'Matariki' is the name given to the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades.

The cluster rises in mid-winter and for many Māori is a marker of the start of the New Year.

Matariki is celebrated by different iwi at different times; some celebrate it when Matariki first appears in the dawn sky, while others wait until the first full moon after the rising of the stars.

Others believe that the rising of Puanga (Rigel in Orion) heralds the New Year instead.

Teachers around Aotearoa incorporated Matariki festivities into their classrooms throughout the season.

Mark Potter, principal of Berhampore School in Wellington, explains that the school decided to have a hāngī as their key celebration activity for Matariki.

“Our school employs a kaiako part time to teach Te Reo to classes and staff. 

“She suggested shifting our hāngī to Matariki to give context to [the] Te Reo the tamariki are learning.”

The activity was a great way for whānau to also get involved with the school and continue the traditions of years gone by, Potter says. 

“Traditionally whānau and hapū have gathered at Matariki to celebrate the year gone by and the year to come. 

"Kai is an important part of the celebrations. 

"Sharing of harvests from around the rohe was quite common,” he explains.

“The hāngī is a community activity the children, staff and parent community could do together. 

“We have a whānau with a long standing connection with the school and Vic, the Dad, has been helping us do hāngī for nearly 15 years.

“Normally we do hāngī on weekends as a fundraiser. 

"By laying the hāngī on a Friday the whole school could share the experience.” 

Potter says many of the school’s Māori whānau were able to show their skills and lend their experience to the hangi master, while other parents helped the children to prepare the food and supervised the pit – and answered eager questions about hangi methods.

“It generated a lot of discussion from children and whānau about how and why it is done. 

“Many parents born overseas were excited to discuss similar communal cooking from their home nations,” he says.

Over in Hastings at Parkvale Primary School, students marked Matariki with traditional Māori activities.

Debra Lee, a member of the support staff at Parkvale who also helps out with art activities across the school, says a variety of workshops were offered to students - weaving with harakeke, kite making, a marae visit, poi making, stick games and waiata, rock painting, cooking fry bread and boil up for community lunch and the production of two collaborative murals depicting the seven stars of Matariki.

Lee oversaw the latter activity. 

“I had eight kids aged seven to eight working with me, Pākehā and Māori students about 50/50.

“I designed the murals to be quite simple.

"The kids had turns painting in areas on the mural.

"They did all the base coat and then I finished them off with the details and a tidy up.”

The finished murals will be attached to the outside of a classroom in public view.

Lee says the mural painting was a hit with her tamariki.

“The kids in my group loved being involved with painting and listening to some of the Matariki stories.

"I also had Matariki songs playing in the background.

“They had fun and so did I. I'll definitely do it again next Matariki!”

Another benefit to celebrating Matariki is using the festivities as an occasion to learn more about Māori history and culture.

“Matariki is a distinctly Aotearoa celebration,” Potter says,

“It is an excellent opportunity to highlight and use Te Reo Māori in context.”

Lee agrees.

“We think that it's very important our students learn about Matariki as a significant part of Māori culture involving navigation and the explanation behind some of the major Māori myths and legends.

“Māori New Year is becoming more well recognised and so it should.

"Māori is our national language and the belief systems surrounding the culture should be taught and honoured in our schools,” she says.