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No. 55 (June 1966)
– 59 –

PLAY CENTRES AND MAORI EDUCATION

From a village play centre in a remote area—to Maori scholarships, seems to require a long stretch of the imagination. Yet I feel that the years ahead will prove that an important connection does indeed exist.

Today I visited such a centre for the first time. It is held in a Maori hall, but Pakeha and Maori children attend, and mothers of both races assist in the organisation and control of the children. Herein lies a very important factor.

Because our ‘racial problems’ look minute when compared with those of other countries such as America and South Africa, we tend to minimize or even ignore them. But they exist nevertheless, and although Maori education needs special attention, emphasis, and assistance, one thing which can encourage racial harmony enormously, is for Pakeha and Maori people to co-operate actively—not only at leader level, but among the ordinary men and women of each district.

Today I saw Maori and Pakeha women talking together about their children, freely and without shyness, finding that their problems were for the most part similar. Many of these women would probably never have visited each others homes, and if they had not been brought together through this common interest, would have had only a vague knowledge of how others lived. Through these conversations, the Pakeha women are coming to discover a few of the special difficulties which face a Maori child.

Many people do not realise what a handicap the speaking of two languages in a home can be to a five-year-old just starting school. It has been estimated that the vocabulary of a child in such a situation is sometimes only half that of another who has only one language to contend with. In a play centre, the Maori child has an opportunity to get a good start in English before he begins school. This is an immense help to the teachers and gives the child a better chance in his education.

A small child, whether Maori or Pakeha, will often be shy or nervous for the first few days at school, and play centres help children of both races overcome this shyness. But a Maori child, unless he is attending a strictly ‘native’ school, may have the extra burden of feeling that he is entering an unfamiliar Pakeha world for the first time. At play centre he becomes accustomed to white children and adults, usually with the comforting presence of his mother and other friends alongside him.

There are many small items of school life which puzzle a child, and in play centres the children can be prepared for these. One such instance pointed out by a school-teacher was that for the first few days, some newcomers would refuse to eat their cut lunches at school. It was therefore decided to train them in this during their time at play centres. The value of co-operation between local teachers and their nearest play centre cannot be over-emphasised.

All our lives we are learning. The sooner we are allowed to start, and the earlier we are given the necessary materials to learn with, the faster we are likely to advance. I feel that play centres, with their rich variety of experiences and working materials, will prove to be of great value in giving our children a good start with their education. Not all mothers find it easy to entertain and train their children at home in the pre-school years, and it is always helpful to discover new ideas, and to give the children a chance to mix with others.

So parents, whether you are Maori or Pakeha, if you feel hesitant about taking your child to a play centre, be assured that from small beginnings great things may come; one of the greatest I forsee is the education of Maori and Pakeha parents and children at the same time.