Mātai mokopuna – he tirohanga wairua, hinengaro, tinana, whatumanawa

Funding year: 
2 years
University of Waikato
Whatua tū aka
Project start date: 
January 2021
Project end date: 
January 2023
Principal investigator(s): 
Hoana McMillan
Research team members: 
Linda Mitchell
Research partners: 
Te Kōhanga Reo ki Rotokawa Tiria Shaw (Kaiako Matua), Heather Patu, Abigail Parekura, Jannalee Hano Tihema, Latoya Rewita-Grace, Victoria Urlich, Ani Ruri (Kaiako)

Intro / Project description

In 2017 Te Whāriki a te Kōhanga Reo was published in collaboration with Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust, formalising assessment or ‘mātai mokopuna’ practices within kōhanga reo. Mātai mokopuna makes visible the mana of mokopuna in conjunction with the Māori dimensions of wairua (spirituality), tinana (physicality), hinengaro (cognition) and whatumanawa (emotion). The research is a Participatory Action Research project underpinned by kaupapa Māori principles that will explore how whānau and kaiako give expression to the mana of mokopuna through these dimensions.


The overarching research question for this project is: 

How do whānau and kaiako give expression to the developing mana of mokopuna through the dimensions of hinengaro (cognition), wairua (spirituality), tinana (physicality) and whatumanawa (emotion)? 

This question will be explored through the following sub-questions: 

  • What do whānau and kaiako understand in relation to mana, the taumata whakahirahira (cultural settings) and the dimensions of hinengaro, wairua, tinana, and whatumanawa? 
  • How does the Te Tauira Whāriki model support whānau and kaiako discussions of hinengaro, wairua, tinana, and whatumanawa? 
  • What are whānau aspirations for their children and how do these influence whānau and kaiako discussions of mana, hinengaro, wairua, tinana, and whatumanawa?

Why is this research important? 

Assessment within kōhanga reo has not been afforded the same attention and support as has been received by the early childhood sector. The lack of research on assessment within kōhanga reo has consequently led to expectations that kōhanga reo approach assessment in the same way as their early childhood counterparts. This research acknowledges mātai mokopuna as the approach used by kōhanga reo. The opportunity to recognise how the mana of mokopuna is strengthened through the dimensions of hinengaro, wairua, tinana, and whatumanawa acknowledges the legitimacy of Māori value systems.

What we plan to do 

There will be two cycles of data collection and analysis involving kaiako and whānau. Kaiako and whānau will identify their initial understandings of mana, the taumata whakahirahira (cultural settings), and the dimensions of hinengaro, wairua, tinana, and whatumanawa and demonstrate their understanding of these during mātai mokopuna related wānanga. Data analysis will then be undertaken by the whānau, kaiako and university researchers with the primary purpose of identifying areas of the taumata whakahirahira and the four dimensions that require strengthening. A plan will be devised to strengthen understanding and sharing for the second cycle of data gathering. 

A small cluster of whānau and mokopuna will also be followed over the course of the project to track the ways in which mokopuna develop in relation to the four dimensions. Together, whānau, kaiako and university researchers will identify, analyse and discuss the ways in which each dimension is present in the sharing. The discussion will provide guidance to inform subsequent wānanga throughout the two years, culminating in stronger visibility of the developing mana of mokopuna relative to the four dimensions and taumata whakahirahira. The research findings will be disseminated through conference presentations and journal articles, and will be valuable to other kōhanga reo and early childhood communities focused on the holistic development of mokopuna.

Contact details

Name: Hoana McMillan

Address: University of Waikato, Tauranga CBD Campus, 101 Durham Street Tauranga 3110

Phone: 07 2620 546

Email: hoana.mcmillan@waikato.ac.nz 

Back Row (left to right) Latoya Rewita-Grace, Jannalee Hano Tihema, Hoana McMillan

Front Row (left to right) Tiria Shaw, Heather Patu holding Kahukura Urlich, Victoria Urlich holding Kikorangi Urlich, Abigail Parekura