Korero Mai (Talk to Me)

Korero Mai (Talk to Me)

The last few years have seen something of a te reo revival at Oxford Playcentre, as parents come together to ‘chat’ over coffe, or at ‘tea parties’ with the children.

Sarah Elcomb moved to Oxford, all the way from Wales, nearly 6 years ago. Three days after arriving she took her son Alfie (then 2) along to Oxford Playcentre. From the outset Sarah recognised that Playcentre was ‘amazing – in the sense that parents and children can do things together’.

But while the mountainous landscape and the cold winters were sharply familiar, and while Playcentre offered a place to meet others in the community, Sarah wanted something to else to connect her with this new land.

Sarah talks about learning a new language as an incredible way of unlocking history and culture, and for seeing things in a new way – a conviction that was born out of frustrations she experienced growing up in Wales. ‘I am English’, she shares, ‘but my parents moved to a very Welsh area of Wales and I went to a school where the first language was Welsh. I really struggled.’ This experience triggered what was to become an enduring love-hate relationship with languages.

When she moved to New Zealand she decided to learn te reo, and has been studying at Te Wananga o Aotearoa for three years. During this time she has practised and shared what she has learnt at Playcentre – discovering other parents also keen to give it a go.

Parents like Annabelle Thompson, who recently stepped into the role of Coordinator. With an abiding commitment to promoting te reo Maori, Annabelle recalls joining Oxford Playcentre and feeling ‘excited to see that a number of people shared [her] passion – parents like Sarah and also Rachel Ford’.

‘We decided to come together to extend our te reo and “chat”’, says Annabelle. ‘And we also formed a group who meet outside of sessions to practise’.

With drivers like Sarah, Annabelle and Rachel, the last few years have seen something of a te reo revival at Oxford Playcentre. Sarah, who is now the President and attends with youngest son Eddie (4), stresses that, ‘while I keep badgering away about the language, others have been keen to take it on. Everyone has come on board’, she says.

The parents all have different reasons for getting involved. For Sarah, it started as a challenge and an opportunity to create a connection with a new culture and a new place. For Annabelle, Oxford Playcentre is helping her on a ‘personal journey’ to promote te reo. For others it is an opportunity to learn more about their Maori heritage.

One thing is clear: ‘Oxford Playcentre is a place where parents feel comfortable and relaxed knowing that their own values and beliefs will be acknowledged and celebrated’, says Annabelle. ‘Getting together to speak te reo Maori, everyone is welcome, and people can make mistakes, laugh, learn, teach and play.’ She adds that the concept of ako underpins all their interactions. That is, everyone can take on the role of expert/teacher and that of the learner: a principle that sits at the very heart of Playcentre philosophy.

As Annabelle points out, ‘parents are increasingly using their te reo in conversations with the children, around the playdough table or at a tea party, for example’. But they are doing something else that is truly valuable, yet perhaps not so obvious: they are modelling for their kids what it is to try something new; they are learning from and supporting each other; and they are having fun.

Which is so important. As Sarah says, ‘we have always made it fun and relevant. For example, we use expressions like, “Do you want a cup of coffee?” We have purposely cultivated a culture at Oxford where we look after the adults.’

Because, when parents feel supported and empowered, and licensed to try new things and have fun, then it follows that the children will too! 

Pictured: Sarah and Annabelle enjoy 'tea' with the kids - including Sarah's son Eddie, in the skeleton top. 

Korero Mai (Talk to Me)

Posted: Sunday 4 September 2016