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Hauora - well-being from an early childhood perspective

Hauora - well-being from an early childhood perspective

By Cyrus Taraporvala

This short reflection is an attempt to unpack the essence of hauora, or well-being, from an early childhood perspective.

Hauora is a Māori concept that relates to the health model in Te Ao Māori (the Māori World). It encompasses a holistic viewpoint and is defined within four distinct dimensions ( These are:

1) Taha tinana (physical well-being) - relates to caring for one's physical self, and it's development.
Along with an understanding of the body and how to stay healthy, Māori consider some aspects in relation to the body as tapu, or sacred and special. For example,the head is considered as tapu, and one does not touch or pat anothers head. Personal physical space is also to be respected, and it is rude and demeaning to their mana to step over someone. As teachers, we need to be aware of this in the sleep room. Encouraging movement through activities and play in early childhood environments also contribute to the well-being of tamariki. "Our physical ‘being’ supports our essence and shelters us from the external environment. For Māori the physical dimension is just one aspect of health and well-being and cannot be separated from the aspect of mind, spirit and family" (

2) Taha hinengaro (mental and emotional well-being) - the ability to express one's thoughts and feelings, as well as thinking in a logical and consistent manner.
From a Māori perspective, an individual's behaviour, feelings, and thoughts are essential to good health. Relationships are extremely important in the Māori world. From an early childhood perspective, one can consider the development of social skills an important factor, as tamariki use interpersonal skills effectively to enhance relationships. An important part of well-being involves empowerment, or whakamana. As tamariki are in a safe environment that they have grown to trust, it sets the platform for learning and development as they are able to make their own choices. This is the pathway to becoming lifelong competent learners, and the foundation is set in the early years.

3) Taha whanau (social well-being) - a sense of well-being surrounding whānau relationships, and other friendships.
Care of tamariki is provided in an early childhood environment through which they feel emotionally safe and secure. Whānau are important for tamariki as they contribute towards a child's identity and well-being. From a Māori viewpoint, children derive their identity from ancestral characteristics. An individual will often be seen as having the characteristics of his family name. A common bond is shared if people are from the same area. That is why it is common to enquire where a person is from, rather than ask for his name. This bonding offers a sense of social belonging and well-being.

4) Taha wairua (spiritual well-being) - the beliefs and values that promote a sense of well-being in the daily lives of the community.
From a Māori perspective, wairua or spirituality is an essential element that promotes hauora, or well-being. This means that a lack of spirituality can effectively lead to a lack of well-being. I have written a musing on wairuatanga, one of the theoretical principles of tikanga, the Māori way of doing things. I stated that in the context of wairuatanga in relation to our early childhood curriculum, the strand of well-being is an acknowledgement and recognition of spirituality in a sense, as the goal is for a child to "experience an environment where their emotional well-being is nurtured" (Ministry of Education, 1996). Empowerment. self-worth, and self-esteem can all be viewed from a spiritual point of view to recognise the principle of holistic learning and development.

These four concepts are interwoven and in a way, relate to each other in support of an overall sense of well-being. The model that is commonly used to describe Māori health is the 'Te Whare Tapa Whā', or the four dimensions to Māori health and well-being. These four dimensions are compared to the four walls of a whare by Dr. Mason Durie, with each wall defining a dimension described above. It is believed that if these dimensions are unbalanced, or if one or more of these dimensions are damaged, it could lead to an individual or group becoming unwell. His model offers an understanding into traditional Māori philosophy and describes the concepts of health and well-being from their perspective. "Many Māori modern health services lack recognition of taha wairua (the spiritual dimension). In a traditional Māori approach, the inclusion of the wairua, the role of the whānau (family) and the balance of the hinengaro (mind) are as important as the physical manifestations of illness" (New Zealand Ministry of Health).

Te Whāriki, the New Zealand early childhood curriculum policy statement, provides a framework for learning and development from a sociocultural viewpoint. Well-being (Mana Atua) is defined as an essential area in this context, and is one of the five strands of this document. The goal of this strand is to ensure that, "children experience an environment where their health is promoted, their emotional well-being is nurtured, and they are kept safe from harm" (Ministry of Education, 1996). To me, this clearly reflects Hauora, or well-being from the Māori world, as well-being (Mana Atua) is based on the principle of empowerment (whakamana) in Te Whāriki. "The goals of this strand recognise the principle of Holistic Development in promoting well-being through consistent, warm relationships which connect the various aspects of the child's world. The strand recognises that Family and Community are important in contributing significantly to children's well-being" (Ministry of Educaion, 1996).

In conclusion, offering tamariki an awareness of the environment and sustainability is also an important factor towards a sense of well-being. A respect for Papatūānuku is to be promoted, and managing resources on a daily basis (like saving water for example), should be discussed with our children, . A relationship with the outdoor environment can be encouraged through bush walks and outdoor play to promote hauora, or well-being. Other aspects to balance the four dimensions need to be looked into in order to offer a holistic approach to the well-being of each child in an early childhood setting.

I would like to offer a special word of thanks to Mary-Elizabeth Broadley for offering a lot of the above input through her bicultural hui at my centre. Further examples of tikanga in relation to taha tinana can be found at

An Introduction to Te Ao Māori – the Māori World. The Best Practice Advocacy Centre New Zealand (bpacnz).
New Zealand Ministry of Health – Manatū Hauora.
Te Kete Ipurangi (TKI).
Te Whāriki. He Whāriki Mātauranga mō ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa. (1996). Early Childhood Curriculum. Learning Media, Wellington.


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