The Social Curriculum in the Primary Years

By Tania Gaffney  – Deputy Principal Primary

The Second Plane of Development (6-12) is a time of great development of the mind for the child. They move from soaking things up unconsciously to becoming more reasoning, analytical, and conscious about what they are thinking about and doing. Therefore, the social aspect is very important to this age group. Tamariki are starting to see their peers as more important in their lives until, in the adolescent years, it seems to usurp the role of the family.

Because of this great social age, things may come up with your children that you have never had to deal with before in their pre-school years e.g. lying, arguing with friends, feeling left out. Children are driven by the necessity to figure out the rules of the social order of the community they are in. Trying to fit into a new class has its own set of hurdles, especially when the young 6-year-old is not always quite ready to be in an older environment.

Arguments and disagreements are part and parcel of the primary years. They argue, fall out and make up ad nauseam. This is the way of life in primary, sometimes this cycle happens and the adults don’t know because the tamariki have already learned the words and skills to figure this out for themselves. Sometimes we are very well aware of disagreements between children. Our job as adults is to help them through this time and give them the skills and language to be able to eventually sort issues out themselves.

There are many ways to do this.  A child may not have the language yet to talk through an issue.  When they come to me and say, “Bob said or did this to me”, I might ask a few questions such as “Why did they say or do that?” Usually, the answer is, “I don’t know.” I would then say, “Perhaps you could ask them” and carry on from there, giving them language with which to talk to the other child.  Sometimes I will sit down with ākonga who have an issue and we will talk through it, seeing how everyone feels and what could be done about it. Sometimes an older child can sit down with a couple of children and take them through the same thing.

Over the years, I have often looked across the classroom and seen an older child with a couple of younger children talking through an issue; when this happens it gladdens my heart as this is what we have been aiming for.

When there are regular issues that crop up, we may deal with these within a class meeting or devise a grace and courtesy lesson that will bring that thing up in a humorous way. What we as adults need to remember is that this is a learning curve for tamariki just as times tables or reading is something they are still learning.

Breaking Language Barriers: Multilingual Moments in Playgroup

Suzanne Eaddy – Playgroup Facilitator

In “Education for a New World” (1946) Maria Montessori states,

“A language is the expression of agreement among a group of men, and can be understood only by those by who have agreed that special sounds shall represent special ideas. Other groups have other sounds to represent the same ideas and things, so language becomes a wall that separates group from group while uniting members of the same group.” (P.31)

During our Playgroup sessions we may hear up to nine different languages and approximately half of the tamariki/children attending are bilingual. The parents of bilingual tamariki are all bilingual, but the grandparents who attend with grandchildren, only speak their first language. Children whose first language is English hear other languages being spoken by children and adults, and also Māori, for example during singing. Our youngest tamaiti/child at ten months old is not speaking at all, but making sounds, smiling, and demanding attention by crying when HER needs are not met, or using non-verbal communication. Given the above definition of language, there is potential for many communication barriers, however, during Playgroup sessions solutions to barriers seem to occur spontaneously.

One of the 2 ½ year old girls approached me holding out a wooden page book. I was unsure whether she wanted me to read the book with her or put it back on the shelf that was beside us. Her grandfather looked at us, took out his phone, and translated Mandarin to English “She wants to read to you”. We sat on the mat and she read all the fruit pictures to me in English. After the last page she turned to her grandfather with a huge smile, having achieved her goal. The next session she read the pictures in English and her grandfather spoke to her in Mandarin. She turned to the first page again and hesitantly read me the fruit picture in Mandarin. I attempted to repeat it and her grandfather said the name very slowly for me, several times! Now we read the book in English and Mandarin, with the same patient coaching of the Mandarin words! For all three of us this is a great experience of overcoming communication barriers.

Sign language and non-verbal communication may be effective. I indicated to one grandparent “10 minutes play, pack up then home at 11.30am.” His phone translator said, “We must go to buy things at the supermarket now.” Tamariki who learn more than one language before the age of three have a number of benefits as they get older including better communication skills and improved cognitive gains (IMS website Our current cohort of Playgroup tamariki are setting out with an excellent set of skills for their future education.

Update from the Board of Trustees

Ike Tapine – Acting Presiding Member

Wā Ora is a unique school and our family loves that our tamariki go to a Montessori school in the back of Naenae.  It still amazes me that I have total faith in a system of education developed in the early 1900s in Rome.  Maria Montessori’s simple recognition that children respond to an ordered environment, they are capable of deep focus, and respond to multiple repetitions (of activities) has resulted in a style of education that has spread worldwide due to its effectiveness.

I still think fondly of my observation day where two memories remain with me to this day:

  • It was the first time I had seen a large group of pre-schoolers quiet, focussed, and engaged in their mahi. I grew up in a large family with lots of very young tamariki at the marae and I had never seen this type of focus before.
  • I saw two young tamariki in the 9-12 cohort, fearlessly attacking maths problems after a teacher’s short lesson involving a small whiteboard and one of the basic Montessori teaching materials. They were taught how to solve 42 = 16. I then observed these two tamariki solve 162, 2562 and were working on 65,5362 when I had to leave.

Our children benefit strongly from the Montessori teaching philosophies and we trust they are developing healthily within this environment.

Board of Trustees, Council Members, and Parent Representatives

Ava Szabo, Anna McLean, Juliette George, Toby Champion, Suzi Parle, Ike Tapine, Byron Lynds, Lillian Pak, Drew Mayhem, Anahera Brown, Stacey Newlands and Jenny Jellicoe.

As a member of the Wā Ora Board, I have been privileged to work alongside many diligent and hardworking staff, students, and parents.  We recently farewelled several very effective Board members – Chelsea Malcom, Kaitlyn Humphries and Hilary Asquith.  In their place, we welcome our newest Board members –  Jennifer Jellicoe, Toby Champion and Juliette George.

This year, the Board and school have completed several large pieces of work:

  • The building of the new kitchen block in the High School
  • A new recruitment program to help ensure availability of Montessori-trained teachers for our school
  • Working through the teacher strikes and pay negotiations
  • Transition of school policy documents to a new portal

We have just completed the recent elections and I look forward to the results, which are due to be announced very shortly.  I commend anyone who puts up their hand to be nominated.

A special thank you to Ava, who once again has led our school admirably in 2023 through many challenges, most of which go unseen by our community.  On behalf of the Board, I add my thanks for all that you do – we are a better school for having your leadership.

“Spray and walk away”

By Stuart Mason — Chemistry Teacher, High School

The journalist and Montessori parent Jenna Wawrzyniec summarises the four Montessori Planes of Development by use of the catchphrases, “Help me do it myself”, Help me learn it myself”, Don’t tell me what to do” and, “What should I do?”.

Given the parallels between the Third Plane (12-18) of the social newborns and the First Plane (0-6) of the literal newborns, one could wonder whether the Third Plane catch-phrase, “Don’t tell me what to do” contradicts the earlier two. Written more fully for the adolescent, “Don’t tell me what to do” reads as “Help me practice being an adult by trying things for myself. I need you but I need space to be me. Accept me, respect my dignity and worth, and do just enough to help me become independent of you. Know when to stand back and stop telling.”

“Independence, in the case of the adolescents, has to be acquired on a different plane, for theirs is the economic independence in the field of society. The principle of “Help me to do it alone!” should also be applied here.” Maria Montessori (2008). From Childhood to Adolescence, p.67

“The adolescent must never be treated as a child, for that is a stage of life that he has surpassed. It is better to treat an adolescent as if he had greater value than he actually shows than if he had less and let him feel that his merits and self-respect are disregarded.”

Maria Montessori (2008). From Childhood to Adolescence, p.72

As a teacher of adolescents, one of my favourite catchphrases is, “Spray and walk away”. For a young person struggling to open the container doors, generally, all they need from an adult is, “I’ve found it works to flip up the catches then pull hard on both handles at once”. The adult then finds somewhere else to be, leaving the adolescent to work out the rest. The situation may instead call for, “Spray then stick around”: the adult could remain present, in the background.

Minimal intervention is key. Once my students are working independently on their self-chosen learning then for those who ask for help, the answer with the fewest words is usually the most useful. Too many words from me will fill up the few slots left in working memory and distract the student from their purpose. I find particular delight in the student who walks all the way across the classroom to me looking puzzled, only to arrive and say, “Uh, don’t worry, I’ve worked it out”.

Jenna Wawrzyniec’s catchphrases link the needs and tendencies of children in each stage of development to the stages of independence achieved by implementing Montessori principles in each of the Planes.

“The child’s development follows a path of successive stages of independence, and our knowledge of this must guide us in our behaviour towards him. We must help the child act, will, and think for himself.” Maria Montessori (2010). The Absorbent Mind, p.257

Empowering Learners through feedback and thinking out loud

Anna Freeman – Tōtara Teacher

“Do you like my drawing?”

At first glance, this is a mundane question. Still, this question is one that has made me ponder its implications for the past half year.

Whenever I hear students ask for feedback I pause to be precise in my reply: “I love all the details you included in your flower!” or “I like how people’s facial expressions tell us about how they feel toward each other.” Sometimes I frustrate students with a Socratic question “what do you like about it?” When I receive an eye roll or an exasperated sigh in reply, the question may likely have been directed at the student-teacher relationship level rather than the factual, more objective level.

At the relationship level the question implies “do you like the way I work?” or even “do you like me?” Both implications can be addressed by taking time and carefully looking at the work. My best answer acknowledges the level of care by noticing details that give evidence to it. Gauging the effort accurately requires knowing how the student usually works.

On a more objective level, requests for feedback make me consider how I can help students to become both more self-reflective and more confident in assessing their work accurately. Through observation I can know about the time and care invested in the work which can be a good indicator of effort. What is more, in an online world of influencers there is something to be said about the merit of a job well done for its own sake – without the need to vie for other people’s approval.

An impactful way of promoting self-reflection and assessment is to model it. Demonstrating (modelling) to them how I know that I have done “a good job” or a “job done well enough” is essential. Showing children how to deal with making mistakes and how they help me learn and that this requires me to be patient with myself gives children a blueprint of how to deal with their own mistakes in learning. I also provide students with a checklist for the different types of work they are doing in the class. 

I am careful to mention often that I have the experience of my lifetime of drawing and crafting. A vital part of teaching requires making the unseen or unheard explicit for students! I need to say that I do not have all the answers and that learning something requires trying something multiple (i.e. not just tens but hundreds or thousands of) times. What is more, learning something means making mistakes. In class, I already talk about this but I still want to talk about it more. 

I hope that reading this text has inspired you to try new things together with your tamariki – especially things that you are not already good at. 

How do we ‘follow the child’?

By Amy Johnson — Kōwhai Head Teacher – Preschool

As we are settling into term 4 and I sit in my classroom observing the tamariki, I am often struck by the joy they have, just to be back together again. Back into the swing of routine, back into the community of learners that makes up our akomanga (classroom), exploring each day and what it brings. I can see and feel across our preschool that many tamariki feel this way. They love being together and exploring indoors and out, with their peers and hoa (friends). It is lovely to see them settling into their environment and beginning to encourage each other and take on challenges. Yes, sometimes they will return to that well-loved activity, the one they mastered long ago but that still provides comfort of routine or the feel-good- glow of known mastery. But it is amazing to see how often children choose to take on new tasks and challenge themselves with difficult and complex activities, sometimes ones they have just been shown and are still struggling to figure out. 

It is our goal as Montessori kaiako to introduce activities and challenges to the children at just the right moment – ideally finding that “sweet spot” where the child finds enough success and has built most the appropriate skills to take on a new task, but also tempts them to explore and attempt an activity that brings something new to practice, to fail and to improve. When we get this balance right, we find the most concentration, the most focus, the most interest and the most satisfaction for the tamaiti. And because every child has a different set of skills, interests and personalities, we are able (and in fact, it is necessary) to personalise a set of lessons and introductions to different activities, in different orders and ages for each and every child in our community. This is often a new concept for ‘education’ when you might compare your experiences in school to those of your child. He/she does not get a ‘lesson’ or an introduction to an activity because of their age, but rather interest, ability and willingness to practice the skills that must come before. This is part of what Dr. Montessori means when she talks about ‘following the child’. It also embodies the underlying message that one’s education is ultimately reliant on you and your own efforts, not something someone else can do or build for you. 

How do we know which lessons to give when, you might ask? And the answer is simple and complex all at the same time. We observe. We observe closely and from a distance. We listen, and watch, and get to know each child and their personal strategies and personalities. We notice and take note of strengths and challenges, of interests and avoidances. We watch social interactions and individual trials and triumphs. We get to know each and every personality that makes up our learning community, and we allow space and time for each one to develop in at their own pace and in their own style. I feel lucky to have a job where I get to know and understand your children in this way, as do many of my colleagues. And of course we get to watch them grow and change as they develop more mastery and understanding of themselves and the world around them.  What a special place Wā Ora is!

“Preventing conflicts is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work  of education.”

By Zena Kavas –  Biology Teacher, High School

Preparing our ākonga for the adult world by providing them with academic success, a pathway forward after school, a strong belief in themselves, and to be confident, connected, actively involved, life-long learners (NZ curriculum) are some of the many other goals of an education in New Zealand. However, the deep underlying value beneath these goals is to establish peace. In Peace and Education (p24) Maria Montessori says “Preventing conflicts is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education”. Here she is telling us that the ultimate aim of education is to establish peace.

In order to establish peace we must find peace within ourselves. It is often so easy to tell others how they should or could be more peaceful. But the real work begins with finding peace within ourselves and within our whānau. Maria is in good company with her thoughts about peace.

When the great Sufi poet Rumi says “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there” he too is saying that we must let go of our ideas about who is right and who is wrong before we can see others as they are in reality, and therefore feel at peace.  

Our favourite scientist Albert Einstein says “you cannot keep peace by force, it can only be achieved by understanding.” Maria, Rumi and Albert are all telling us that peace is the seed of an idea that must be sown and nurtured. Rather than searching for peace, struggling for peace or even fighting for peace, we need to let go of the barriers that we have built up that stop us from being peaceful. We need to let go of our ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, of being a little better than others, of judging, of enforcing our ideas on others, and by doing this we may find a little more peace. Personally, I find it very challenging to let go of ideas such as “Trump is such an idiot”, and when I hold this idea in my mind I do not have a sense of peace. However, if I can let go of that idea I feel more peace.  Like the dust-covered lamp, that cannot shine brightly due to the dust, once the dust is removed then the light will be able to shine. 

International Peace Day, 21st September (this Thursday) is an opportunity for us to contemplate what peace means to us, and how we can cultivate more peace in ourselves and in our lives. The whole school gathers in the morning, sharing breakfast and then some waiata and korero.  A peace flame is lit and at the end of the ceremony the wishes, aspirations and thoughts that ākonga have previously written are thrown into the flame to be symbolically released out into the world. We welcome our community to share this opportunity with us on Thursday morning. 

Working towards Independence

By Tania Gaffney –  Deputy Principal Primary

Montessori had a lot to say about ākonga developing their independence and how we can help them.  I could just fill the page with quotes from what she wrote and it would tell most of the story by itself. For example, “Every useless help is an obstacle to development” or “ never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed”.

So what does this look like for adults involved in the life of a tamariki? Because reading between the lines Montessori meant that its us, the adults, that are the obstacles.  At the Montessori conference this year one of our speakers said, “If we do less than necessary we are abandoning the child, but if we do more than necessary we impose on the child.”  No pressure everyone, it’s a fine line we walk. So what should we be doing, that when ākonga leave home for the first time they are able to competently look after themselves and their lives?  As ākonga get older they need less and less help and we need to know when to pull back, all the while giving them the skills they need so when we do pull back they don’t feel lost. 

To figure out what we need to do (or not do) we need to observe – not only the child but ourselves.  We need to ask ourselves some questions – what have I swept in to do for the child, knowing perfectly well that they can do it but they’re not doing it like I would?  Or its just easier or quicker for me to do it?  Or did I just assume that they wouldn’t be able to figure it out themselves?

Have a go at surreptitiously observing your ākonga while they are doing something (not screen related).  Do they persevere with it?  Do they always defer to you or an older sibling?  Some children have figured out that if they wait someone will jump in and do it for them, or when they’re older if they do a shoddy job then you won’t ask again.  

If you need to admit to yourself that you’ve been doing too much for your tamaiti then how do you pull back?  It isn’t easy and it may take a while as you slowly retreat.  Ask yourself some questions.  Is this something I think they could do?  Then show them what to do and step back and watch. If they are younger they will try and replicate what you did if they are older they will probably do it their own way and that’s ok.  Another time, if you’ve already shown them how to do it then coach them through it.  Ask them, what do they remember first etc? This can apply to both practical and emotional situations. 

Here is an article that might be of interest.  It covers a range of issues, but it boils down to learning to be independent in all areas.  This is about parenting, but as teachers we also suffer from the same issues of stepping in when we should be stepping back and observing first. 

Kawakawa Service Camp – why do we offer it to the Adolescents?

By Hilary Asquith –  Lead Teacher Kawakawa

Service Camp is an extension of the community work we do at school. However, it adds experiential layers to the complexity of working and living independently and participating in community life. The Kawakawa camps are an important feature of our Montessori adolescent education programme, an opportunity to live in a community with others and be required to make a contribution.  It is not uncommon for us as staff, and likely for you as parents, to hear that our community service mahi is some form of slave labour. Ākonga are often begrudging of their energy and efforts in these endeavours. So often is the case though, that once the work is complete, the students will often say things like, “that was actually quite fun” or “it wasn’t that bad.”

It is therefore important that we as the adults have a good understanding of why we ask what we do of our ākonga in order to help them reflect on these changing perspectives, and aid them to find satisfaction and accomplishment in the work they complete and the value they add. Additionally, we also want them to truly understand and appreciate that it takes the efforts of the collective to make the whole function well. Learning to tidy up after themselves, not keeping others awake at night, taking a turn to clean the bathroom, cooking a meal, doing the dishes, or vacuuming the dining room, are all parts of that shared experience. Learning to negotiate and challenge the fairness of others contributions is also an important learning aspect of that experience. It is a powerful, persuasive lesson when your friends call you to account about the mess you have made and failed to clean up, or your group notes that you keep skipping out when it’s your group’s turn to do the dishes. These are messages that ākonga are often not willing to hear from parents or teachers but they will take on-board hearing from friends and peers. These experiences aid the lived understanding that everyone needs to contribute to make community work well. It is also just as important to learn to advocate for yourself when you feel that you are doing more than your share or you need support for the mahi you are undertaking. Community works best when we are all heard, supported and compassionate to the needs of others and ourselves.

A Journey of Te Reo Māori

By Ava Szabo –  Principal 

Kia Ora Koutou,

During this term, like many others at school, I have been studying te reo Māori.  My study is thorugh Kāuru. 

Kāuru was founded on the premise that each consecutive generation must be better than the one that has gone before, if te reo Māori is to flourish and prosper. Their mission is to grow and strengthen an education workforce that can integrate te reo Māori into the learning of all ākonga and students in Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Our learning is a combination of night classes and noho wānanga. This weekend I was part of my first noho wānanga held in Ōtaki at Raukawa Marae.

This was a wonderful weekend of ako (learning) and understanding; building a foundation on which to grow our knowledge. We spent time learning about and discussing five important Mātāpono (māori principles), what they mean and how we give them expression. These are so important and definitly worth sharing. 

  1. Māiatanga –  To be bold, courageous, confident. One whakatauki that embodies this trait is ‘Tuwhitia te hopo’ – Feel the fear and do it anyway.
  2. Takohatanga – To give tirelessly for the greater good. To serve others for their betterment, not your own. Achieving positive transformation into Te ao mārama, the state of knowing and understanding. Whakatauki – Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwiWith your food basket and my food basket the people will thrive.
  3. Rangatiratanga – To lead by example, to be humble, bring others together. Whakatauki – Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini – My success is not mine alone, but it is the strength of many.
  4. Manaakitanga – Caring and supportive, encouraging and enhancing others. Whakatauki – He taonga rongonui te aroha ki te tangata – Goodwill towards others is a precious treasure.
  5. Whanoketanga – Disruptive innovation, promoting the unique and unorthodox. Whakatauki –  Rukuhia te wāhi ngaro – Explore the unknown. 

What I have learnt is that this is the start of a journey.

A journey I highly recommend.