Renewing participatory democracy: Walking with young children to story and read the land

Funding year: 
2 years
University of Waikato
ECE sector
Project start date: 
January 2022
Project end date: 
March 2024
Principal investigator(s): 
Professor Linda Mitchell, Professor Bronwen Cowie
Research team members: 
Karaitiana Tamatea (kaitiaki), Hoana McMillan (research associate), Raella Kahuroa (research associate), Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research, University of Waikato
Research partners: 
Maunganui Kindergarten: Catherine Rolleston, Abbey Collins, Karen Attrill, Letitia McFarlane, Sam Owen, Nicola Jones (teachers), Annette Rogers, senior teacher. Pakuranga Baptist Kindergarten: Jacqui Lees (director), Nilma Abeyratne, Danielle Rollo, Olivia Kwok Yee Ng (teachers). Te Kōhanga Reo ki Rotokawa: Tiria Shaw, Heather Patu (kaiako).

Intro / Project description

Participatory democracy provides the value base and conceptual frame for this project. We will explore the ways in which walking, reading and storying the land with teachers, community members, iwi, and whānau, enable young children to experience and learn about their local area (its stories, geology, biodiversity and cultural meanings), and envision democratic socio-ecological futures. A participatory design research process will support two kindergartens, a kōhanga reo, and a primary school to develop and analyse pedagogical strategies that promote valued learning and dispositions of being ready, willing and able to actively participate in Aotearoa New Zealand and as “citizens of the world”.


Our research questions ask:
1. What does it mean for young children to act as critical democratic participants within their early childhood settings and kōhanga reo?
2. How can educational practices based on walking, reading and storying the land:
● Elicit and build on the funds of knowledge of children, families/whānau, iwi and communities?
● Foster and integrate learning across the curriculum?
● Foster children’s capacity, inclination and sensitivity for democratic participation.

We will analyse pedagogical strategies through walking, storying and reading the land, that promote integration across the curriculum and strengthen valued dispositions for children as “citizens of the world” and characteristics of being an educated person who is ready, willing and able to be an active participant in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Why is this research important?

Walking, reading and storying the land has been embedded in indigenous ways of knowing for generations. Through these activities, children can develop whanaungatanga ki te whenua; whanaungatanga ki te tangata; whanaungatanga ki te taia, te aotūroa—connectedness with whenua or place; with people; with the environment and natural world. These are fostered through learning the stories of the people and being able to retell them to children and families and how to engage with and nurture the natural and social environments.  Walking with others can generate understandings about history and science and make connections with literature, art, music and dance.

What we plan to do

Teachers/kaiako, whānau, community and children in each setting will undertake locally determined walking, reading and storying the land projects. Three cycles of data collection, theory building and analysis will be undertaken, with data gathered through:
● Video or audio recordings of storytelling about the local land;
● Documentation related to the research focus;
● Video recordings and observation notes during walking excursions, of interactions of children with people, places and things in the environment. Children’s photographs of what interests them, and discussions of these;
● Discussion/wānanga with participants in the walks about their observations of children’s experiences;
● Locally determined methods;
● Case studies of three children over 12 months to illuminate the child’s developing relationships with land and people over time.
Teachers/kaiako and researchers will undertake collaborative analysis, writing and dissemination. Analysis will consider children’s working theories, enhancement of mana and children’s roles and responsibilities in acting within a democratic community. 

Contact details

Names: Professor Linda Mitchell, Ph +64 21 0239 1724 
Professor Bronwen Cowie, Ph +64 7 838 4987; +64 21 220 9339
Division of Education
Private Bag 3105
Hamilton 3240, New Zealand