Nurturing te reo Māori language skills in ECE

Issue: Volume 95, Number 20

Posted: 7 November 2016
Reference #: 1H9d5K

Whether complete beginners or fluent speakers, parents and tamariki at Playcentres in the Wellington region are working together to learn and practice te reo Māori.

Whānau tupu ngātahi, or families learning together, is the kaupapa of Playcentre in New Zealand, and this sentiment is certainly true of bilingual sessions held by the organisation.

A number of Playcentres in the Wellington region are fostering language skills and knowledge by running designated bilingual sessions, with a kaiarahi employed to speak only te reo Māori with parents and children for the entire session.

Amy Bendall is bicultural convenor for Wellington Playcentre Association and one of a number of parents helping the programme to grow.

She says this immersion environment builds language skills and knowledge, but also strengthens the confidence of language learners.

“It’s about creating an environment where speaking and listening to te reo Māori becomes the norm for us,” she says.

Setting a new standard

Initially delivered as a pilot programme in Paekakariki on the Kapiti Coast, the bilingual sessions are now held in a number of centres around the Wellington region.

“The idea was born in Paekakariki, when a group of parents really wanted to increase the use of te reo Māori in their regular Playcentre sessions. They came up with the idea of having a dedicated bilingual session, where we employed someone to speak only te reo Māori for the entire time,” she says.

“We found that everyone attending the session worked hard to use all the te reo Māori they had, and of course, they naturally learned more with every session.”

Absolute beginners are encouraged to take some evening classes to build their foundation skills in the language, and the bilingual Playcentre sessions are shared across the region, like professional development for whānau.

“Usually you’d join a centre and that’s where you’d go for each session. But with these sessions, whānau from any Playcentre can join in, then take their new language skills back to share with others at their usual centre."

“It’s professional development that is also directly and instantaneously benefiting the tamariki, because we are actively practising what we’re learning. We have everyone from utter beginners to fluent speakers, and so the use of te reo Māori at Playcentre has increased exponentially.”

An important goal of the initiative is to set a new level for the everyday use of the language within the organisation.

“We think that this should be the standard we’re aiming for in all our sessions,” says Amy.

“It’s not that we want these to be something special and different forever, but more that we need people to be aware of how easy it is to incorporate more te reo on a daily basis.”
The number of children participating in the bilingual sessions in the region ebbs and flows, but is currently around 70."

Amy says that funding options need to be explored in order to further develop the programme, but participants are passionate about the work, and there has been interest from other early childhood education services and primary schools.

“We’ve had a lot of interest in what we’re doing and how it works,” she says.

A shared purpose

Wellington Playcentre Association executive team member Joanne Fullelove says the bilingual sessions are grounded in the organisation’s commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi as the founding document of Aotearoa New Zealand.

“It’s about making te reo Māori part of our everyday operation at Playcentre, and so as well as using the language we also incorporate mihi, waiata and karakia in the sessions.”

These take the same form as traditional Playcentre sessions, with three to four hours of free, exploratory play.

“We do loosely plan and set up each session to cater to the interests and abilities of the children who will be attending, but they are largely child-led.”

Jo explains that Playcentre’s philosophy of parents learning alongside their children is empowering and it encourages whole whānau to embrace the spirit of lifelong learning.

“Like with everything at Playcentre, in the bilingual sessions parents are learning language alongside their children, and supporting each other in that."

“In this way, we learn more about our children and the process they go through to learn new things."

“We’re always trying to incorporate more te reo Māori, more cultural awareness, better communication skills. It’s about weaving this knowledge into these sessions and making it a natural part of Playcentre."

“It’s also really important to build up people’s confidence with the language. Mistakes don’t matter, it’s just important we support each other in trying,” she says.

“Playcentre is a community-driven environment anyway, but these sessions have even more of a close, community aspect – there’s very much the feeling that we’ve all come here for a purpose.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 1:40 PM, 7 November 2016

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