setting routines for children:

Talking with children

Talking together

It is important for adults to use the language they are most comfortable and familiar with (this may be a language other than English), as this provides the best examples for children. Language is learned best when it happens at times you naturally spend with children doing everyday things.

Here are some tips that you can use when you are talking together:

  • Copy me: You can show you’re interested by copying what your child is doing and saying. Copying is a good way to start and keep a conversation going. You can copy body actions, sounds, words or sentences.
  • Add language: You can help grow your child’s language by adding in new words and ideas. You could share past experiences you’ve had together and talk about what might happen in the future.
  • Commenting: When you talk about what you or your child is doing, you build your child’s understanding of language. Try not to ask too many questions. For example, if you’re dressing to go outside: "We’re putting your jacket on. Your arm goes in the sleeve. And the other arm in. Up goes the zip! You look nice and warm."
  • Speech: When your child says something that is not clear, say it back correctly so they hear it the right way, rather than asking them to repeat it. For example, if your child says, "Turn da tey, open da door". You can say it back correctly "Yes, turn the key and open the door."

Visit Much More Than Words to find out more about growing children’s language.

Much More Than Words — Special Education Online

Taking turns

Lots of back-and-forth ‘conversations’ between you and your child help your child’s brain to develop. It’s good to notice children’s actions, words and what they are looking at, and to talk about it with them.

  1. Notice when they’re trying to get your attention and what they are interested in. Are they making lines with the crayon, or are they more interested in trying out different colours?
  2. Respond to them. You could comment on what they’re doing — "That’s a long line."
  3. Wait. Your child might take some time and then draw a wiggly line. You could respond by saying, "It looks like a wiggly eel or tuna." Keep taking turns for a while.

Noticing your child’s interest encourages them.
Responding to your child makes them feel heard and understood.
Waiting gives your child time to develop their own ideas.

Back-and-forth 'conversations' can be described as 'serve and return'.

Sharing stories together

Sharing a story with your child may be for just a few minutes when they’re very young, and that’s ok. For children, sharing books is a way to talk together and it works well when they really feel part of it:

  • You can talk about the pictures and not read the words.
  • You can read the same book over and over.
  • You can read one page, and skip some (you don’t have to finish it).
  • You can start at your child’s favourite part.
  • You can hand your book over for your child to tell you the story.
  • You can take turns for turning over the pages.
  • You can bring toys and other things next to the book to re-tell the story.

As well as books, games, pretend play, art activities, helping with the shopping and cooking are all ways we can encourage early reading and writing.

Useful resources for supporting children's oral language:

Your child’s wellbeing

The language of emotions

When children can identify and express their own emotions, they can begin to read social situations, develop empathy, and interact in positive ways.

You can gift children the language of emotions by paying attention to:

  • naming emotions — "you are feeling frustrated"
  • describing emotions — "when I feel frustrated, my body feels tight"
  • explaining an emotion — "when you ask for a turn and you have to wait for a long time, it can make you feel frustrated".

Ideas for calming your tamariki/child

You can help children to understand they have choices that can help them to manage their emotions. Help them learn some calming rituals.

Encourage and make space for the use of rituals for soothing, calming, and distracting, such as:

  • singing waiata (visit Te Kōtare for some waiata to sing together)
  • rhythmic movements such as rocking or swinging
  • breathing exercises, for example tummy breathing
  • using a hand-held fan to cool down
  • blowing bubbles
  • going to a quiet space to relax
  • gentle touch or massage
  • listening to music
  • kanikani for dancing away troubled feelings
  • tactile experiences such as water play or modelling with dough
  • a cuddle and a story.

More resources to help you with your child’s wellbeing:

The early learning curriculum — information for parents

The early learning curriculum is called Te Whāriki. This curriculum guides teaching and learning in early learning services and can also help you think about what experiences and activities you could provide for your child at home. Te Whāriki identifies five areas of learning and development called strands, shown in the table below, with some ideas for things to try at home with your child.

Find out more about Te Whāriki.

Te Whāriki Online

Te Whāriki strands

Wellbeing | Mana atua

The health and wellbeing of the child are protected and nurtured.
Wellbeing: Children have a sense of wellbeing and resilience.
Mana atua: Children understand their own mana atuatanga — uniqueness and spiritual connectedness.

Things you can do at home:

  • Show your child how to clean their teeth and wash their hands thoroughly.
  • Talk about healthy food with your child and involve them in food preparation.
  • Name and talk about feelings, and notice things that help your child to feel calm, for example, giving them a hug, quiet space, a story or walk. 
  • Allow your child to take up challenges, such as climbing down 2 or 3 stairs (toddler) or climbing the low branches of a tree (older child).
  • Talk with your child about what kinds of clothes suit the weather, and give them opportunities to decide what to wear and practice getting dressed independently. 
  • Encourage tikanga that contributes to your child’s wellbeing, for example, saying karakia before kai.

Belonging | Mana whenua

Children and their families feel a sense of belonging.
Belonging: Children know they belong and have a sense of connection to others and the environment. 
Mana whenua: Children’s relationship to Papatūānuku is based on whakapapa, respect and aroha.

Things you can do at home:

  • Tell your child family stories, for example, how they got their name or where and how previous generations lived and what they liked to do. 
  • Involve your child in jobs at home, for example, wiping the table or setting the table for dinner. 
  • Involve your child in creating a plan of flexible daily routines and make a picture or diagram for each part of the day.
  • Discuss the reasons for any rules with your child, and involve them in deciding limits and boundaries in your home.
  • Connect with other people in the community, and participate in community activities. 
  • Create opportunities for your child to show manaakitanga, caring for others, for example, by preparing kai for others, or helping take care of pets.

Contribution | Mana tangata

Opportunities for learning are equitable, and each child’s contribution is valued.
Contribution: Children learn with and alongside others.
Mana tangata: Children have a strong sense of themselves as a link between past, present and future.

Things you can do at home:

  • Play some games that involve taking turns, such as ball games, card games, or hide and seek.
  • Help your child think about another person’s point of view, for example, ask how they think a friend might feel, and why. 
  • Notice what your child is interested in and give them opportunities to explore those interests. 
  • Help your child to notice what they’re good at, for example, if they successfully resolved a conflict — talk about it at dinner that night. 
  • Encourage children to teach others what they know.
  • Decide with your child something that they could be responsible for at home, for example, feeding a pet, packing up equipment, watering the garden.
  • Encourage older children to take the lead in showing a younger child how to do things like washing your hands, brushing your teeth, sitting at the table to eat and drink.

Communication | Mana reo

The languages and symbols of children’s own and other cultures are promoted and protected.
Communication: Children are strong and effective communicators. 
Mana reo: Through te reo Māori children’s identity, belonging and wellbeing are enhanced.

Things you can do at home:

  • Talk with your child in the language(s) you are most comfortable using. Share with your child your cultural knowledge of stories, waiata, songs, dances and art.
  • Use a large vocabulary and introduce new words when talking with your child. 
  • Read books with your child that reflect your culture and other cultures.
  • Make up stories with your child — take turns to tell what happens next.
  • Listen to a variety of music and sometimes dance, sing or play physical listening games like ‘statues’ (stop still when the music stops).
  • Help your child to understand mathematics language by involving them in cooking, for example, ‘½ a cup’.
  • Use materials to make art or their own ‘props’ for games. The inside of small boxes can be good for drawing on. 

Exploration | Mana aotūroa

The child learns through active exploration of the environment.
Exploration: Children are critical thinkers, problem solvers and explorers. 
Mana aotūroa: Children see themselves as explorers, able to connect with and care for their own and wider worlds.

Things you can do at home:

  • Answer your child’s questions, and also ask them questions that start with ‘I wonder why…’ or ‘I wonder how…?’
  • At night-time, go on a torch walk to see what you can find together. 
  • Help your child to look for patterns, similarities and differences by sorting things by colour, shape, size, weight.
  • Encourage your child to solve problems by trying things out (trial and error), for example, working out different ways to make a hut out of chairs and blankets or sheets.
  • Help your child explore how they can control their bodies, for example, creating lots of opportunities for babies to roll, crawl and walk, and for older children to run, balance, and climb. 
  • Draw attention to opportunities for learning through senses of touch, sight, taste, smell, hearing by asking things like ‘What does it feel like?’ ‘What can you see’? 
  • Share your knowledge relating to your child’s interest in learning about the environment, such as gardening, recycling, kaitiakitanga of water ways, collecting kaimoana.

Learning through play

Have fun together with people games

As their name suggests, you don’t need special equipment to play ‘people games’ – just you and the time and a space to enjoy being together with your child. Children learn to connect and communicate with you through people games, including mahitahi (collaboration) and ngā taonga tākaro (learning materials).

They can learn to:

  • take a turn
  • wait for you to take a turn
  • focus their attention and copy you
  • make choices
  • ask to start a game, or for it to continue
  • practice using new body actions, sounds and words to communicate.

Ideas for people games

There are lots of well-known ‘people games’ and families often make up their own games. Here are some ideas:

  • Games like ‘Simon says’
  • Jump over a line, a cushion or towards a target of increasing distance (indoors)
  • Chase, tag, or running around a made up circuit (outdoors)
  • Traditional Māori games such as tī rākau (stick game), mahi whai (string game), poi, and haka
  • Make up a story by taking turns to add the next sentence
  • Peekaboo, using a soft blanket or hands
  • Finger-play games like 'This Little Piggy' or 'Where is Thumbkin?'

Online resources

Resources for helping you to support your child to learn through play:

Home Learning TV is available on demand at TVNZ, including Karen’s House with Karen O’Leary. This programme delivers play-based experiences to inspire you and your child to engage in learning.

Home Learning TV — TVNZ

Mauri Reo Mauri Ora on Māori TV supports interactive learning for children.

Mauri Reo Mauri Ora — Māori Television

For more information and links to resources, activities, and practical advice to support learning at home:

Additional contacts

PlunketLine
Call 0800 933 922 for child health or parenting information or advice, or visit www.plunket.org.nz

Parent Helpline
Call 0800 568 856 for parenting advice.

Healthline
Call 0800 611 116 for health advice about your baby or child.