South Brighton's Reo Rua Sessions

South Brighton's Reo Rua Sessions

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to visit South Brighton Playcentre’s recently established Thursday bilingual session. I was curious to know how it differed from other Playcentre sessions, and hoped to be inspired by the truly bicultural partnership happening there.

As soon as we arrive my son and I are greeted with a birdsong of ‘mōrena’. Because South Brighton looks like any other Playcentre, it’s easy to feel immediately at home. It’s only when a parent lets us know that we are supposed to take off our shoes at the door, that I become aware that this is particular Playcentre session a bit different.

Shoes removed, my son gets on with playing. I quickly notice the Reo Rua area, the part of the centre dedicated to Thursday’s session, vibrant and lovingly decorated. There are pictures of the tamariki that attend, mihi, waiata, and karakia. Laid out on the table are lanyards, each with a dozen or so laminated Playcentre kupu. I put one on, hoping to learn a few new words while I’m here.

In the kitchen adults are preparing a plate of fresh fruit. Each family brings in something to share every session. I learn a new te reo word straightaway, ‘reka’, which means sweet/delicious. Erana, the centre’s kaiako, fills me in on the structure of the session before it gets underway. The bilingual mornings are more structured than most Playcentre sessions, but each activity furthers the centre’s aim of authentic bicultural learning.

To begin with, parents and tamariki gather in a circle on the floor to introduce themselves with mihi and to share any news. From absolute beginners to experts, te reo skills vary but everybody has a go. Encouragement makes us all feel confident enough to try. What inspires me at this point is the role modeling of learning by the parents, who courageously attempt new Maori words. Here everybody is a teacher and everybody is a learner.

We then move on to singing. It’s at this point that a reporter from CTV shows up with an intimidating looking camera and begins filming, which makes us all feel understandably self conscious. Fortunately, many of the parents and tamariki have been singing these waiata for months so they save us from looking too bad. For me the waiata are a satisfying mix of the familiar and unfamiliar, including some waiata that I haven’t heard since childhood but am glad to hear again. They include A Haka Mana, Paki Paki and Tohurā Nui. The tamariki range in age from babies to home schoolers, so their participation varies accordingly. Most of them swing poi, hold props, know a few actions, and sing a handful of words. It’s all great fun, if you ignore the camera. 

When the singing comes to an end, the children are sent off to wash their hands. We gather around the kai table and wait for the karakia kai. Once the karakia’s spoken, the tamariki pounce on the fruit, devouring it with enthusiasm. A few te reo picture books are casually shared around the table. Some tamariki stay to listen, others go back to play.

I finally have a moment to chat to Erana. She’s just been interviewed in front of the camera for CTV, so chatting to me, with my humble pen and notebook, is comparatively easy. I ask her about the origins of the Reo Rua sessions.

Erana tells me that the Canterbury Playcentre Association did some research and decided that South Brighton Playcentre would be the perfect place to trial a bilingual session. They opted to open the centre on a day that it hadn’t previously been opened, not wishing to disrupt an existing session. This means that everyone that attends the Reo Rua session is there with a new and shared purpose. 

There are currently around twenty tamariki attending the Reo Rua sessions, which have been running since the beginning of term two. Erana thinks that they’re on a roll, now that everybody’s settled in. The main focus of each session is te reo Maori. Kailee Smith takes on the supervisor role so that Erana can focus on her kaiako responsibilities. Although Erana is employed as a leader, there are also other parents that are knowledge holders and role models too.

I ask one such parent, Amy, about her thoughts on the bilingual sessions. She says that she “feels really lucky and excited to have it here”. Amy adds that she feels especially lucky to have a kaiako that speaks te reo so well but that also understands Playcentre. Erana’s a long time member of Redwood Playcentre and a facilitator for Babies CanPlay.

At the end of the session, before pack up time, the tamariki and parents gather in a circle as Erana tells the story of Maui. There are props involved and the tamariki participate enthusiastically in the story.

After some hurried farewells I chase my barefooted toddler outside, our shoes clutched in my hands. I’ve had a wonderful time, learnt a lot, and wish that I could come back every week. Get in touch with South Brighton Playcentre if you are interested in having more Reo Rua at your own centre. He waka eke noa.

You can watch the CTV footage and interviews here:

Frances Martin

Posted: Monday 19 June 2017