Look at the person next to you and think: do you know who they are, what makes them special and what is important to them? Unfortunately, sometimes we get a little too busy to take the time and get to know a person. Like really get to know them, understand their way of being and doing, build on a personal face-to-face relationship with them that's not over a social media platform and find out what makes them... well, them!
In today's world, living within multicultural, more diverse communities, it is becoming even more important and relevant to learn and appreciate one another's culture. We all have culture. Culture isn't defined by your skin colour, where you grew up or what you eat, or any other single entity qualifiers people use to explain the word. Culture is who we are, our way of being and doing. For example, you might have a special family tradition that you do with your family, making it part of your family's culture. Did you know that we have 49% of children at our preschool who identify with another culture other than New Zealand European? How cool is that to be so diverse!
Here at our preschool, we strive to support children, affirm them as individuals and stress the importance of being proud of who they are and what they bring with them (their culture, identity and language). Research tells us how important this is for children and their families as it will help them thrive and be successful in life! We have this thing called a curriculum document; you may have heard the teachers talking about "Te Whāriki." This is something that all Early Childhood education centres use to guide their practice. In that document, it talks about how a "learners’ identity is enhanced when children's home languages and cultures are valued in educational settings and when kaiako (teachers) are responsive to their cultural ways of knowing and being." If you want to know more about this curriculum document, you can find it here (after you finish reading this of course!):
So, taking this all in and knowing the importance of knowing one's culture for both ourselves as teachers and the children and their families, we embarked on a cultural journey as a centre. What an incredible, eye-opening journey it has been! The Samoan proverb "E felelei manu, ae ma'au i o latou ofaga" which means 'Birds migrate to environments where they thrive,' was a concept that resonated for us as a centre and stuck with us as we began our cultural journey in 2020. Do you know why it is so important to have a learning environment that supports children from diverse cultures? It is so they can gain a sense of belonging, feel they have a place with us, a sense of connection, where children can come to preschool knowing they are valued. This is what a supportive learning environment creates for children - belonging where they can be themselves!
As a centre, we entered our preschool in the local Hakatere Cultural Festival (which has been running for the past six years), offering children from Primary, Intermediate and College level schools in Mid Canterbury a chance to perform and represent the many different cultures within their schools, and do so with pride. We were very fortunate and humbled by the opportunity knowing we were the only preschool that entered last year – our children are superstars!
For three months, we practiced once a week, and these practices increased as we got closer to the day of the performance. We were also very lucky to have parents come along during practice to support us; Malu Tavai'i-Soo, Martha Daniels, and Mele Mahoni. Family support means the world to us! Not only did these mums give up their precious time to help the children with the songs and dance, but they also shared their knowledge and skills with us all here at preschool. Another part of our preparation was successfully securing funding from the Creative Communities Schemes ADC, which helped us purchase uniforms, and bus transport to and from the event centre. This is an excellent example of community support. We are grateful to all those involved in getting us to this special event.
Before the day of the performance, we visited our local primary school (Hampstead Primary School), which welcomed us with open arms to watch their kapahaka group perform. In return, our tamariki (children) braved the audience and performed what they had been practicing so hard for. We were all so proud of each and every one of them. What great role models Hampstead School have for our younger tamariki. We also got to have a practice run in front of our preschool friends and teachers one last time before the official day!
On the day of the Hakatere festival, we got ourselves ready, putting on our uniforms with the help of our beautiful mums. Now, we have to say: We looked pretty amazing! The excitement and feeling of pride were high in the room as we waited for the bus to take us to the Event Centre. The sound of children being excited about the journey ahead, their faces filled with smiles from ear to ear as we got closer to the Event Centre, was such an exciting and fun atmosphere! Then, once we had arrived, we hopped off the bus and made our way inside, where we were greeted with "Wooow!" and all sorts of kind comments from everyone, which made us feel even more proud of ourselves, knowing we had made it.
All our hard work, practicing, organising uniforms, transport, parent helpers, kaiako feeling inspired, had gotten us to where we stood up on stage. Surrounded by so many other primary and intermediate school children, each and every one looking so beautiful, so vibrant, so colourful, full of smiles, happy to be celebrating and embracing our cultures, language and identity. What a way to embrace each other, share our cultures and display acceptance to those around us!
A sense of pride and mana (honour), alofa (love) and feeling of inspiration filled the Event Centre as this future generation of tamariki represented their cultures, sharing their language and having a great sense of identity. All of us couldn't help but think: "this is what it is all about!" As leaders and advocates of children from all cultures, providing them the time and space to represent and be proud of who they are, where they come from, representing their aiga, kaiga, their whānau, families is so incredibly important, what an honour and privilege to be part of something so amazing. This feeling will live on in these children's hearts forever. This again emphasises the importance of embracing one's culture, supporting, accepting others and providing an environment where you feel valued.
We continued our cultural journey into 2021, practicing and learning new songs and dances. Unfortunately, due to Covid-19, the festival was cancelled. However, the children and teachers still did their performance to the rest of our centre, and we posted the video online to our parents. This journey hasn't finished for us yet. Look out 2022!