Te Kōhanga Reo began in 1981 by the people with the support of the Department of Māori Affairs in response to Māori concern to:
- Ensure the survival and revival of te reo Maori.
- Totally immerse Te Kōhanga Reo mokopuna, and whanau in the principles of Maori child rearing practices, through the medium of te reo Maori me ona tīkanga.
- Target the participation of mokopuna and whanau into Te Kōhanga Reo to develop and up skill the whanau.
The first Kōhanga Reo, Pukeatua in Wainuiomata was opened in April 1982. Kōhanga Reo flourished in an environment of excitement and celebration, and one hundred Kōhanga Reo were established by the end of 1982. However in 1990 the Department of Māori Affairs devolved, and Kohanga reo operations moved to the newly formed Ministry of Education.
Growth continued and by the end of 1994 there were 800 Kōhanga Reo, catering for 14,000 mokopuna. Kōhanga Reo were virtually springing forth all over the country and with very little financial assistance from government.
Now under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, Kōhanga Reo had to come to terms with the regulatory environment, and the compliances of the ‘early childhood sector’, whilst maintaining the unique kaupapa of the Kōhanga Reo movement. Such a system of measurement often came at a heavy cost to the kaupapa.
Despite this the Kōhanga Reo movement continued to maintain its progress, in answer to the desperate cry from kaumātua (elders), parents and rangatahi (the young) to save the Māori language from disappearing.
Te Kōhanga Reo Today
Te Kōhanga Reo movement has been heralded as the most significant and effective initiative undertaken by Maori to secure their language and tikanga.
Today there are over 460 Te Kōhanga Reo established around the country, all self managed, catering for over 9000 mokopuna. This represents five per cent of all children in early childhood education. It is a movement that is significant in the lives of the entire whanau who are involved. It is the highest employer of both Maori women and men in any early childhood service; although it has an estimated 745 akonga (students) in training courses, learning and up skilling permeates throughout the organisation with the wider whanau and volunteers.
Te Kōhanga Reo followed by Kura Kaupapa Māori and Whare Kura all provide an environment where Māori language, cultural practices and values are demonstrated and are recognized as providing a valuable training ground for maintaining marae practices and protocols.