Talking Matters to Tāmaki

How important are the first thousand days of a newborn pēpi? Talking matters is a national campaign to get everyone talking with babies and children


Talking Matters to Tāmaki: Talking to pēpi and tamariki under three years

First-time parents all over Aotearoa might ask themselves – what’s the point of communicating with my newborn pēpi, and how much can they really understand? A community programme created by COMET Auckland is drawing on the knowledge of our ancestors to support parents, old and new, to recognise the importance of communication, particularly in the first three years of life.

“The first 1000 days of a baby’s life are incredibly important for them.  More important than we may have thought about in the past”, explains Emma Quigan (Kāi Tahu, Pākeha), Community Activation Lead with COMET Auckland, "It's when a tremendous amount of the brain connections are developing."

"It's when they lay the foundations for the language. Children are born being able to communicate and have been listening to language in utero. That's something indigenous populations like Māori have known for a long, long time but Western science has just caught up to. We link the two knowledge streams, the Western science and the Māori science, and spread the word that the first thousand days sets pēpi up for life".

Talking Matters is a national campaign to get everyone talking with babies and children. The Glen Innes Family Centre, based in Auckland, is coordinating Talking Matters to Tāmaki, targeted at families living in Point England, Panmure, Mt Wellington and Glen Innes.

The relationship between COMET Auckland and the Family Centre has flourished since COMET Auckland held a community hui at Ruapotaka Marae in 2017.  From here, the Family Centre talked to 12 whānau about the realities of raising pēpi in Tāmaki and found that while every whānau knew that talking to pēpi was important, there was a lack of role models and a mechanism to foster whānaungatanga.

These findings were taken on board by COMET Auckland and, over the years, the Talking Matters to Tāmaki programme has taken off under the coordination of the Family Centre.

Samantha Makoare (Kuki Airani, Ngāti Whātua), Co-ordinator and Social Worker, reports that 52 whānau have come through the programme and likens it to a whānau movement, “I started on the programme, and then I pulled in my sisters, my cousins, everyone. And then they bring in other people. So we find people to join the programme through whānau connections”.

So how does it work?  Tynesha Pomare and her partner Joshua Taia, recently completed the programme after the birth of their first child Whitney-Kai Taia. At just two months old, Whitney-Kai was quiet in her communication and interactions when her parents enrolled on the programme. What they didn’t expect was how vocal she would soon become. According to Tynesha, her now 10-month old daughter uses “...eye contact, a lot of eye contact.

"Body language... she's really talkative. She loves to sing. She loves to dance. She loves to be around people that she knows. There's been a lot of changes since the programme and it's been a really good journey."

Both Tynesha and Jordan were unaware of the importance of communication with Whitney-Kai. “What I’ve learned”, explains Jordan, “is how interacting with your child is actually very good for them and their growth. And not only that, it's also good for myself, as a father, to understand how to interact with my baby”.

During the programme these first-time parents were visited by their coach on a weekly basis, and also met up from time to time with other parents at whānau hui.  For one day each week, parents are expected to use a LENA (language environment analysis) device. This piece of technology looks like a pedometer and is worn by pēpi. It counts all of the words that pēpi is exposed to over the period of one day. It also distinguishes electronic noise such as the television, cellphones and iPads from human interactions.

The data is then presented visually in detailed graphs, and the coaches and parents talk through the results together to understand which parts of the day are ‘language-rich’ and which parts of the day are quiet. The coach provides tips to parents on how to integrate more communication into their day and meet the goals they have set. A plan is then decided for the upcoming week. Emma and Tynesha with her daughter Whitney-Kai

Caption: Emma Quigan with Tynesha Pomare and daughter Whitney-Kai

For Tynesha and Jordan, this information helped keep them motivated in their communication efforts with Whitney-Kai. “You can be told that you're doing good and you're told that you're doing all the right things, but seeing it on paper, seeing the statistics, encourages you to keep going. Because sometimes you have those days when you think that it's all for nothing. But when you see it on paper, it's all worth it”, says Tynesha.

Tampy and Tynesha with Whitney-Kai

Caption: Tampy Bernard working with Tynesha Pomare and her daughter Whitney-Kai

An unexpected result of the Talking Matters to Tāmaki programme has been employment opportunities for whānau and Tampy Bernard’s journey is a concrete example. It started in 2018 when Tampy (Hāmoa) found himself in the position of stay-at-home dad with son Hawaiki. 

Desperate to reach out to other stay at home dads, he joined the programme, and hasn’t looked back. His personal journey has seen him move from being a participant to a coach, and now he fills a leadership role for coaches with COMET Auckland.

As a community activator, Tampy is out in communities across Aotearoa, working with whānau, with early childhood centres, with schools, with iwi and hapū. His main message; the power of communication.

“I’m there to give them some insight into the potential that they could reach and access with their children through rich oral language and speaking.  Through sharing your culture with pēpi, speaking with them, playing with them, walking and talking, singing, karakia...

"Everyone who engages with baby, whether they be caregivers, grandparents, siblings... needs to know the power of what they're doing when they invest time talking to baby and how that helps baby to thrive and grow to be a great thinker and reader”, says Tampy.

”The first 1000 days are the golden window of opportunity for any child because by the age of three, a child’s brain is 80% developed”. One of the techniques he encourages is conversational turns, known as ‘serve and return’, “What this means is don't do all the talking, because the child needs to respond. Even though not all babies can talk they will use coos, facials, or hand movements to communicate”.

Tampy’s wisdom comes from the experience of his own whānau. His son Hawaiki, now two years old, has been the catalyst for the revitalisation of three languages within their whare – Māori, Samoan and English. Tampy’s wife and her parents, as well as his parents and the rest of the children are all part of this tri-lingual language environment with Hawaiki at the centre. Hawaiki is also the star of a three-part video series made by the Bernard whānau during Covid-19 alert level 4 to show the challenges of lockdown. Told from the perspective of Hawaiki, the purpose of the series was to share their personal highs and lows with other whānau during times of uncertainty.

From her experience in speech language therapy and the Talking Matters campaign, Emma Quigan agrees that personal development for the child and for other members of the whānau is key to the success of the programme, “We've learnt that one child can influence their whole whanau, one child can influence whanau to reclaim their language”. In light of this, the Talking Matters campaign will shift its focus to the development of the whānau as a whole, and on their whānau to whānau coaching model.

 Whatever developments are on the way the key message of the programme remains quite simple – talking matters to baby’s development:

“Babies know way more than you think they do. They know everything that you know, they can communicate just as well as you can, and they can learn things just as well as you can. So, the more knowledge that we embed into our babies it will pay off in the future” (Tynesha Pomare).

Over 52 whānau have taken part in the Talking Matters programme. 

Ka rawe!

Talking Matters(external link)

Talking Matters NZ Facebook(external link)

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