Inspiration for Matariki

Inspiration for Matariki

Last week St Albans Playcentre hosted an timely play workshop. Promoted as an ‘Inspiration for Matariki’, the session was themed around the celebration and facilitated by Jen Wells from the Canterbury Playcentre Association.

When I was a child, in the 1980s and early 1990s, Matariki wasn’t talked about or widely celebrated. Thankfully, in recent years this has changed. The play workshop provided myself and the other participants with many ideas, and plenty of inspiration, to take back our centres.

 Jen began by asking us ‘What is Matariki?’ The group was quiet, as we self-consciously kept any thoughts to ourselves. Finally somebody piped up: ‘It’s the Māori New Year.’ Matariki, as we find out, is indeed the beginning of the traditional Māori year, one signaled by the rising of a cluster of stars known as Matariki, ‘the eyes of god.’ Matariki celebrations, like other New Year festivities around the world, commonly involve gathering with friends and family, as well as reflecting on the past year. For more information I suggest reading:

 Jen asked us what our centres normally do to celebrate Matariki. The most common response appeared to be ‘fish and chip nights’, gathering together and sharing kai. I attended such an event at my centre last year. It was, embarrassingly, my first ever Matariki celebration. Our centre was decorated with lights and stars, the tamariki explored outside with torches, and there was a bonfire in the sandpit. Playcentre families old and new were in attendance, enjoying the frosty mid-winter festivities together.

Jen then shared some Matariki-themed picture books, which are a great place to begin learning. Sharon Holt’s awarding winning ‘Matariki’ stood out, and had the benefit of a musical recording of the book. I found this really supported my pronunciation of unfamiliar Māori words. Most Playcentres will already have Matariki books and now is the ideal time to dig them out.

Jen also engaged the group in some amateur theatre, making us act out ‘The Star Fishes’, a Māori legend about Matariki. This particular story is good for reenacting with children on session or for an event. I play the mother fish, warning my seven little fishes not to stray out into the open sea. We use an old net curtain as Tataraimaka’s net. It’s a fun activity that will really engage older Playcentre tamariki.

We’re given various printed instructions for making harakeke stars. At first they look overwhelming, like complicated origami instructions. While most Playcentre children would struggle to make them, they’re perfect for parents. They would be ideal for tamariki to decorate and would look perfect strung up around Playcentre as part of Matariki celebrations. I promise myself that I’ll give them a go at home later.

Together we practice several waiata, including ‘Tirama’ (‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’). We also attempt the ‘Matariki Macarena’, the names of the seven Matariki stars put to the tune and actions of the ‘90s hit. We also take some time to practice our karakia kai, which is important given that the sharing of food is central to Matariki celebrations.

 Towards the end of the session some members of the group helped to make Māori bread. It’s a reasonably quick and easy recipe, and ideal for making with tamariki on session. The bread is delicious, with the flavour and consistency of a doughnut. We make a gluten free version too, which is equally tasty. My son stuffs it into his mouth, forgetting to chew. 

Another wonderful way to learn more about Matariki is to attend celebrations around the city. These include events at Christchurch City Libraries ( and Christchurch Art Gallery ( There are many more Matariki events held in local communities so keep an eye out.

Hopefully at least one of the ideas above gives you the inspiration to try something new this Matariki. There are several more ‘Inspiration for Matariki’ play workshops happening over the next few weeks, and there is still some space available in them. If you’re interested in attending, visit to enrol.

Frances Martin

Posted: Sunday 11 June 2017