Māui, the demi-god and hercules of the South Pacific, is one of the best known ancestors throughout Aotearoa. In most pūrākau he is depicted as cheeky and unconventional, but he’s also intelligent and inquisitive; an agent of change who has a willingness to take risks and explore the unimaginable. 

Sport Northland and Healthy Families Far North are taking a united approach with local kura to adopt the curious and inventive traits of Māui, by exploring new ways to increase physical activity that put our tamariki at the centre of decisions that enhance the spaces they play in.

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Tāmokohia te whenua is an adaptation of Sport Northland’s Play on the Way, where tamariki draw from local pūrākau to design and produce play courses that are important to them.

Play Development Lead of Sport Northland, Natalie Wilcock, said the initiative is an opportunity for schools to rethink how spaces are used for play and storytelling.

“After connecting with Healthy Families Far North, visiting rural kura and seeing how they intuitively connect place to play, we found there was another layer of how we could better support more meaningful play experiences for tamariki, by tamariki,” she said.

“It’s shifted the way this kaupapa is being implemented by creating spaces where they’re encouraged to move more while experiencing a greater agency and influence of tino rangatiratanga.”

Tamariki spend up to 15 years of their childhood in school. A person’s physical literacy evolves throughout their life but for young people who are building and developing their confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding and engagement in physical activities, access to quality play experiences within their local environments are crucial.

One kaiako commented on how the initiative allowed tamariki to be spontaneous.

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“Sometimes you’ve planned the kids so much that you’ve planned them out of the lesson.”

“I noticed their behavior change... they were left to work by themselves or with their friends, and they let go of their imagination.”

“We had kids reciting whakapapa, others were drawing up a pig-hunting maze. It got them excited and they were motivated to play these games with their mates,” another kaiako added.

In one well-known pūrākau, Tamanuiterā, the sun, was always in a hurry. Mahi such as māra kai and raranga harakeke were never finished, leaving people to eat their meals in the dark. A frustrated Māui heard the cries of his people and decided to catch Tamanuiterā. Reluctant and afraid, his brothers were quick to criticise and laugh at Māui’s proclamation but in the end they followed him, putting the needs of their people first.

Systems Innovator Rawinia Everitt said Māui is inspiring new ways to explore play in our schools.

“Maui was a haututū who was willing to take risks and explore the unimaginable for his people, but he couldn’t do it on his own,” she said.

“We want to adopt some of those traits. We want to try new things, explore opportunities with others who have the same goal and show that when we’re working together, there’s greater power sharing with our whānau and community.”

It’s a demonstration of how we’re “better, together,” Wilcock added.

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“Essentially, it comes down to building relationships with others who have the same vision.”

“A lot of our organisations have the same goal but are also working in silo. Our relationship with Healthy Families Far North is an example of how we’re better together and how we can build a future where organisations collaborate with their communities and work alongside whānau to create places which enable everyone to thrive.”

Sport Northland are currently working on a blueprint to help guide schools through the process of executing Tāmokohia te whenua by taking a tuakana-teina approach that encourages capability and an increased adoption of tamariki-led innovation practices.

The plan encourages schools to connect with mana whenua, local marae and to learn the history of their rohe through movement and games.

“This is an exciting way for us to explore how community spaces and services can better prioritise conditions for whānau well-being.”

“The opportunity to work alongside Healthy Families with our rural kura and tamariki has opened a whole new world for me. There’s a reciprocity of learning and upskilling, so I’m very grateful for the support and I’m excited about what this means not just for our kura in the Far North, but the potential it has for tamariki across Aotearoa.”