Te ‘epetoma o te reo Māori Kūki | Preserving language and culture
A Porirua kindergarten is on a mission to preserve the language and culture of three Pacific Island nations, including the Cook Islands
Porirua has a very strong Cook Islands community, but there is no continuum for children after leaving Toru Fetū Kindergarten to keep learning Cook Islands language and culture until high school, says teacher Alana No’otai.
Building a sense of being Cook Islander is very important for the children, says Alana, “…as it’s their identity when they go into the bigger world”. Cook Islands Māori is not the mother tongue for any of the children and the kindergarten is the only place in Porirua where they are immersed in the language, culture, values, traditions, and customs.
In 2018 Toru Fetū Kindergarten won a Prime Minister’s Award for excellence in engagement in its community.
The Cannons Creek kindergarten has three classrooms in which the language and culture of Niue, Tuvalu and the Cook Islands are taught.
Language as part of play
Te Whāriki early learning curriculum is strongly underpinned by the concept of ‘play’ as a way in which children explore their own and others’ cultures and identities.
“Throughout the day it’s free play, but lots of language happens,” Alana says. “Children can be engaged in an activity and someone like myself, born into the Cook Island language and culture, can converse with them.
“About 99 per cent of our parents are born in New Zealand and maybe 90 per cent of them can understand the language but not speak it well. The majority of our grandparents here are Cook Island language speakers and they love the fact their grandchildren are learning the language. They like to see it because they never had that chance with their own children.”
Seeing the children in the Punanga Reo classroom gives the community a sense of pride, because the children are so confident, Alana says.
“They are great leaders. They already know what to do when they go to a dance practice. They already know what to say when they go to a church and on White Sunday. In the Punanga Reo Kuki Airani room, we start each day with devotions where our children sing, recite Bible verses and pray in the Cook Island language,” Alana explains.
“It’s their sense of belonging as well – they belong to this place.”
A sense of identity and belonging help the children become confident and competent learners. “When they go to primary school, they are very confident in themselves and who they are – they have already become leaders here.
“Why is this place valuable to us? It’s because this is a place where our children can be themselves. Our language is dying so this is a place where our children get to hear it, live it, learn it and speak it.”
Mana whenua | Belonging
Te Whāriki acknowledges the importance of community and the Strand of Mana whenua | Belonging states that Pacific children’s language and culture is strengthened through the interconnectedness of people, time and things.
Dual language resource supports Pacific children
Competence in a first language is a key component in successfully learning a second language.
The Ministry of Education dual language resources help support Pacific children so they can connect with reading in a regular classroom setting and strengthen their first language while learning another language.
These resources were designed to support the early language and literacy learning of Pacific new entrant and early years students in English-medium classrooms. They help teachers work in partnership with families and Pacific communities to build students’ English language and literacy, using the strengths they bring from their first language.
The dual language resources help children transfer reading skills between Pacific languages and English and support a smooth transition of Pacific learners from ECE to primary schools.
Supported with online resources, the texts include professional learning videos and information for parents to teach them how to read and engage in meaningful conversation with a child, using a child’s first language.
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