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Recommended reading Exploration — Mana aotūroa Stages: 3 to 5 years

A wider world

As tamariki get more and more involved in learning outside their home and as part of community activities, their worlds expand. Out and about in the neighbourhood with their whānau, they are attending sporting, church, marae, cultural and community events. They may be participating in various celebrations and festivals like Christmas, Easter, Matariki and birthdays.

Tamariki will be meeting and noticing different people, their appearance, behaviours, and language they use. Their observations of their ever-widening world will lead to many questions.

‘Why? Why? Why?’

Refer to the Lots of questionsOpens in new window session note in the 25–36 months section. This is a reminder of how whānau are strengthening relationships as well as increasing their child’s understanding through the questioning and answering that goes on every day. Children who ask their whānau questions are learning from their trusted ‘personal consultants’!

Keep it simple

Tamariki at this age are likely to ask about such things as:

  • gender (their own and other people’s)
  • different family roles, relationships and responsibilities
  • matters of health and disability
  • death
  • different cultural traditions.

As well as being curious about the world of people and relationships, tamariki are looking for explanations about anything and everything they notice, from ‘Why does poo smell?’ to ‘Why is Auntie crying?’, and ‘How can fish breathe under water?’

To satisfy a preschool child’s curiosity, whānau can try to answer their questions simply, in plain language and at a level they can understand.

Other responses to questions from tamariki with an inexhaustible curiosity might be:

  • ‘I need to think about that. Ask me again tonight.’
  • ‘Let’s look that up in a book or on the internet.’
  • ‘I think Dad / Mum / Nan / Koro will know about that. You could ask them.’
  • ‘Why do you think...?’

An imaginary world

During the early years, a child’s imagination is becoming more active due to increased neural connections in the vision (imagery) centres of the brain. Curious and observant, tamariki of this age may use pretend play to take on and explore ideas about adults’ behaviour, roles, responsibilities, activities, feelings and conversations.

  • Some children develop imaginary friends.
  • Some children’s developing imagination gives rise to new fears.
  • Imagination enables tamariki to understand what others may be feeling, and to develop empathy.
  • Imagination leads to creativity.

Capable and confident

By age 3, neurons, also known as brain cells, are about 80% connected into complex brain pathways through responsive nurture and attentive care from whānau. As neurons become myelinated (which means they are wrapped with a fatty coating forming a type of insulation) whānau may notice their tamaiti is performing actions faster and with much more confidence.

Whānau may also notice tamariki speaking more fluently. They may enjoy playing with words — for example, rhymes. They enjoy jokes and like silly sayings.

Physical skills, such as catching and throwing, are getting stronger and more accurate. Neurons connecting between brain and bladder and brain and bowel are myelinated too, and whānau may notice there are fewer toileting accidents.


Increasing confidence and activity and being out in the wider world more means more safety implications for tamariki and their whānau. Tamariki still need supervision, especially around driveways and any water hazards, as they are usually driven by action and exploration rather than care or caution.

Each child is unique with their own individual temperament. Within the same whānau one child may be quite different in their behaviour patterns to their siblings. Some will approach new or challenging situations without a second thought, while others will need more encouragement. Those spontaneous active explorers require more supervision, especially around possible ‘danger zones’.

‘Watch what they hear, watch what they see.’

— Dame Whina Cooper

Many influences

Not everything adults say and do when tamariki are around is healthy. As children get nearer to school age they’re often spending more time having experiences beyond whānau control. Participation in early childhood education, playing sports, and having sleepovers or play dates with friends are all times when whānau influence is limited, so it’s important that whānau feel happy with the people their tamariki are being supervised by in their absence.

Whānau can support and guide tamariki as they navigate their way through childhood by staying close and attentive, asking open questions (starting with: how, what, why, where, when and who) and listening to what their tamaiti says. Whānau can then be ‘bigger, stronger, wiser and kind’ in their interactions with their child. This is quoted in the Parenting Resource’s supporting information Guidance and understandingOpens in new window, which is recommended reading.

  • The SKIP baby wall frieze messages encourage exploration at many ages:

Tukuna ahau kia mahi, kia mōhio ai ahau pēhea te ako

— Let me do things over and over

Kōrero mai, e aroha ana koe ki ahau

— Tell me you love me

I want to be a big person but I need whānau love, patience and support to help me make sense of everything.

Further information

The following websites contain more information about children’s questioning and exploring.

  • Scary Mommy website: Why do children ask why?

 Short article about why children ask so many ‘Why?’ questions and why whānau answers matter. in new window

  • Department of Conservation website: Exploring nature with children

 Family exploration outdoors. in new window

  • Parenting Resource: Workshop — Children’s behaviours in new window

  • Parenting Resource: Temperament differences

 More information about individual temperaments. in new window

  • Healthy Children website: How to understand your child’s temperament in new window

Tips for Whānau supporters

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