A new early childhood centre - the first of its kind in Tauranga - has opened at Gate Pa School with classes starting next Monday.

Principal Richard Inder said establishing Te Puna Reo o Pukehinahina came from an idea, about 18 months ago, when the school was exploring how it could cater more for its Maori pupils, whose parents wanted them to learn te reo in an early childhood setting.

There are two ways to do that - a kohanga or a puna reo.

A puna reo is funded and supported by the Ministry of Education. A kohanga reo is chartered through Te Kohanga Reo National Trust.

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"They both worked with our curriculum but have a different way of managing the centres. We don't have either of those kinds of centres nearby our school. There are kohanga, but not in our backyard."

Mr Inder said the school decided, after consultation, it liked the puna reo option best.

"We're the first puna reo in Tauranga. It's quite unique having an early childhood centre on a school site."

The school has two full-immersion Maori language classes, giving parents the option of having their children learning te reo from early childhood right through primary school.

Gate Pa School has also been hosting a Pasifika playgroup once a week.

Mr Inder said the Education Ministry liked the idea of combining the two groups in the same building.

The puna reo will operate five days a week and the Pasifika group will join it Wednesday mornings.

"We are at a very multi-cultural school. Maori and Pasifika students make up about two-thirds of our school roll. Having the two groups in one centre meant children from both cultures could learn from each other.

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"It's really going to be up to the creative talents of the people in the centre. We've already explored some wonderful ways in which they can co-exist."

Having preschoolers on a primary school site opened younger children up to more opportunities, Mr Inder said.

"The parents will know the workings of the school and will be able to join in some of the school activities," he said.

"We've got a library, swimming pool, halls and other facilities."

Mr Inder said there would be places for 30 pupils when the puna reo started. It officially opened last month ahead of next week's first class.

What is a puna reo?

There are many different types of education and care centres that offer early childhood education services. Some education and care centres follow an education philosophy, such as Rudolf Steiner, Montessori or Reggio Emilia. Some education and care centres offer services with a focus on a language or culture. Puna Reo provides an education
and care environment in Maori language and culture settings.

- Ministry of Education