Making things out of clay, singing Greek folk songs along with karaoke, learning the secrets to baking the perfect spinach pie, putting together a magazine in Greek: these are just a few of the activities that young members of the Hellenic Kids Club in the port city of Southampton on England’s southern coast can have a go at while practicing their Greek.
“Teaching at the Greek school, I noticed the kids needed more opportunities to actually use the Greek language, plus get a deeper understanding of Greek history and culture,” explains Tea Kouraki, who got the idea for the Hellenic Kids Club after moving from Greece to the UK with her family. Southampton has long had a thriving Cypriot community, and lately the number of Greeks living in the city has increased too – mainly people working for shipping companies, the university, the hospital and in education. Southampton, which has a Greek Orthodox church and a Greek school, is a hub for Greeks in the wider area.
“Many of the parents want to familiarize their children with Greece as much as possible, as they hope to return to the homeland as soon as they can,” says Kouraki. The fact that many Greek children speak Greek well but talk to each other in English is something that worries many parents. “I thought to make use of the school holidays to enhance their Greek language skills,” she adds. Kouraki went through the legal framework and licensing to start a company to do just that. “The process was all completed online in five months. There was some bureaucracy of course, which was understandable because it involves children,” she says.
Hellenic Kids Club activities, which are approved by the British education ministry, are seen taking place for a total of seven weeks a year on the premises of the Greek school. “In Britain, schools break up for holidays every three months, but working parents can’t take all that time off, so this is how the program helps them too,” says Kouraki. The aim is not to be like a traditional school, but rather to help the youngsters practice their Greek in non-classroom situations, like playing games and taking part in other fun and/or interesting activities, including cooking.
In addition to entertainment, karaoke also provides a form of reading practice. Other games, such as hangman, help with vocabulary and writing skills. Kouraki, however, doesn’t want to discourage children who struggle with the language. “Among ourselves we speak Greek, but if, for example, we have a National Geographic documentary on Greek mythology, then we’ll watch that, but with Greek subtitles. If we’re watching a theater play, we’ll be sure it’s a familiar story,” she says.
The youngsters are free to choose from theater, handicrafts, karaoke, mythology, geography, reading and table games. “Ultimately, we want the kids to strengthen their ties with Greece and make new friends.”