Te reo Māori focus of child centre study

Yvonne Awhina Mitchell
Yvonne Awhina Mitchell
A new University of Otago study has emphasised how important early childhood educators are in preserving and promoting te reo Māori in English-medium centres.

Although early childhood settings have already been recognised as integral for transmission of the language, there is limited research about its implementation in English-medium centres.

In the study, researchers captured 25 minutes of natural interactions among teachers and children over five routines — kai time, book time, group time, free play time and nappy change — at 24 early childhood centres across New Zealand.

Lead author and University of Otago psychology researcher Yvonne Awhina Mitchell said they were interested in understanding the rate, quantity and quality of te reo Māori used in the centres.

"We found the highest rates of te reo Māori per minute were observed during kai time, book time and group time routines.

"While te reo Māori was limited during the nappy change routine, this reveals a unique opportunity for educators to incorporate te reo Māori during these face-to-face interactions with one child only."

The use of te reo Māori was always initiated by educators, which showed the role they had in implementing the language and providing children an opportunity to respond to and return te reo Māori, she said.

Single words such as "are you ready for your kai?" were used more often in comparison to two and three-or-more words in te reo Māori.

"These simple words are a positive first step, as they provide a foundation for more complex language use.

"Although some centres used only a little, and others a great deal, it is heartening to know young learners in Aotearoa are hearing te reo Māori from a young age throughout the day."

Co-author Dr Amanda Clifford said the study emphasised how important educators were in implementing its use in English-medium centres.

"Language development during early childhood is dependent on rich interactions with adults, so these findings not only support revitalisation efforts, but are in line with the national early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki.

"Educators play a role in preserving and promoting te reo Māori, and their knowledge and skills are valuable in ensuring the language thrives," she said.

Teachers’ proficiencies in te reo Māori ranged from beginner to intermediate, which highlighted the need to continue supporting their language revitalisation efforts.

"For some, accessing resources, training, structured support and ongoing professional development opportunities may enable them to better develop their language skills to incorporate te reo Māori into their teaching," Dr Clifford said.