Accent on love for te reo

Published: Auckland Now

One of the first concepts children at Maori language nests learn is: ko toku reo, toku ohooho - my language is my awakening.

This week marks Maori Language Week: Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori and the theme is arohatia te reo - cherish the language.

It aims to urge people to demonstrate love and regard for New Zealand's second official language.

Several thousand children enter primary school each year already fluent in the language and tikanga (customs) of their ancestors thanks to Maori early childhood centres.

Te Puna Reo Okahukura is a joint early childhood education initiative between Ngati Whatua o Orakei and the education ministry which runs a bilingual programme for youngsters.

Centre manager Rebecca Robinson says its important for children to know their language and culture, wherever they're from.

"It's very important to their identity. The great thing about the centre is that it's not just for the Maori kids, we embrace all cultures and I think that's what te wiki o te reo Maori is all about which is making the language accessible and important to everyone in New Zealand.

"We want to ensure it gets the respect it deserves," Ms Robinson says.

Te Puna has a holistic approach to early childhood development, integrating Maori language and principles into its curriculum.

Its education project assistant Carel Smith says language is the carrier of the culture and is given priority in the board's overall strategy.

"If we didn't have the language then how would we know what marae is? What would we know of whanau? Being bilingual allows for a middle-ground for families where te reo might not be spoken at home but parents want their children to be fluent. It provides an environment where everyone can be encouraged to learn and speak the language."

Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust was set up in 1982 with a mission to protect te reo through a total Māori immersion programme for children up to six years old.

Its regional head office is in Panmure.

Kohanga sought an injunction through the Waitangi Tribunal in April to distance itself from the Education Ministry.

It is regulated under the ministry and subject to the same compliances as mainstream early childhood centres which it believes comes at the expense of crucial Maori principles. Maori believe the quality of learning and development of mokopuna stems from the collective strength of the whānau.

In its submission to the Waitangi Tribunal the trust wanted new legislation to separate kohanga reo from the ministry and give its leaders more control.

The group is still awaiting a decision from the hearing.

Reporting by Esther Lauaki / Fairfax Media