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Korowai Mātauranga - Cloaks of Knowledge

Learning Contexts

Visual Arts


A student decorates his cloak

A student decorates his cloak

Kate Buckley


Mataroa School

Duration of Project

11 weeks

Students Involved

60 students, years 1-8


Mataroa School students are considered "guardians" of Te Ngahere Iti (The Little Forest), a section of the local Paengaroa Bush Reserve. The reserve was used as the inspiration for students to create a Korowai Mātaurangaor Cloak of Knowledge. Everyone involved made a cloak using symbols and images to show their learning about this section of the native bush. The children wore their cloaks and invited the community to share in the guardianship and in their learning about the area.

In this project the students focused upon the Paengaroa Bush Reserve near their school. Students visited the bush and invited experts from the community to tell them about the reserve. Over the course of the project, their knowledge about the bush and enthusiasm for the project grew with their learning.

The visual arts became the vehicle for learning about the reserve, its flora and fauna. In doing so the artwork made as part of the project was interwoven with a range of other learning areas. Staff and students created their own Korowai Mātaurangabased upon an aspect of the bush that was of personal interest to them. The children's interests were wide-ranging. As a consequence the school now has possum, ferret, more-pork and spider experts as well as many more!

The project was a whole school activity and students from different age groups worked together, eventually involving the wider community and celebrating the school as a part of that community.

Students created lots of notes and images in their books for research

Students created lots of notes and images in their books for research


Research in the bush - weeks 1 and 2

Artist Kate Buckley designing 'Cloaks of Knowledge' with the students

Artist Kate Buckley designing 'Cloaks of Knowledge' with the students

The first step was the familiarisation with the reserve and the richness of plant, bird and insect life it contains. Students visited the reserve on a field-trip and made notes and sketches about what they observed. This research was used to start the work of identification and the development of drawing skills. The walls of the art room were filled with information, pictures, photographs and stories. Each class worked with stories about Tane Mahuta and this created another layer of understanding about Te Ngahere Iti.

It gave us new eyes to look at the forest. Now we were storytellers as well as investigators.

(Kate Buckley, artist)
Listening to experts and asking questions - week 3

The school invited local experts on flora and fauna, bush lore and history to speak with the children. This provided students with a broad and in-depth understanding of the flora and fauna of the reserve. Invited experts spoke about a range of topics including: native plants and how they grow; artefacts found in the reserve; the life-cyles and environments of selected animals; pests and how they affect the reserve; and the history of the reserve in the local community. All of the experts generously shared their knowledge with the students and answered questions.

Choosing an area of expertise and beginning to design - weeks 4 and 5

Cloak design using a template

Cloak design using a template

This was the end of the research phase of the project. Students and teachers had also spent time working on visual skills of drawing, painting and working with abstraction and symbols. Now, it was time to bring all of these components together. The next question posed to students was, "What kind of an expert do I want to be?" Kate (artist) had one-on-one meetings with each student to help them decide on an area of specialisation. The range of subjects the students chose reflected their breadth of learning over the previous weeks.

We began to focus on ways of showing our learning using, symbols, colours, and design and painting skills.

(Kate Buckley)
Designing making and painting - weeks 6 through 8

New ways were explored to show knowledge, visually. Information was worked into symbols and patterns with the designs laid out on a simple circular template as a pattern for the cotton-canvas cloaks.

Using an OHP to transfer images

Using an OHP to transfer images

Once the plan was pencilled onto the cotton cloak, it was dyed with background colours using fabric paint. This was an acrylic paint made up with a fabric medium and watered down to the correct consistency. Designs were then painted, stencilled, stitched and glued on using rolls of green, yellow, brown and white cloth as well as other materials and paint. School staff designed and made their cloaks during this period alongside the students.

Being guardians - weeks 9, 10 and 11

The community, and other interested people, were invited to come and join the 'guardians' of Te Ngahere Iti. Small groups of children guided friends and family through the area and stopped at intervals to explain the symbols and pictures on their cloaks. The children did this a number of times during the year, guiding local schools and visitors through their 'patch' of the Paengaroa Bush Reserve.

At the end of the year we decorated our Christmas float as Te Ngahere Iti and wore our cloaks as we walked through the town.

(Kate Buckley)

Mataroa School students are 'guardians' of the Reserve

Mataroa School students are 'guardians' of the Reserve

Student learning

Working with Kate, the students learned to represent ideas using visual images and symbols on a fabric cloak. The students worked with new materials, creating large-scale art objects as they learned about devices such as symbolism and abstraction.

I've just got to think about my topic - what I do know, how could I draw it without using words? We had a spectacular time.

(Mataroa student)

Displays throughout the school

Displays throughout the school

The project required students to research areas of interest such as historical facts, flora/fauna found in the reserve and introduced pests, and as the project progressed student work was displayed throughout the school.

Mataroa Principal Fiona Dwyer: At the end of the project we had a huge turn-out of both family members and others at the fabulous presentation when students shared their knowledge with our community. Everyone learned about the precious wee piece of bush that we have on our doorstep here at Mataroa School.

Related learning

Students were able to transfer the information and ideas constructed around the reserve into work for other essential learning areas:

  • Social Sciences: Identity, Culture and Organisation; and Place and Environment
  • English: Making meaning and creating meaning
  • Science: The Living World

Curriculum links

Students were encouraged to value diversity, ecological sustainability, inquiry and curiosity.

The programme supported the development of key competencies to think about how they communicated ideas, how they used visual language and participated and contributed to the group work/presentation.

All four strands of Visual Arts Curriculum were integrated: Understanding the Arts in Context; Developing Ideas; Developing Practical Knowledge; and Communicating and Interpreting, as students explored the use of materials, how they could represent ideas visually while also deepening their understanding of Maori visual culture.

Amber's finished cloak

Amber's finished cloak

Impact on school community

A wide range of visiting experts generously gave their time, including local historians, Whanganui Museum staff, Department of Conservation staff, horticulturists and pest control experts. Links were grounded with the community through the role of the school students as 'guardians', guiding locals and visitors through the reserve.


Principal Fiona Dwyer commented on the impact of the project:

We found the use of art very therapeutic and a fabulous team building exercise for the staff as we met weekly to trial new techniques and skills while we were creating our own Cloaks of Knowledge.

Kate Buckley, the artist, summarised the holistic learning developed through the project:

The artwork we did was interwoven with core subjects. This allowed the children to learn over a range of subject areas while using the arts as a common thread. I really benefited from the work done in the classroom when I worked with the children in the art room as they had a range of knowledge to apply their art skills to. This project made the arts a central part of the curriculum and school, rather than as an add on, and that made it a really special project. I think that just shows what you can do!

Where to next

New Zealand and the Pacific Islands have a rich history associated with cloaks and decorative elements that link to a deep association with the natural elements they are constructed from. Further cross-curricular school projects where arts are central to all learning, such as Korowai Mātauranga- Cloaks of Knowledge, can be based around cultural topics and artifacts, giving identity and meaning to students' lives and learning.

Useful link

Down the back of the Chair - Exploring the Visual Arts Year 1-6 Fabric and Fibre

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