Science in the Preschool Akomanga

Tara Israelson – Nīkau Head Teacher – Preschool

I was once asked how we, as Montessori preschool teachers, incorporate science into our curriculum. I had to think for a moment to figure out how to answer because it’s not a simple answer. You see, in our preschool classrooms we don’t have many activities with the sole purpose of investigating a scientific concept, at least not explicitly. Instead our Montessori curriculum invites the child to engage in what we like to think of as “spontaneous science” – the sensorial experiences of different concepts in real time, directed by the children.

Rather than systematically investigating the questions of “why?” and “how?” things happen, our preschool children explore the world with their senses and make scientific discoveries almost by accident. When these discoveries are made by the child we, as teachers, have the privilege of watching the wonder unfold and we don’t always explain the science behind what they have experienced.

A 3-year-old child who mixes paint at the easel will discover that blue and yellow make green by accident one day and the next time they choose to paint they may put blue and yellow together again to see if green appears. A child building the Pink Tower may attempt to build the tower upside down and will watch as it topples due to insufficient support. An attempt may be made again, with a different block at the bottom, and the tower may stand – or not. This is how the preschool age child develops their own working theories about the world and we want to allow these theories to form without a lot of “spoilers”. So, rather than tell the child that blue and yellow make green and then invite them to prove our theory, we wait for the child to figure it out and then tell us. That being said we, the kaiārahi, don’t ignore the science happening around us! We support children by naming their experiences: a surface can be “rough” or “smooth”, a prism can be “thick” or “thin”. We also ask questions when we can see a child needs help, for example we might ask “where do insects like to hide?” when a child is
struggling to find them.

Children make sense of the world through their discoveries and their ability to share them with others. This idea is so powerful for young children – that they can work together alongside a friend or a teacher and solve a problem, or hypothesize and then experiment to determine whether their hypothesis was correct. We listen as they hypothesize, we stand back as they explore and experiment, and we often guide them with questions as they try to make sense of something new they have experienced. As they grow older this technique becomes more refined, but for our preschool tamariki it is so important to be given the space to truly explore, try something new, and share their findings with their community.

Through their daily work and play in our Montessori classrooms these children are laying the foundation for future scientific study. Not only are they developing working theories about the world that they will further investigate in Primary and Secondary school or even in their adult lives, they are also building confidence in themselves as explorers, scientists, discoverers and pioneers. Their minds know no limits, their hands are their tools, the world is their laboratory.

Montessori and Adolescent Mental Health

By Michael Draper Physics and Digital Technology Teacher – High School

In a time of increasing concern about adolescent mental health, it’s always great to read about research that backs up Maria Montessori’s guidance on adolescent development and mental health.

Research published by the University of Virginia in January 2022 found that mixed-age classes, greater social stability in school, hands-on learning, self-directed activity, and a collaborative play approach to education leads to better well-being outcomes in adulthood. The research found that those who attended a Montessori school for at least two years reported higher well-being as an adult than those who had not. In addition, the longer a person attended a school of this type, the higher their level of well-being in adulthood.

University of Cambridge Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, expert in the development of social cognition and decision making in the human adolescent brain and adolescent mental health, and author of Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain, writes that the period of adolescence is when “a teenager’s social world changes the most dramatically”. When transitioning from primary to secondary school, there are many biological and cognitive changes: how teenagers use their “social brain” or the “network of brain regions” to interact with others goes under substantial development during this time, development which continues for several years.

That adolescents take greater risks with their friends is a well-known feature of teenage development. As Blakemore says: “There is a huge amount of evidence that they are very susceptible to peer influence – if you think about the risks we are worried about teenagers taking (smoking, binge drinking, experimenting with drugs, dangerous driving) they don’t do those things on their own. They are taking those risks when they are with their friends. … There’s a drive for them to do that because they are particularly sensitive to being excluded by their peer group. To avoid social exclusion at any cost is their number one goal and that might result in them being more influenced by their friends than other age groups are.”  Blakemore goes on to discuss the critical role parents must play in the period of brain development during adolescence, noting: “It is a necessary part of the period of adolescence to become independent from your parents. And in order to do that, you need to forge your own identity, establish yourself with your peer group, test things out and explore.”

A lot of this adolescent ‘work’ happens outside the home, much of it at school, as that is where adolescents spend a significant portion of their time with peers. As a Montessori Adolescent Teacher and Guide, I have the privilege of accompanying our ākonga as they do this work. This involves assisting their academic progress and supporting their social and emotional function as individuals and as a group.  What I find especially wonderful is the way our Montessori adolescents accept and support each other, resolve difficulties and operate as a healthy thriving community.

Welcome back to Term 2

By Katy Cottrell – Acting Principal

Tena koutou katoa,

I hope you all have had a restful, well deserved break and taken time to reconnect with whanau and friends.

Over the holidays I was lucky to visit Zealandia and Staglands. It was great to take time out to reflect and think about my natural surroundings. As Maria Montessori stated (1976); “There is no description, no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees, and all the life to be found around them, in a real forest. Something emanates from those trees which speaks to the soul, something no book, no museum is capable of giving” This made me think about the importance of nature within our Montessori principles and within our school setting.

Maria Montessori respected nature and believed it should be used to inspire children. She did not believe in confining children to the classroom and that kaiako should be taking children out into nature. Maria Montessori (1982) discussed; “There must be provision for the child to have contact with nature, to understand and appreciate the order, the harmony and the beauty in nature… so that the child may better understand and participate in the marvellous things which civilisation creates”.

It was not just being in nature that Maria Montessori suggested, it was the use of natural materials such as woods, metals, and cotton that children came into contact with within the prepared environment. Synthetics or plastics were not preferred. This in turn influenced child-size real objects to come into play. Furniture needed to be child-sized so that the child did not depend on the adult. Springstone Montessori school (US) stated; “Rakes, hoes, pitchers, tongs, shovels should all fit children’s hands and height so that the work is made easier, thus ensuring proper use and completion of the work without frustration”.

Over the term I hope to make the most of the opportunities of spending time with our akonga outside of the classroom.

This term Ava Szabo will be on her Principal’s sabbatical that she was awarded last year. During her absence the following staff will step up to take on additional responsibilities: I will step up as Acting Principal from my usual role as DP in the High School. Tania Gaffney will take on some additional responsibilities in the Primary School, Anna Mclean will take on additional responsibilities in the Preschool and Hilary Asquith will take on additional responsibilities in Kawakawa.

I would also like to welcome Cameron Burns, who will be joining us as our new PE teacher and Sports Co-ordinator. Craig Bluett will also be joining us as our new art teacher.

I hope you all have a great start to the term.

Mauri tū, mauri ora

Essence of the 3-6 Child

By Ava Szabo – Principal

Kia ora e te whānau.

Welcome to the final week of Term One. It’s hard to believe Easter is almost here.

I recently attended my second Montessori Education evening of the term, hosted by the Preschool. These evenings are held across each sector every term and are always interesting and informative.

The Preschool education evening presented by Amy and Tara focused on the ‘Essence of the 3-6 Child’. Maria Montessori was the first female physician in Italy and she spent much of her time understanding, assessing and reassessing her ideas of child development through observation, looking at the attributes of the child at different stages of development.

Maria Montessori broke down the development of the child into four distinct stages.  These are 0-6, 6-12, 12-18 and 18-24.  The first three years of each phase are for developing and forming and the second three years are for crystallizing and cementing e.g. Walking – 0-3 the child is beginning to move the body to be upright, the 3-6 child is refining this movement.  It was also explained that the Montessori materials are specifically designed to assist in this development.

During the education evening we explored and explained the absorbent mind, the sensitive periods and the development of the will. The latter is a child with their own mind who has the freedom to act in the world. Whānau were offered practical advice for home to help and support the development of their tamariki. This very brief summary is but a small portion of the evening.

I would strongly encourage you to attend these evenings as they are a great way to catch up with others in the community and learn a little more of our Montessori philosophy.

You may remember that next term (Term 2), I will not be at school. I will be taking my Principal’s sabbatical that was awarded last year. During my absence the following staff will step up to take on additional responsibilities:

Katy Cottrell who is our DP in the High School will step up as Acting Principal.

Tania Gaffney will take on some additional responsibilities in the Primary School

Anna Mclean will take on additional responsibilities in the Preschool.

Hilary Asquith will take on additional responsibilities in Kawakawa.

I wish you all a wonderful Term One holiday break and I look forward to seeing you all in Term Three.

A Society by Cohesion

By Kala Reyes — Rewarewa Head Teacher, Preschool

A glass breaks and shatters into tiny pieces on the floor; an ensuing silence sweeps the classroom. Cones appear to mark the hazard area, someone hands the dust pan and brush to an adult. Children watch as the broken glass is swept and disposed. A child drops the contents of a tray; a group of children rush to collect fallen objects from the floor and returns it to the tray before going back to their respective work. The 3-6 environment is ripe with these experiences and it is common to see children asking for, or offering support when needed. Dr Montessori dubbed this a society by cohesion:

The curious fact is that the children go to the aid of others only when there is a real need for help, for instance, when something has fallen down and broken, or when there are too many objects to be put away and there is only a little time in which to do it. They never help another child when he is making a constructive effort to do things for himself. As if by instinct, they have it in themselves never to give what we call useless help.1

1 Montessori, M. (1998). Creative Development in the Child: The Montessori Approach Vol 2. India: Kalakshetra Press. p. 70

A society by cohesion is a social structure observed in Montessori environments where children depend on and support each other in a non-competitive way and without the need for rewards. The child’s first 6 years of life is a period of self-construction and this is the best time to lay the foundations of social awareness, while the absorbent mind is at its peak. As guides our job is to help children in their character formation, to become strong and independent social individuals. By social we mean a person who is aware of himself in relation to others. This is different to being sociable or friendly — a person who gets along with people easily. Being social means an awareness of other people’s needs and having the ability to put someone else’s needs before oneself. This is the type of person we want the child to develop into — a social being who is mindful that his actions have an impact on others. Children naturally want to be part of their community; they love to engage with others in meaningful ways. To become contributing members, they must first be functionally independent and this happens through interactions within the prepared environment.

In her book The Absorbent Mind, Dr Montessori cited American educator Carleton Washburne on the importance of the individual’s social integration within his group. “When this has happened, the individual thinks more about the success of his group than his own personal success.2This sense of belonging is very important; when each member feels valued and appreciated, they want to contribute more for the benefit of the group. They feel a great sense of responsibility not just for themselves, but towards others.

2Montessori, M. (2007). The Absorbent Mind. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company. p.53

Grace and Courtesy in the akomanga

Ava Szabo – Principal

Kia ora koutou.

I was fortunate to attend our first Primary education evening held last week. The focus was grace and courtesy in Primary School. It was an informative evening and enjoyed by all who attended. For those who were not able to attend, but are interested in understanding more, I have put together a summary of the evening below.

We began with the Characteristics of the Primary Mind with reference to Grace and Courtesy. The development of these characteristics are a six-year long journey and include:

Intellectual Development with children moving from concrete to abstract thought. The reasoning mind is developing an understanding of cause and effect, e.g. ‘if I do this, these things will happen’. This also includes the development of a sense of justice and fairness, starting with ‘this is not fair to me’, but also developing into what is fair for others.

There is also the Development of the Imagination, children are able to imagine and think about another person’s point of view.

Social Development is huge, children like and want to be together. Grace and courtesy helps this happen in an appropriate way.

It can appear at times that grace and courtesy just doesn’t work! We need to look into the child’s reasoning mind. Just ‘telling off’ does not work (this is invariably adult driven) and children cannot learn for themselves if an adult is always ‘telling’. Restorative practice is also an important part of this journey.

There are many ways of passing grace and courtesy lessons on to our Primary ākonga.

The use of stories, role plays (which are very popular and are done at least once a day), class brainstorms and discussions and reflections on why things have happened (these often happen after an event when the class gathers for a chat).

Ākong have lessons on how to get on with each other and work together as they move into the second plane of development. These are short lessons and given to small groups when the need arises. They are important for social and emotional development as our ākonga learn how to get on with one another.

Class treaties are developed and built on at the start of each year and are different in each class. One example shared on the night was: Rights and Responsibilities. Ākonga have the right to work, eat and drink, be respected and ask for help when needed. With rights comes responsibility. The responsibility to let others work, cleaning up after myself, respecting and helping others.

The treaties are something ākonga always refer back to – they are living documents. In each class, ākonga get to the stage where they refer each other to the treaty when things go wrong. The treaties underpin everything that we do in grace and courtesy. You could say that grace and courtesy is the language of respect.

Odyssey Wrap

By Hilary Asquith – Kawakawa Head Teacher

The Odyssey is inspired by Maria Montessori’s vision of an adolescent farm school, where students would live, work, and learn together. While we can’t provide a full residential experience, our Odyssey gives our students a taste of what it’s like to live away from home for an extended period and be an active participant in a community.

During the Odyssey, our students will participate in activities like white-water rafting, bush survival workshops, and caving. These challenges often push our students outside their comfort zones, which can be anxiety-inducing initially but is often an opportunity for incredible personal growth. Ākonga learn to rely on each other and the adult team for support, which works to build a strong sense of trust, community, and appreciation of our interdependencies. Plus, they’ll learn valuable skills like problem-solving, adapting to others, communication, and collaboration that will serve them well in the future.

The Odyssey is also a chance for our students to appreciate our incredible New Zealand environment. They’ll learn about conservation and sustainability, and gain a deeper appreciation and respect for the natural world and our reliance on it.

I believe that the Odyssey can be a life-changing experience for our students. Over the course of the three Kawakawa years, students develop independence, resilience, and social organisation skills that will serve them well in the years ahead. They’ll learn to independently manage their own schedules, cook, clean, do laundry, and function as a cohesive group, even when tired and under pressure. They’ll also have the chance to explore their own identity and learn to communicate their needs and emotions effectively away from the regular security of their whānau.

At the heart of the Odyssey is the Montessori philosophy of education, which emphasises hands-on, experiential learning. We know that our students learn best by doing, and the Odyssey is a wonderful example of that. By engaging in emotional and physical challenges and working together, our students can develop skills and confidence that can last a lifetime.

We encourage all our Kawakawa students to take full advantage of this incredible opportunity. It’s a chance to strengthen friendships, develop leadership, learn new skills, and have a blast with good mates! We know that the Odyssey will be (possibly with time and hindsight) a highlight of their time at school, and the Kawakawa team loves to see first-hand the incredible growth and development that comes out of this unique and valuable experience. It takes an immense amount of effort and teamwork to make Odyssey happen each year and I am incredibly appreciative to work within such a wonderful community to make it happen – thank you.


By Suzanne Eaddy – Playgroup Coordinator

It has been so enjoyable and interesting welcoming our young tamariki back to playgroup. All the tamariki have developed so much and those who were crawling last year are now walking.

Our playgroup routine is flexible and based on the needs of tamariki, that they are happy to share. Morning tea is usually 10am but some mornings tamariki request (or start) to prepare the scones at 9.30am or state “I need/want food”.  At other times tamariki are all involved in activities and the adults get to prepare the food.

Previously I have not experienced such feedback with regard to an activity. At the beginning of this term we were kindly given a set of six activities, each with a different latch, and a small ‘door’ that lifts when the latch is undone (1st Photo). One of our frequently used activities is a stand with different coloured ‘doors’, each having a different type of latch (2nd photo). I was expecting a positive reaction to the new activity, with its shiny brass latches.

However, reaction to the new activity was one of disappointment from the 2-3 year olds. In conversation with their parents the children pointed out that the new activity had no real doors because there was no space behind them. The lift up doors were not windows either as there was nothing to see.

Upon reflection I had to agree with the tamariki. In its present form the new activity would not be reused, with the exception of one little boy who liked opening and closing the latches. I decided to create windows by placing a picture under each lift up ‘door’. When the revamped activity was re-presented to the children there was a positive, delighted response from each child (3rd 4th and 5th photos).

There are many Maria Montessori quotes about learning from/observing children (from a leadership role) and I think the following quote reflects the child’s view of the activities they use in a Montessori setting.

“The principal agent is the object and not the instruction given by the teacher. It is the child who uses the object: it is the child who is active, and not the teacher.”  [Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child p.150]

Unfortunately, the photos did not capture the instant ‘Wow’ moments of the tamariki, on their first glimpse of the pictures. However, given the initial feedback from tamariki our modified new activity may prove to be as popular as our old version (6th photo).

Manaakitanga – Kindness and Respect

By Robin Wilkins – Pūriri Teacher

A parent recently asked me how we teach kindness in a Montessori environment considering it is such an important skill. This led me to thinking about staff discussions on the meaning of Manaakitanga – hospitality, kindness generosity, support – the process of showing respect and care for others.

A key component in a Montessori classroom is respect, so how do we teach it?

Maria Montessori believed in kindness and respect to her core. She worked hard with children who were classified as ‘unteachable’, enabling them to master skills that had been thought to be totally beyond their capabilities. She respected them immediately and provided them with an environment full of kindness and respect.

Teaching kindness and empathy is an important part of social and emotional development. Empathetic ākonga are willing to listen to their peers, are open to compromise and learn to understand the needs of others. Dr. Montessori recognised that ākonga need to learn wisdom, honesty, responsibility, compassion, justice, courtesy, patience and humility – characteristics taught and nurtured in a Montessori environment.

Fostering a culture of kindness cultivates empathy and understanding between individuals. As relationships form, trust develops, which allows a culture of learning to blossom where all individuals feel genuinely valued – for who they are and what they are. Devoting time to nurturing the classroom culture through developing kindness is exactly what allows us to also be successful in other areas.

According to neuroscientist and educator, Dr. Judy Willis, “Classrooms can be the safe haven where academic practices and classroom strategies provide students with emotional comfort and pleasure as well as knowledge. When teachers use strategies to reduce stress and build a positive emotional environment, students gain emotional resilience and learn more efficiently and at higher levels of cognition. Brain-imaging studies support this”.

Being part of a classroom is more than just academics, social and emotional intelligence is just as important to nurture as fine motor and academic skills. Ākonga learn to be part of a community, where getting along with others is extremely important. We reinforce the values of kindness and respect every day by modelling appropriate behaviours and through lessons in grace and courtesy. The secret to developing kindness is when it is modelled and taught with passion and purpose.

Lessons in grace and courtesy are essential ways to promote lifelong skills. Community meetings are a great opportunity to develop empathy as ākonga listen with understanding and consider how to respond to their peers. The best way for us to assist ākonga in learning these concepts is to provide them with a clear understanding of the importance of respect through our words, positive actions and always modelling kindness and respect for others. As a student once commented to me, “Respect is a big word”.

Maria Montessori said, “They will imitate us in any case. Let us treat them, therefore, with all the kindness which we would wish to help develop in them”.

Welcome back from the Preschool

By Krista Kerr – Pōhutukawa teacher

In ngā akomanga the term has started off very smoothly with tamariki eager to work with their favourite activities, get presented with new ones and see their friends again. It has been lovely to see how warmly new tamariki have been welcomed and ‘absorbed’ into their new hapori (community). The other tamariki have been kindly teaching them our routines and behaviours through Grace and Courtesy groups as well as through gentle reminders. With 20 other children doing these expected behaviours and following the same routine it doesn’t take long at all for new ones to feel comfortable and at home, building up their sense of belonging and security day by day.

Seeing tamariki and their whānau again after the long summer holiday, catching up on news and seeing how much all the children have all grown is a lovely way to start the school year, basking in the feelings of whanaungatanga that carries over from previous years, and now grows to include our new members! There is always a bundle of feelings for that first day or week, for everyone involved! These can include excitement at being back with friends, anxiously checking off the small final jobs we kaiārahi had to do, relief that the holidays are over but nervous about saying goodbye to your child again…. And of course, this is different for each individual.

The trust that you put in us, the kaiārahi of Wā Ora, each day is not taken lightly. One of the aspects that I love most about Montessori education is that we have each child for three years and the opportunity that this gives us to really get to know them and you, their whānau, and the relationship that is built up over this time. It makes such a big difference to helping tamariki settle into school during the first week back or during that wobbly first ten minutes of their day, and to sense when you as a parent may need a helping hand or kind word as you say goodbye to a teary child.

However, the school and class community we have also plays a huge part. I love the way that our school, whānau, and kaiārahi work together to build a hapori in which we all can flourish, especially our precious tamariki! If you see some new faces outside your child’s akomanga or in the playground this week, it would be wonderful to introduce yourself and stop to chat. That way if someone is having a hard time as we all get used to school routines again, there are others there to support them. You have all been through that ‘new, teary stage’ or the ‘my child is having a bad day’ experiences. Although kaiārahi are there, it is also great to be able to chat with others who have been through this and to get the reassurance from another parent that, yes, it does get easier!

Good luck, and here’s to a great 2023 as a school community!