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Saturday, 25 November 2017 11:13 am

Kōhanga kids right at home in Wainuiomata where it all began

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PUKANA: Lenaia, Kayleigh-Rose, and Tiakitoa Grace have mastered the art of the Maori pukana. IMAGE: Supplied

ME TE tokomaha o te iwi Māori, ko Kōhanga Reo te wahi e taea a rātou tamariki ki te ako, kit e tupu I roto a rātou Māoritanga.

For many Māori, Kōhanga Reo is the place where their children can learn, and flourish in their identity.

Evelyn Guy of Wainuiomata chose Kōhanga Reo for her children because when she was growing up she wasn’t immersed in Māori culture.

“I feel like there was a whole part of my world that was missing and I didn’t want my kids to have none of that.”

She teaches at Atiawa Nui Tonu Kōhanga Reo in Wainuiomata, which was home to the first Kōhanga Reo called Pukeatua in April 1982.

Kōhanga Reo then flourished into an environment where the Māori language was celebrated, and by the end of 1982 there were over 100 centres around the country.

Today there are over 260 established Kōhanga Reo around the country, catering for more than 9000 mokopuna (children).

Kōhanga Reo followed by kura kaupapa (primary school) and whare kura (high school) all provide a learning environment where children can flourish in the Māori language.

These three entities are recognised as valuable training grounds for maintaining marae protocols and practices.

The Māori language has thrived in Wainuiomata and around New Zealand since the establishment of the first Kōhanga Reo.

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SMILING KAIAKO: Kuini Garthwaite treasures her work with children at Kōhanga Reo. Image: Nicole Adamson

Kuini Garthwaite (LEFT)  is a teacher at another Wainuiomata Kōhanga Reo, Atiawa Nui Tonu.

Ms Garthwaite, Ngati Porou, has worked at the Kōhanga Reo for four years and says the most important part of the Kōhanga Reo is the language.

“It’s part of their identity, it’s about the language, it’s their whakapapa and their tīpuna, all of those things all rolled up in one,

“It’s about the survival of the language and being able to pass it on to the generations that are our future – to keep it alive.”

She also says it is about helping the children understand the Māori world.

“It’s a bit like pre-school, only the language of te reo makes it different, and that the approach to learning is from a Māori approach.”

A Kōhanga Reo teaches a Māori way of thinking, values and beliefs, and also teaches the children about who they are, who their families are and where they come from.

At Atiawa Nui Tonu there are some non-Māori children and Ms Garthwaite says they are open to whoever wants to bring their children along to the Kōhanga Reo.

One of the joys of teaching for Ms Garthwaite is seeing the children flourish in their own language.

“It’s rewarding to see that the language is growing, although research says it needs to grow more.”

She says it’s being passed on to the younger generation who will benefit from it.

Another benefit of Kōhanga Reo is that the tamariki learn to live in two cultures.

“They’ll be able to make connections with wider cultures, they have an understanding because they have their own,” she says.

“Our children go to marae, they learn pōwhiri and they learn how to host the manuhiri.

Ms Garthwaite trained in early childhood and worked in a kindergarten for 15 years, she then taught for nine years before deciding to work at Atiawa Nui Tonu.

“I decided to get back on the ground and be in touch with what’s going on.”

For Ms Garthwaite, the best part about her job is the children, and seeing what they can achieve.

“There’s a whole lot of contributing factors to our work but the children are the most important, they are what makes this job valuable.

She says seeing them flourish and grow is what it’s all about.

“Lose sight of that, and hey, it’s time for me to move on.”

There are many Kōhanga Reo around the country, and she says that a lot more is being done to preserve the Māori language than there was when she was young.

“There’s that inclusiveness out there in the wider community, and there are many places trying to do their bit,

“I think more can be done, what would make it, or support it, would be if it was a part of everything, it would not only help our children but it will help those who have no understanding of another culture.”

Parents choose Kōhanga Reo for their children based on many different options.

Some choose it for the cultural and identity aspects, some for the aspects of te reo, and others for the affordability.

Waiariki Grace of Ngāti Toa chose Kōhanga Reo for his three children because he wanted them to speak fluent Māori.

Tiakitoa (8), Lenaia (6), and Kayleigh-Rose (4) are all learning the Māori language in order to keep their heritage alive.

“I think Kōhanga Reo is more family based. Its part of our culture and I don’t want them to lose that.”

The 27-year-old says the fact that Kōhanga Reo is cheaper than an early childhood centre also played a big part in why his children go there.

Mr Grace attended a Kōhanga Reo when he was younger and his eight year old son attended the same one.

Māori is spoken at home as much as possible but Mr Grace is not fluent.

“My older two go to kura kaupapa which is full immersion Māori so they’re still learning Māori at school, I speak it at home but I speak more English than Māori.”

Mr Grace’s father and sister speak fluent Māori and converse a lot with the children.

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WHANAU AROHA: Evelyn Guy chose Kohanga Reo for her daughters Ava (left) and Nikita because she wanted them to know their background.

Five percent of all children in early childhood education attend a Kōhanga Reo, and it’s also the highest employer of Māori women and men compared to any other early childhood service.

Just like Ms Garthwaite, Evelyn Guy (RIGHT) teaches at Atiawa Nui Tonu Kōhanga Reo and she knew when she had kids they would be attending a Kōhanga Reo.

She says she likes the way Kōhanga Reo is structured and the fact they take from a very young age meant she could get back to work quicker.

“One of the philosophies of Kōhanga Reo is that the child is around Māori immersion from birth, and that’s why they take so young.”

Mrs Guy has two daughters, Ava (4) and Nikita (3).

Her husband is Pakeha so Ava and Nikita have the best of both worlds by having the option of a second language.

Ava has severe special needs in the form of Rec Syndrome meaning she cannot talk, walk, or keep herself upright.

Mrs Guy says Kōhanga Reo has been great for Ava, and the children there are gentle and understanding.

“The children at the Kōhanga love her, they’ll say ‘kia tupato o te pēpe’ (be careful of the baby), they refer to her as a baby because they know that they need to be careful with her.”

She feels that Kōhanga Reo needs more teachers who are fluent in te reo.

“I’m a kaiako (teacher) there and I’m still learning, I can speak to children pretty good but it’s still a struggle for us.”

In a staff of 20, there are only four kaiako who are fluent, Mrs Guy says that the fluent speakers get snapped up quickly by bigger organisations like the government.

“The other problem is we get fluent speakers into our centre but they’re not qualified teachers, yes they can talk it but they’re not qualified.”

She says Kōhanga Reo is not just teaching the language, it’s teaching a custom – the whole Māori way of life.

“It’s very deep, we take it back to ngā atua (Māori gods) and so we relate everything back to that, the learning is very structured,

“A lot of people would compare it to that of a school day programme as opposed to a kindy where it’s quite free play – we have kaupapa, we have ako, and there’s also a lot of sitting for karakia.

When she speaks of hearing the children using te reo, you know she has found the piece of her identity that she talks about missing when she was growing up – and that she is making a difference to the new generation.

“It makes me really proud.”

 

 

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