Keen to bring more te reo Māori into your life? It could be as easy as sticking some post-it notes on your fridge or bathroom mirror.
In recent years, there has been a renewed focus on the importance of te reo Māori and its significance to the history and culture of New Zealand. At kindergarten, tamariki are encouraged to practice their language skills and show appreciation for the language in their everyday learning, and by taking part in various cultural events celebrated throughout the calendar year.
Bringing the learning home, and practicing te reo beyond the kindergarten gates gives your child an opportunity to grow their confidence – you may even pick up a kupu (word) or two for yourself.
Kidsfirst Pouhere Ako, Jasmin Ngawai, says learning te reo Māori can help lay the foundations for a better understanding of our own country, and the world, no matter our age.
“Learning te reo is important because it’s a huge part of New Zealand’s heritage – after all, it was the first official language spoken here. It’s essential to make an effort to embrace other cultures – especially when they are so significant. Having an understanding of different customs and traditions provides rich knowledge and helps broaden perspectives on the world. If people limit themselves to just one language and one culture, it’s limiting their understanding of what’s out there.”
Jasmin says kindergarten-aged children are more willing to engage in new languages, “There are often more barriers later in life, but at kindergarten tamariki will learn any language you give to them, and really immerse themselves in it. They gain increased self-esteem and confidence as they go.”
It’s not only the Māori language that is important, as Kidsfirst The Bays Teacher, Roseanne Taurima, explains.
“Te reo Māori is so heavily integrated into our society now, and its usage is continuously growing. We also learn so much from Māori traditions, like whanaungatanga and manaakitanga – we talk about ideas like this every day at kindergarten.”
She says the use of te reo and tikanga Māori supports children to connect with their own identity, and the land.
“It builds connections between the community, iwi, and tamariki, and allows them to feel closer to our heritage and the land. Practising the language reinforces our whakapapa – the idea of genealogy and where we come from. The most important aspect is giving them a greater sense of belonging, even if this isn’t their direct heritage. Knowing how to speak a little bit of te reo is going to help them connect better with another child.”
She says this can also strengthen their sense of well-being, “It teaches them how to care for one another and how to respect where we have come from, as much as where we are going. It helps to make the learning experience more well rounded.”
The kindergarten years are the perfect time for tamariki to improve their te reo skills, helping them grow as learners as they discover more about their own capabilities.
“It’s easier for young children to learn more languages because their cognitive ability understands how the process works during the early years. They start to connect the words, concepts, and ideas together, which flows on to learning in all areas.”
Roseanne says becoming more familiar with the everyday te reo words used at kindergarten can also help foster a sense of belonging for tamariki who don’t have English as a first language.
“Learning about Māori language and customs helps all of us discover more about our country. There are a lot of words that are intertwined into the learning here, so it’s a great way to get familiar with the language and culture.”
Roseanne says integrating te reo at home can start small, “Learning a mihi is a great way to encourage tamariki to take the learning home. It can be as basic as where they live, what their name is, what mum and dad’s names are, and the names of siblings. It’s a way to connect back to things taught at kindergarten and the idea of family.”
“It can be useful to print our words and write a label that has both the English and Māori versions. Often you’ll walk past and see the reminder, then instinctively start to remember the words.” These visual cues can be helpful in building up vocabulary over time, and that all adds up.
“Try putting notes on the fridge or in the bathroom where you’ll see them a few times a day. Eventually you’ll recognise the words to a point where you could just have the te reo, and you’ll know what it means. That’s an interesting way for people to practice at home, without having to spend too much time or energy doing it.”
Repetition is the key. “It can also be useful to have one sentence that you’re learning and paste little words into it, like ‘how are you?’ then you would put into it, ‘i’m good, how are you?’. Seeing it again and again helps you learn. Then, if you take away the bits you know, and do it in small segments at a time, it solidifies what you’re learning and helps you build your vocabulary.”
Roseanne says improving your te reo skills only requires one small step at a time.
“Most people are time poor, so it can be hard to fit it all in, but doing simple things like that will engage everyone in the household and make it feel like it’s not a chore. You don’t need to go to a course or spend hours practicing every week, but by having small prompts around you, you will eventually build up skills.”
If you want to learn alongside tamariki, Roseanne says, make the process interactive, “At kindergarten we will often write out a phrase which says ‘what is this?’ with a blank space below – then the child can draw their answer and we write the translation down together. That’s a really great activity to do at home – it makes it fun, and when children are engaged they are better learners.”
She says there are some helpful online tools that can help parents with words and translations.
“There is a great app by Spark, called ‘Kupu’, where you can take a photo of something and it will give you the te reo translation, and words that are related. It works well because children don’t need to type anything, and it gives them a visual response, and examples of similar te reo words. The maoridictionary.co.nz website is also great for parents and it gives you so many useful examples of words and the correct pronunciation of them.”
Want to do more to bring the learning home for you and your tamariki? Have a chat with your kaiako – they have the best ideas, and they’re tailored especially for your child.
There are also some great online resources to check out:
• Spark’s free ‘Kupu’ App
Encouraging young children to celebrate other cultures.
New Zealand’s population has become increasingly multicultural over the past few decades, and this level of diversity is reflected across the Kidsfirst network. More than fifty-five first languages are spoken by Kidsfirst whānau, and with the many celebrations throughout the year, there are always opportunities to learn about and engage with the customs of different cultures.
We are fortunate that our whānau are so generous with their time, helping to bring alive the traditions, celebrations and ideas behind cultural events with food, music, and story-telling at our kindergartens. Children learn that society is made up of people from a variety of backgrounds, and come to understand the importance of respecting the world’s many different belief systems.
Kidsfirst Lincoln Teacher, Cam Dudley, says having such a diverse network offers a positive learning environment, not just for tamariki, but for kaiako and whānau too.
“There are huge benefits for everyone having such a wide range of backgrounds across our network. Bringing ideas to life like this is the optimal way to learn and teach about the world, other people around us, and the wider Kidsfirst community. There’s always been a real passion and commitment to getting to know people, we don’t just carry out an event or celebration for the sake of it – it goes much deeper than that.”
Cam says that while celebrations can be a fun way for tamariki to learn and have new experiences, they also play a significant role in helping families feel a sense of connection and belonging.
“More often than not, those who have come from overseas come to Aotearoa to live in a space where they are free to be who they are, and worship or pray for whoever they want. The lifestyle we try to provide in New Zealand, for children to be able to be who they are is very meaningful. Celebrating diversity can help people feel included and accepted.”
Kidsfirst Sunbeam Head Teacher, Neroli Gardner, agrees,
“It allows all whānau to know that kindergarten is as much their place as it is their child’s. It supports them to feel part of the kindergarten community, and therefore a part of the wider community they live in. They can feel more at home when they know their culture is acknowledged and celebrated. Often, when they feel that way, they are more likely to participate in their child’s education and keep in touch with kaiako. I’ve seen so many faces light up when whānau see their culture proudly on display at kindergarten, as we acknowledge the world and their place in it.”
Learning about other cultures can help tamariki develop a better sense of their own identity, too.
“By acknowledging other cultures, in particular: language, music, and significant events – tamariki learn about the world, inclusivity, and creative thinking. They also come to understand themselves and their own heritage – who they are, where they are from and and their place in it.”
Diversity is a big idea for little people – so, it can help to break it down into familiar language and relatable concepts.
“We teach tamariki that we are all different in many ways. How we look, for example, and the things we like to do. It’s important to role model a positive attitude and help young children develop social skills like fairness, empathy and accommodating the ideas of others.”
Kidsfirst Ilam Teacher, Christine Putt, says getting in early teaches habits that can last a lifetime.
“It makes it more natural down the line. At kindergarten, tamariki are constantly celebrating everyone and everything – which demonstrates the importance of acknowledging others. If we start at the most fundamental places, children learn to be more open. In turn, there can often be a chain reaction effect amongst whānau and friends.”
The open, unfiltered way tamariki talk about their world can help when it comes to topics like diversity and inclusion.
“Tamariki are very straightforward when they ask questions. That makes it easy to have frank, candid conversations from the beginning, when they are accepting and open to everything.”
Christine says for those looking to broaden their tamariki’s horizons, it’s not hard to find moments during each day to encourage acceptance and respect for peoples’ differences.
“Acknowledging each family’s culture through greetings, language and music – and the exploration of different food, rituals, religions and festivals, are all a good way to do that, and offer new opportunities.”
She adds that resources and activities provide a fun way for young children to learn about differences and similarities among people.
“We read a lot of books that show that everyone is different. A lot of the conversations we have will be low-key, but they do direct the children to notice differences and encourage them to understand that concept.”
Cam Dudley says it’s just as important for tamariki to see the ideas being lived by adults around them, as it is to have conversations about the wider world.
“It has always mattered a great deal to me to instil the importance of accepting everyone who comes into our lives. Kindness, patience and total acceptance of who they are, and where they’re from is a value we strive to uphold across our whānau network. We want tamariki to not only accept others’ differences, but to genuinely want to learn about other cultures. That was what was modelled to me all through my life. Now, it’s an embedded practice.”
Setting an example for tamariki at a young age helps create habits for life. If family and friends act as positive role models, embodying values of acceptance and understanding – tamariki will see this, and mirror similar behaviours.
“We focus on being welcoming and making sure everyone who walks in the gate feels comfortable from their first steps inside,” says Cam Dudley. “We want an environment rich in manaakitanga, where respect is shown, and culture is acknowledged in multiple ways, incorporating resources and activities that reflect the nature of our community.”
Looking to encourage a more inclusive attitude in your under five? Little things can make a difference every day:
- Remember, you and the other adults in your child’s life set the tone. They learn from watching the way you interact with, and talk about others.
- Start early – New Zealand is becoming increasingly multicultural, and the world our tamariki grow up in will continue to grow in its diversity. Acceptance and inclusivity are skills they will need for life.
- Recognise and acknowledge the cultural values of your own family or community and seek out opportunities to learn about and celebrate other cultures.
- Take the opportunity to talk about how we are all the same but different. Answer straightforward questions in a straightforward way.