Your child will be taught a core set of subjects when they go to Primary School.  Find out what those are and some further basics in Core Primary Subjects.

What are the core subjects?

The core subjects taught at NZ primary schools are the seven traditional subjects that provide the framework of what a child will learn in the later stages of their education.

These seven core subjects are:

  1. English Language
  2. Mathematics
  3. Science
  4. Technology
  5. Social Sciences
  6. Art
  7. Health and Physical Education

The two most essential and heavily programmed subjects are English (literacy) and Maths (numeracy). It is important for our children to be literate, to be able to read and write, and to have good numeracy skills.

This article aims to give you an overview of the NZ primary school curriculum – what each core subject is about and where it fits into your child’s learning experience.

English Language

We all know that language development is absolutely key to our children’s intellectual growth. It therefore makes sense that it plays such a huge part in their learning.

Language enables us to make sense of the world around us. To be able to participate in our world, our children need to be able to use spoken and written language effectively; to read, listen to and interpret messages from the many sources (television, film, computers) of information that surround us.

In the primary years of schooling the importance of language and literacy is emphasised. To be literate is to have the ability to understand, respond to and use language that is needed and valued in the world we live in. This means being able to listen to and speak with others and then beyond that, being able to write and read.

Your child will be provided with many opportunities to:

“…observe, learn, and practise oral, written, and visual forms of language, to learn about the structures and use of language, and to access and use information.”

The Curriculum Framework

There will be a heavy emphasis on reading and writing in the initial two to three years. As your child progresses through the levels he/she will be given more opportunities to think about texts; things that they read, view, study in different ways. They will start to be questioned about them, and will begin to read them, in order to gain a deeper level of meaning from them.

It is the responsibility of the school, and hence the teachers, to ensure that a range of texts is presented to your child. This means they will explore classic literature, contemporary media items, a range of authors — both male and female — and texts that come from different cultural perspectives.


Everyone needs to learn mathematics. Reasons for this include it being a basic necessity in many aspects of our day-to-day life and essential in most areas of employment.

An understanding of mathematics will help your child develop logical approaches to procedures and arguments. One day they may need to build a fence, make a pattern for a tee shirt, or budget for a holiday; and without a good grasp of mathematics he or she may not be able to do these things.

Your child will be given opportunities to:

“…work with and explore mathematical problems in ways that encourage them to be enquiring, systematic, creative, resourceful, self-reliant, and persevering. They will gain confidence and competence in the use of number, and will develop the skills of measurement, construction, and spatial interpretation. They will learn to collect, organise, and interpret data, to use apparatus, to generalise from patterns and relationships, and to think abstractly.”

The Curriculum Framework

As they progress through the school levels students will realise that mathematics plays a part in a great many subjects where there is a need for calculation for estimation, quantitative research, measurement, decision making, and for precise communication through symbols or graphs.


Science is essential to understanding our world and how it works. Through science people investigate the environment they are a part of – the living, material, physical and technological parts of it in order to try to make some sense of it all.

Science will give your child a chance to investigate ideas, to ask questions and to test explanations. All of this promotes curiosity and encourages students to develop their ability and confidence so they feel able to approach problems systematically.

Your child will learn a range of things in science lessons. They’ll learn about scientific understanding and that this requires a process of observation and careful analysis of information gathered. There is an element of creative thinking that occurs where scientific understanding is concerned.

They will also learn about how scientific knowledge and methods have been used to meet the needs of people. This involves taking a close look at the influence science has had on the lives of people in different cultures, backgrounds, or genders.

Because a lot of science has to do with understanding our world, students will be given an opportunity to:

“…explore environmental issues which are important to their community, to New Zealand, to the Pacific, to the wider world, and to future generations.”

The Curriculum Framework


Technology as a subject is becoming more and more relevant; we can’t get away from it. Your child needs to be able to adapt in order to function in a world of rapid change.

Technology is the creative and purposeful use of human knowledge, skills and physical resources to solve practical problems. It involves developing objects, systems, or environments.

Technology education develops a wide range of skills including problem solving, design, construction, communication, critical thinking, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

As with science, it’s important that your child understands how technology has shaped the world he or she lives in and what influence it has had on the lives of people in different cultures, backgrounds or genders and on the environment. They will be encouraged to make their own informed decisions about the use of technology in terms of their ‘world’.

As students move up the year levels, from Year 9 onward (at secondary school), Technology branches into specific disciplines, including:

  • Information and Communications technology
  • Electronic technology
  • Bio-technology
  • Materials technology
  • Process technology
  • Food technology, and
  • Design and graphics technology.

Social Sciences

Social sciences, or social studies as it is often referred to, is very important if your child is to become a confident, informed and responsible member of society.

Through social sciences students develop a sense of understanding about New Zealand as a changing society. They’ll look at how New Zealand has evolved, and how different cultures, times and places have contributed to this. They’ll also gain an understanding of how people of different cultures or time periods make decisions and what impacts on their decision making.

There is, however, an emphasis on learning about New Zealand society. This will include an understanding of the Treaty of Waitangi, and of New Zealand’s bicultural heritage and multicultural society.

Students will be:

“…challenged to think clearly and critically about human behaviour, and to explore different values and viewpoints. Such learning will help them to clarify their own values and to make informed judgments. Commonly held values, such as concern for social justice and the welfare of others, acceptance of cultural diversity, and respect for the environment will be fostered, along with commonly valued attributes, such as individual initiative, effort, and responsibility.”

The Curriculum Framework

To provide balanced learning in the social sciences, schools will ensure that all students participate in a wide variety of experiences, drawing on a range of subjects.

The Arts

The arts are important and very powerful forms of personal expression. They also encourage your child to use his or her imagination at the same time as linking it with thinking and feeling. The arts allow your child the freedom to play, express and enjoy themselves, and it is in this way that they are important for recreation and leisure.

The term ‘the arts’ covers art forms like dance, drama, oratory, film and video, craft and design, and literature. In teaching your child ‘the arts’ the school will aim to provide them with an opportunity to develop a range of general and specific skills.

Learning through the arts enables students to appreciate and understand their own heritage and other cultures. In New Zealand, the uniqueness of Maori arts is recognised and valued.

Students will be given opportunities:

“…individually and co-operatively, to explore, to generate, to shape, and to communicate their ideas in creative ways. Through viewing, listening, and responding to creative works they will develop critical awareness and enjoyment of the arts.”

The Curriculum Framework

Schools will ensure that all students participate in a wide range of experiences in the arts in order to provide for balanced learning and an appreciation of the different art forms.

Health and Physical Education

Health is vitally important for the personal and social well-being of our children as well as for their achievement. Health and physical education as a topic covers all aspects of a person’s growth — the physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.

Health education incorporates nutrition, drug education, sexuality education, interpersonal skills, family relationships, and community and environmental health where each of these is relevant.

Teaching these things to your children allows them to develop confidence in themselves and their abilities, to approach learning with energy and to take responsibility or their own health and physical fitness. They will also learn that they play a part in the well-being and safety of others.

The physical education component of this core subject gives children the chance to participate in a variety of individual and team activities. These are all designed to help students achieve their potential in physical growth and development, to improve their health and fitness, to develop a wide range of motor skills and to learn the importance of disciplined training, competition and team work.

Physical education includes dance, movement, education outside the classroom, sports, and physical recreation.


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Kylie Valentine is a qualified secondary school teacher, trained journalist, and the mum of two fabulous children.

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