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Young pick up language early

Lansdowne kindergarten children performing a waiata. PHOTO/TOM TAYLOR

Story by Tom Taylor

Age was no barrier for Wairarapa’s youngest learners to participate in a Māori language singalong for Te Wiki o te Reo Māori.

Children at more than 100 Whānau Manaaki kindergartens across the lower North Island joined the association in singing a popular song in te reo at noon on Tuesday.

Whānau Manaaki staff chose the waiata “Kia Mau Ki Tō Ūkaipō,” a translation of Six60’s hit single “Don’t Forget Your Roots.”

Lansdowne Kindergarten head teacher Tanya Emerson said it was great to have something that the children could sing along to when it came on the radio.

The kindergarten pupils learned New Zealand Sign Language [NZSL] actions to go along with the lyrics in te reo.

“It helps to learn te reo, having some body language to go along with it,” Emerson said.

Although the Māori language moment was a highlight of the week, Te Wiki o te Reo Māori was essentially business as usual for Lansdowne Kindergarten.

“It wasn’t much of a different day or week for us because we’ve got a bicultural curriculum. We’re practising te reo every day, starting with greetings in the morning.”

New Zealand’s early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki, maintained that all children should be able to access te reo Māori.

Emerson said Lansdowne teachers wove the language into their everyday activities.

The kindergarten had regular kotahitanga [togetherness] time on the mat where they discussed how they were feeling, the days of the week, the weather, and sang waiata, all in te reo.

They had also learned their colours and many of the native birds at Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre.

Emerson said teachers repeated common phrases in te reo until children had them ingrained in their memories.

“Because it’s embedded into our routine, because we’re using it every day, it’s like children learning English – they know what you’re saying before they can articulate it. They are learning what we are saying, repeating it themselves, and then talking with each other.”

Lansdowne teachers read the kids familiar stories such as How Maui Slowed the Sun, alongside more local legends like the taniwha at Castlepoint and the eels of ANZAC Bridge.

Emerson said the children were starting to bring the language home, saying karakia before meals, singing waiata, and playing games in te reo.

“They’re teaching their parents just as much as we’re teaching them.”

Children at Carterton Kindergarten also took part in the Six60 mass choir alongside their everyday te reo programme.

Mat time for Carterton pupils followed marae protocol. They began each day by welcoming tamariki [children] and kaiako [teachers] to the whāriki [mat], followed by a karakia and whakataukī [proverb].

“Te Wiki o te Reo Māori emphasises and extends our ongoing practice,” head teacher Angie Kitto said.

“Our environment reflects and is visible of te ao Māori through our ngahere [native garden area], our focus on kaitiakitanga, along with our philosophy to honour Te Tiriti o Waitangi.”

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