Kohanga Reo

At Kohanga Reo all education and instruction is delivered in te reo maori (Maori language).  Learn more about Kohanga Reo and how it works in our article.

What is Kohanga Reo?

Kohanga Reo is an early childhood education and care (ECE) centre where all education and instruction is delivered in te reo maori (Maori language). At Kohanga Reo mokopuna (children) are totally immersed in Maori language and tikanga (culture) from birth through to the age of six. This means that the only language spoken at Kohanga Reo is Maori.

Kohanga reo is a whanau (family) dependent programme, parents and whanau are closely involved with children’s’ development and learning. They are also responsible for the management, operation and everyday decision making for the Kohanga Reo. Parents are also encouraged to take part in the daily programme provided by Kohanga reo.

The translation of the words Kohanga Reo is ‘language nest’. This translation relates directly to one of the key objectives of the Kohanga Reo movement – the retention of the Maori language. Kohanga Reo totally immerses children in Maori language and culture in an effort to promote learning within a context/situation that is relevant to the children and which draws on Maori styles of learning and teaching.

What is the aim of Kohanga Reo for its children?

The three fundamental aims of Kohanga for its children are that

  • Children will learn the Maori language and culture, including the spiritual dimension, through immersion;
  • Language and cultural learning will be fostered and supported for all members of the whänau o te Köhanga Reo;
  • Members of the Köhanga Reo will learn within the whänau setting, a range of skills that supports the philosophy

How does it work?

There are several levels on which Kohanga operate.


Whanau and parents are ultimately responsible for the operation of Kohanga Reo.

The whanau may consist of the parents of the children attending, elders and the community involved on the Kohanga.

The whanau is responsible for:

  • the employment of the staff working in the Kohanga reo
  • the health and safety of the children attending the Kohanga reo
  • the early childhood education programme for the children attending
  • the management of Kohanga reo property and finances.

Some whanau organise themselves to administer and manage more than one Kohanga reo. For example, one whanau manages both a senior (children over two years old) and junior (under two years) Kohanga reo that operate as separate Kohanga reo in the same complex.

Parents are also expected to play a part in the day to day delivery of the mokopuna programmes. The intention is for parents to learn with their children.

The reason for whanau involvement on such a large scale is

  • to ensure children are supported,
  • to share workload and responsibility
  • to ensure everyone is learning about te Kohanga Reo
  • to avoid domination of a few over the majority of the whanau.

Te Kohanga Reo National Trust

Kohanga Reo are overseen by an umbrella organisation call Te Kohanga Reo National Trust. It is through this organisation that Kohanga Reo are chartered (see charter).

The Trust’s role is that of kaitiaki (guardian) of Kohanga Reo. Its role is to ensure the quality of education and care provided by Kohanga Reo and to promote and ensure the survival of the Maori language. It does this by providing Kohanga Reo with support and advice in the form of whanau-based learning to Kohanga Reo whanau. It offers Whakapakari Tino Rangatiratanga – a training course for kaiako (teachers), training courses for whanau in te reo Maori (Maori language), computer training, Te Whariki (ECE curriculum) and business administration.

As with other NZ ECE service providers, Kohanga Reo are reviewed by ERO. To search for a review visit www.ero.govt.nz .

What will the children be taught?

As with other ECE services the ECE curriculum Te Whariki is used as a basis for creating learning programmes. This curriculum sets out the learning experiences and goals for children before they reach school age. It also outlines learning outcomes for Kohanga Reo.

The early childhood curriculum is founded on four principles:

  • Whakamana (empowerment);
  • Kotahitanga (holistic development);
  • Whänau Tangata (family and community); and
  • Ngä Hononga (relationships).

It is obvious that a large amount of what the children will learn will be Maori language and culture.

Who teaches at Kohanga Reo?

Parents and whanau play a large part in the education of children at Kohanga Reo. Aside from them The Education (Early Childhood Centres) Regulations 1990 (amended in 1991, 1992, and 1993) determines that at least one person who is employed to work with children in the Kohanga Reo be:

…attested, that is, determined by the district and local TRU (Tino Rangatiratanga Unit), the Trust, NZQA and Ministry of Education as a suitable person to work in an early childhood education centre and be both fluent in te reo Maori and knowledgeable about tikanga Maori.

What Counts as Quality in Kohanga Reo – Number 6, Winter 1997

There are several ways a person can learn to work in Kohanga Reo including attestation and training on a course.


This is a process which ensures potential staff are able to provide appropriate teaching based on their fluency in the Maori language and their knowledge of tikanga (culture). The process is undertaken by both Te Kohanga Reo National Trust and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority.

NZQA-approved training

There are three relevant qualifications a person can undertake to complete that will enable them to teach at Kohanga Reo. These courses range from one to three years in duration. They are Te Ara Tuatahi, Te Ara Tuarua and Whakapakari Tino Rangatiratanga.

What will it cost me?

Kohanga Reo have a whanau contribution system which makes providing cost guidelines difficult. The contribution expected of a whanau depends on the needs of the whanau . The contribution can be koha (gift), donations for food and/or paying fees.

What else should I know?

It is important to understand that although the primary aim of Kohanga Reo is to totally immerse children in order that they learn the Mäori language and culture, including the spiritual dimension, the Education Review Office (ERO) makes us aware of some flaws in this ideal.

In ERO’s report ‘What Counts as Quality in Kohanga Reo” updated February 2005, an inability to find teachers fluent in, and therefore able to teach in, Maori was noted. This has implications where the total immersion of children in the Maori language is concerned.

Sixty-four percent of Kohanga reo were delivering their programmes entirely through te reo Maori. These Kohanga reo had good programmes in place to foster Maori language and cultural growth in children and to encourage children to communicate in Maori.

While they were committed to delivering programmes through te reo Maori, 27 percent of Kohanga reo were unable to do so consistently because of a lack of Maori language expertise within their Kohanga reo. Most of these whanau need to develop better strategies for promoting Maori language growth in children and in whanau members working with the children.

In nine percent of Kohanga reo, little or no Maori language was spoken by whanau and children. Where Maori was spoken by whanau it tended to be managerial rather than instructional. In almost all these Kohanga reo, children lacked stimulation and were often bored.

Glossary of Maori terms used in this article

kaiako – teachers

kaitiaki – guardian

koha – gift

Kohanga Reo – ‘language nest’

mokopuna – children

te reo maori – Maori language

tikanga – culture

whanau – family

Helpful Kohanga Websites




Kylie Valentine

Kylie Valentine is a qualified secondary school teacher, trained journalist, and the mum of two fabulous children.

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