Little Can Be Huge

I rang my daughter after school the other day, as I always do, but instead of asking her how her day was in English, I said “kei te pēhea tō rangi babe?”

She replied “kei te pai!”

Normally I’d stop there, but, feeling encouraged, I kept going. And to my surprise, Bobbie kept replying – even as my questions got gradually longer and more complex. It’s not that she understood every word, but she was able to piece together the meaning from the context, the tone of my voice and the few words she recognised. She was learning in the way we all learn language – through normal, everyday interactions. What’s more, I could sense the thrill in her voice as the conversation went on. She was excited and proud of herself.

I’d like to think she’s gained this confidence at home, but if I’m honest, I can be a bit slack at home. English is still very much the default in our whare. It takes conscious effort and determination to maintain a reo-speaking home, and I don’t always manage it.

Luckily, it takes a village – and our reo-Māori speaking village is strong. We belong to Te Ataarangi and Te Puna Ihi Manaaki, and a reo Māori knitting circle, Tuia Te Reo. But as great as these groups are, they’re all aimed at adults. They’re inclusive of tamariki, but young people are not the focus.

That’s where Reo 2 Go comes in. The whole kaupapa is whānau and tamariki-centred. There’s no classroom, just fun activities for kids that just happen to be in Māori.

The latest event was “My Kihini Rules”, a whānau-inspired cooking day. It started off with karakia in the wharenui, then moved through to the wharekai where the kids were split up into two groups. The younger ones made pizza and decorated cupcakes, while the older ones, the tuākana, disappeared into the kitchen to make caramel slice. Every so often we heard a bolt of laughter erupt from the kitchen as the kids learnt the names of the different ingredients through a process of trial and error.

Parents participated as well, many having learnt the key vocabulary beforehand to support their tamariki to stay in te reo. This is key, because even though a lot of our tamariki can’t speak Māori, they’re more than capable of listening and understanding. I think that’s one of the special things about Reo 2 Go, and one of the reasons my daughter’s confidence is growing. She’s not penalised for speaking English during these activities, but she’s gently and subconsciously encouraged to speak Māori every day because so many of the adult role-models in her life do.

On our way home afterwards, Bobbie turned to me and very solemnly declared that the pizza she’d made that day was the best she’d ever eaten in her life. I asked her why, and she replied: “I think it was the dough. There was something different, about it. It was normal, but at the same time it was different.”

I decided this was pretty insightful, and possibly even summed up what Reo 2 Go is about. It’s about doing normal, everyday things, just in a different way – a reo Māori way. Opportunities like this are so important because they help instil in our kids the confidence they need to grow up embracing te reo Māori as their own. I don’t think the classroom can provide this the same way a village can.

In the scheme of things, events like My Kīhini Rules are only small. We’re not creating fluent speakers overnight. But in the words of Spark, little can be huge. When I ring my daughter after school and she replies to me in Māori, I am reminded that she is not growing up with the shame that I did. She’s not embarrassed to speak Māori. There’s no fear nipping at her toes when she’s immersed in te ao Māori. She’s just eager and willing.

And this, without doubt, is huge.