Work that is Worthy

By Amy Johnson – Kōwhai Head Teacher – Preschool

Recently, I came across this quote from Dr. Montessori and have considered it many times since: “The child is much more spiritually elevated than is usually supposed. They often suffer, not from too much work, but from work that is unworthy of them.” – The Child in the Family. 

So, how does one determine which work is “worthy” and which is “unworthy”? We know that children especially, are active learners. They remember or understand most when they are invested—emotionally, physically or intellectually—in their self-chosen activities. This is human nature. It is how people (of all ages) learn and it is helpful to remember when we are looking for activity or “work” that is “worthy” of a child’s attention, focus, effort and exploration.

It is easy as parents and caregivers to look to new activities, toys, books or games when we want to engage these wonderfully developing minds and bodies in “worthy” activity. One look at Pinterest or a google search and you will find all sorts of suggestions, some of them even labelled “Montessori” and a few with pretty hefty price tags. If it is expensive, it must be good quality and “worthy” of my child’s time and attention, right? Counterintuitively, these pricy toys and treasures are often the opposite of what Dr. Montessori was trying to describe. Often modern, electronic toys and games, with all their lights, sounds, bells and whistles can “entertain” children but do so in a way that completely overwhelms their natural sensitivities and tendencies to engage, explore and experiment.

So, if it is not the latest gadget that our children need to engage with to develop their unique and amazing potential, what can we provide that might be “worthy” of their “spiritually elevated” attention? Amazingly, what children need, more than anything else, is to be invited and involved in life being lived. Do your children take part in the day-to-day running of your household, with whatever level of skill and ability they possess? Or does it all happen “magically” when they have gone to bed, or while they are watching their favourite show? Do they help to plan and to shop for food or other items? Do they collaborate with others to take on chores or tasks that need doing around the house? Are they allowed time to experiment, get bored and make mistakes in everyday life with everyday objects? Do they have opportunities for rich, authentic experiences with: music, literature, nature, language, culture, comedy/silliness, exercise, cooking, creating, dancing, stillness/calm, gardening, conversation, assisting others? Very few of these opportunities require a lot of money but they do take time, priority and sometimes a bit of planning.

As the weeks pass this term and they inevitably bring us closer and closer to the craziness we call ‘the holidays’, I challenge you to keep this in mind as you consider what is “worthy” of your child’s time in these precious years we call childhood.

Reflecting on ‘Reflection on Reflection’

By Zena Kavas – Biology Teacher – High School

Continuing on from Stuart’s ‘Reflections on reflection’, I plan to delve a little more into the benefits and importance of reflection and some of the science to support this. Reflection and its close relative, meditation, have the slightly dubious reputation of being a bit flakey, for tree-hugging hippies and people who live in caves, rather than for people like you and me.

However, Maria Montessori says, “But it is necessary to consider not only the active occupations but the need for solitude and quiet, which are essential for the development of the hidden treasures of the soul (From Childhood to Adolescence, p. 73). And what might these hidden treasures of the soul be? This is worth reflecting on, but I would suggest that these hidden treasures may be more than what we learn in our subject areas.

Reflection is defined as the bouncing of light or sound or heat from a surface. When the water in a lake or the sea is very still, we see an authentic reflection. But if there is movement on the water, ripples or waves, the reflection becomes distorted. And so it is with our mind. When the mind is still, our reflections are more real and authentic. However, if there is movement in the mind – busyness, distractions, worries, anxieties – then our reflections may be distorted.

One of the greatest minds of all time, Albert Einstein, recognised the importance of reflection, or time in stillness. He said, “I never came upon any of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.” His theories of gravity, space and time continue to astound scientist today. Archimedes (~300BC), the great astronomer, physicist, mathematician and engineer, came up with his theory of displacement of water while relaxing in the bath. And Sir Isaac Newton figured out his theory of gravity, while snoozing under an apple tree.

But reflection is not just great for intellectual geniuses. It is a very useful and cheap way to counter the stresses of modern life; the long to-do list, up-coming exams, stresses associated with social media, etc. Numerous studies have shown that reflection and meditation can calm the stress response, allow us to be more aware of our thoughts rather than consumed by them, reduce excess electrical activity in the brain, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and increase levels of hormone associated with happiness.

We often say that we will reflect when we have time, when we have finished everything we have to do. I encourage you to make reflection a priority, to set a good example to our akonga, and do yourself a huge favour by taking time to reflect.

Enjoy your reflection.

Reflection on reflection

By Stuart Mason – Chemistry Teacher, High School

‘Study without reflection is a waste of time; reflection without study is dangerous’ – Confucius.

In the high school we spend 30 minutes a week, early on Friday afternoons, ‘doing reflection’. Some students see it as a waste of time, others increasingly see value in it but might find it an awkward classroom experience to just sit without social interaction. Amongst teachers there is consensus that reflection is an important activity to incorporate into the school day, and it is a central part of Montessori teacher education that teachers write reflections on their learning.

It is well established that for learning to be permanent and meaningful there must be space made in the learner’s mind to process the learning, to compare the new learning with knowledge and understanding from before. Teachers acknowledge that a 30-minute block on a Friday isn’t the most sophisticated way of providing this opportunity but having a timetable slot does give reflection the importance it deserves. Incorporating reflection time into classes might run the risk of having it side lined in the usual rush to get everything else done.

There’s value in having time for quiet stillness, a mental respite from the barrage of input provided by the post-modern world. The question may remain for the reflective person, what am I supposed to do in that 30 minutes?

Zena has expertise in meditation, and runs popular sessions with Tāwari students using resonant bowls that provide the sound for reflection. Silent walking is another popular reflection activity. Activities already subsumed into the subconscious can be suitable: driving on uncongested roads could work for experienced drivers, but for new drivers there is too much of the conscious mind devoted to the activity of driving.

One school of thought argues that a meditation industry has sprung up, one that prescribes reflection as a panacea for the ills generated by a post-modern neoliberal existence: find the solutions within yourself to the anxiety generated by an unfit for purpose system of human existence. The conclusion here could be that we should spend reflection time plotting the revolution.

Here is my proposed NZQA-style assessment schedule for the use of reflection:

Excellence: achieves awareness of what is in the conscious mind, and the deliberate control of which ideas and feelings occupy the mind. This may allow thinking about the nature of one’s existence, or reassessment involving bigger life questions, or higher creative thinking.

Merit: a functional use of reflection time in which the only activities are ones that are entirely subconscious, allowing the mind to do processing of ideas that must happen for learning to be effective, or an equivalent of the ‘shower time’ effect when the mind knows it will not be disturbed so is able to think through a question more deeply or creatively.

Achieved: managed to sit still without being distracted for 30 minutes.

I come to reflection with a problem to think about, so I am usually operating at Merit!

Music in the Environment

By Joel Batson – Tōtara Teacher

Recently I have been reflecting upon my previous life experiences with music: singing with my family, listening to Mum sing and play folk songs on the guitar and flute, nursery rhymes, spiritual songs and my early experiences with instruments such as the piano, the guitar and drums.

I consider just how important those experiences were for my formation as an adult; being able to function and be ready to process the environment around me and make choices that have effects upon others.  And I consider I have been blessed.  You may ask what these things have in common with each other?

I am coming to see more and more, through experience and my own research (see anything by Lorna Lutz Heyge and Montessorian Audrey Sillick), just how much early music experiences have to do with the formation of the child as an individual and how (even in those pre-natal months) these encounters with the world of music help to prepare the individual for learning.

Experiences such as the early singing or chanting (possibly of folk songs or nursery rhymes) of the mother, father and/or other significant adults from when the child is in the womb up until the age of three or so, have such a tremendous effect on communicating with the child such things as human connection, a sense of belonging, integration into the family environment and even the transfer of culture from adult to child.

Singing with and to, playing rhythm games, and making up inane rhymes and joyful tunes – these all help prepare the child for learning and receiving what the world has to offer them, and indeed, what they have to offer the world.

So, should I be getting a specialist to do this with my child?  Possibly, if you’re wanting your 3-year-old to be NZSO material only!  Realistically my answer is no – you are the best person to give these early experiences to your child.  You, the significant adult, are best able to communicate the joy of life to your own child.

If we all did this a little more with our children, rather than being scared of stuffing it up or singing out of tune (because that actually doesn’t matter for real, heart music), I can’t help but imagine what a different place we’d help create.

I realise I have focused a lot here on talking about the early years.  You may be saying “Well, it’s too late for that!”  In some senses, once the child gets past certain sensitive periods in life, the full potency of those periods can never be fully recovered.

But I sincerely believe it is never too late to begin doing music with your child.  Any such activity can only help to increase both your child’s and your own sense of joy in life.

Grace and courtesy in the primary school

By Tania Gaffney–Deputy Principal Primary

As ākonga enter into their primary years they become a much more social being; they are also testing limits and are developing their independence.  As a result of this, grace and courtesy becomes very social, a negotiated construct within the community, yet still guided by the adult.

Standing alongside grace and courtesy is another term you will hear in the Montessori community–‘freedom with limits or responsibilities’. The limits or responsibilities are often the grace and courtesies that we need, to be able to get on in society–in this case, our school or class.  Mario Montessori Jr. said of freedom, “One can only speak of a true community when each member of the group feels sufficiently free to be himself or herself, while simultaneously restricting his or her own freedom for the sake of adjustment to the group. It is in seeking an optimal solution to this tension between personal independence and dependence on the group that the social being is formed.”  We can all struggle with this at times! Each area of the school plays its part in helping the child develop him or herself socially.

In primary, ākonga are emerging into independence for the first time, pulling away from adults in their lives and wanting to be with their peers more; looking outside of themselves for the first time, but often with a foot in both camps–self and others., Interactions therefore can be fraught as children begin to figure out and negotiate how they will be with each other. “What Freedoms will I insist on?” and, “What shall I adjust?” or, “What grace and courtesy will I use for the sake of my friends and classmates?” They (and in fact, many people) don’t always get it right especially at the beginning of this journey which is when we need to sit down, talk and negotiate to find a way through.

Much of what we do in the primary years is helping the child, both overtly and covertly to develop their grace and courtesy, e.g.

– setting up and negotiating the class rules at the beginning of the year;
– discussing etiquette around lessons or eating or setting up your work space;
– small role plays by the teacher or children about the many different aspects of class life (humour is often used at this age);
– regular class meetings where issues are discussed and solutions found;
– setting up the community jobs; and
– even when telling stories, we may be expressing gratitude for those that have gone before us.

A great persuader to using your grace and courtesy or thinking about your responsibility in the class is your peers–far more than the adult’s influence. This is why whenever possible so much is done in the social setting at the primary age.

The Science of Observation

By Dannielle King–Playgroup Facilitator

Observation is one of the core principles of Montessori practice. If the kaiārahi (guides) do not closely observe the tamariki (children), how will they know if they have mastered a skill in order to be ready for the next lesson, or know what their interests are to help them engage in interesting work?

For most of us observation sounds pretty simple–you just watch and see what is happening; there is no special skill required. Montessori teacher training however spends a large amount of time teaching and practising how to observe objectively. To really see what is happening for a child we must leave all our preconceptions, feelings and knowledge behind and concentrate on what is physically happening in the moment. Of course this is done unobtrusively so as not to interrupt their work.

“Praise, help, or even a look, may be enough to interrupt him, or destroy the activity. It seems a strange thing to say, but this can happen even if the child merely becomes aware of being watched. After all, we too sometimes feel unable to go on working if someone comes to see what we are doing. The great principle which brings success to the teacher is this: as soon as concentration has begun, act as if the child does not exist.” (Dr. Maria Montessori, ‘The Absorbent Mind’.)

Objective observation can be a useful tool as a parent too. Watch a new baby’s body language and facial expressions and you will be able to pick up on their preferences and emotions in different situations. If you can observe your toddler’s behaviour in relation to developmental stages, you can provide materials or tools to help master a new skill. Perhaps toys are constantly being thrown–on the surface this might look like misbehaviour and against the rules, but if you look at it as being driven to practise a new body movement, you could provide a cloth ball and a target or basket to aim at, and this stage might then work itself through with less disruption.

An older child’s actions may often differ from their words. Maybe your daughter says her favourite colour is pink, like all of her friends, but when offered a choice will always pick the green object? Are the small collectible toys (that you dislike so much but were talked into at the shop) actually being played with or are they abandoned once the excitement of purchasing and opening is over with?

I recently attended the Montessori conference and the 0-3 speaker led some really valuable discussions on observation, which I will share with playgroup whānau through the term. You can put it into practice yourself by simply paying more attention to what you are seeing at home, or if you want to be a bit more scientific, find a diary and make some notes. If you only write down physical actions and not your initial feelings as to what they mean, you may look back later and find a different interpretation of what was happening. Either way, any insight you gain can only help you on your parenting journey!

Bush walks in the preschool


By Anna McLean – Preschool Deputy Principal

In the last year, we have extended the “rite of passage” activities of the 5-year-olds to include a weekly bush walk. This came out of an investigation into how we were implementing spontaneous science.

Our school programme provides many opportunities for this, so the recommendation was that we find a space beyond the preschool where tamariki could be in the outdoors and experience science in a wider, natural context.  After further investigation into how other centers achieved this and discussions within preschool, it was decided that the Rātā Street bush was ideal in proximity and suitability.

Tamariki investigating the natural wonders on Wā Ora’s back door step while on a walk in the Rātā Street bush, Naenae

With support from rangatahi (young people) from the high school and the parent community, we have been able to do a weekly walk into the bush. One of the key objectives of the bush walks has been that tamariki explore this place in all kinds of weather and in each season to experience the changes in the flora and fauna. Another key objective is for the play to be child initiated rather than being teacher led. Adults are in the background observing what interests the tamariki and posing questions to open up new avenues of thinking, but not getting involved or suggesting solutions to challenges.

The success of the activity prompted us to send in an application to MANZ to be considered for the Dr. Nicola Chisnall Memorial Award for 2019. The award recognises initiatives that make significant contributions to tamariki, families and communities.  Entries are voted for by the membership and the winner receives $500 as a contribution towards supporting or extending the work.  The award was set up in Nicola’s honour after she passed away from cancer in 2013.  Our links as a school, with both Nicola and her husband Dave, go right back to the establishment of Wā Ora in 1988.  They were both members of the group who started our school and Nicola was one of the first teachers here at that time.  Wā Ora was the inaugural winner of this award back in 2014 and so we are keen to try again!

Curiosity may not be good for the cat but it is fundamental for us as human  beings

By Rose Langridge–Humanities subjects Teacher; Careers Advisor–High School

Humans by their very nature are inherently curious. Curiosity has a functional evolutionary purpose since people had to be inquisitive about the world around them in order to survive.

There are two types of curiosity. The first is perceptual curiosity, which we exhibit when something confuses or puzzles us. This is exactly the curiosity that directs a three-year-old to spend a large proportion of their time asking a one-word question that always needs a long answer: “Why?” The second type is epistemic curiosity, which feeds our desire to know new things. Our brains and minds value this knowledge and due to this we derive pleasure from learning.

In our digital age the sheer amount of information available is immense and being able to answer any question is really literally at your fingertips. Google is not just a company but a verb. There are of course pitfalls to this open access– the internet is not peer reviewed and fake news is certainly an area raising concern around the world.

Curiosity is piqued and fed by this tool, but how do we learn how to navigate it? How do we know if the answers we find are true? Being able to discern if available information should be believed and used to sate our curiosity is one of the big things that we cover in humanities.

A key component of understanding both current and historical events is being able to understand the different perspectives taken by people for a variety of reasons and being able to see how their perspectives then shape their behaviour.

We learn how people make their decisions by looking at evidence. In order to make sure that this evidence is worth using, we consider the validity. Where is it from? What was the intent of producing this information? Who produced it? Is there bias? Being able to answer these questions means that we can analyse the process that people went through and still go through when making decisions about what to believe.

Learning how to decipher when an event has become contested helps us to understand people’s motives for their beliefs. We can then use our learning to face the hard questions. Once we can look into the past and analyse how opinions were made and changed, we can use this knowledge to tackle the ethical issues that we face today.

As Deborah Lipstad so decisively put it, “Not all opinions are created equal.”

At a time when news and events bombards us, often in bite-sized pieces through lenses that have ulterior motives or actions, we must be aware of how powerful this is. We have to be able to make informed decisions knowing we are reading the information accurately that we have access to.

The adolescent voice  

By Richard Goodyear–Kawakawa head teacher

Last term one of the classes in Kawakawa produced a podcast episode called Fluorescent Adolescent about ‘tribes’ in adolescent society. It’s a great piece of work and if you’d like to hear it, please contact me or look out for it on the airwaves soon. In it, students speak freely about their identity and their lifestyle. It made me think about the idea of ‘student voice’. I think we often underestimate how much they know about themselves and really how different their world is to that of an adult. This has implications for us as teachers and parents.

As a child develops, they go through phases with particular characteristics. For the adolescent phase, communication is an area that can be tricky. Sometimes we have trouble hearing their voice. How often do you hear an adolescent openly and honestly sharing their hopes, dreams and concerns? For many adults, it can feel like the adolescent is living in a foreign land. That’s not a bad thing; in fact, it is part of the inevitable chrysalis stage they are in. They will develop into the magnificent butterfly one day. But someone in a foreign land speaks a different language. And the guidebook seems to be published by some mysterious outfit called Patience and Opportunity Enterprises!

So we need to be patient and create opportunities for chatting. The best way to do this in my view starts by recognizing that they are living a life of their own and that just like anyone we love, they need certain things from us.

Like so much of what we do for our young folk, we need to provide structure and freedom, both aspects in measures that probably go beyond what we currently understand as adults. It means setting very clear, predictable and solid parameters and then stepping back. It means being their coach, their guide, their mentor. It means being there beside them and at times being far away. –-–-–

Listening to teens is at the heart of what we do here in Kawakawa. It is the foundation of restorative practice but it shows up all over the place. We hold community meetings. We have changed our parent interviews to be more partnership-focused and we try to put the taiohi (adolescent) at the centre of those meetings. We have changed the structure of their home/pastoral (advisory) groups, so taiohi stay in the same group as they move through Kawakawa, rather than being shuffled around every term. This way we can build rapport in an advisory setting. We also meet with them in their year groups. We maintain an open atmosphere with the taiohi including just ‘hanging out’ at lunchtime around the class kitchen. We structure some of our subjects to allow time for chatting. Allyson is very good at this in micro-economy–it turns out making bath bombs together is a great way to get to know someone!

Ultimately through our approach we consciously and incidentally set up opportunities for them to be themselves, and then simply chat and ask questions.

The holistic role of school sports

By Sarah Jane Lambie – High school sports coordinator

It is widely accepted that participating in sport has a positive impact on health and wellbeing. Wonderful things happen to us–physically, chemically and psychologically–when physical activity is regularly included in our daily lives: anxiety and depression are reduced; self-esteem and fitness enhanced.

Furthermore, through playing sports, there are opportunities to learn about commitment, trust and respect for others; opportunities for enjoying friendship, being in community, practicing teamwork; and for developing leadership skills, self-discipline and the fine art of achieving a balanced lifestyle.

This sounds great, especially for those who enjoy participating in sport; those who are ‘naturally sporty’. But what happens for students who are not sporty? How can we encourage and support the students who dread PE, are among the last to be picked for team games, who dislike the feeling they are being compared to their peers and who do not enjoy the competitive nature of sports?

Dr. Maria Montessori believed that competition in the educational environment was not only unnecessary, but harmful. She said that when children are taught to compare themselves to their peers, they become focused on what others are doing rather than the joy that comes with working to be the best they can be for themselves.

In keeping with this ideal at Wā Ora, competition in the traditional sense often associated with sports, is played down in favour of a focus on good health, participation and cooperation when it comes to PE and sport. While we acknowledge that winning in competitive situations feels good, we are clear it is not the main focus. Instead, those teaching PE and coaching sports work to encourage a balanced perspective.

At the school cross country on Friday we saw a favourable example of this approach. Senior PE students created a fabulous atmosphere filled with energy, fun, music, good will and community spirit. All Y4–13 students were expected to participate and this required real self-discipline and determination for some. Completion and a sense of achievement was the focus for most; the students who have expressed an interest in going to the interschool cross country competition will do so in June.

As well as the various team sports Wā Ora students are participating in throughout the year, we can look forward to two more area school sporting events, namely swimming and athletics. Undoubtedly each will present challenges for our students–and we will endeavour to ensure the same levels of encouragement, support and participation as we did for the cross country.

Looking forward to it!