The Kawakawa Outdoor Environment

By Sarah Jane Lambie – Kawakawa Teacher

To create a learning space that satisfies the characteristics of adolescents, Y8 – Y10, Dr Maria Montessori was very clear in her assertion that the best environment to meet their needs is on a working farm, away from parents and cultural obstacles. She wrote “. . . during the difficult time of adolescence it is helpful to leave the accustomed environment of the family in the town and go to quiet surroundings in the country, close to nature. Here an open-air life must be the first consideration in organizing a “centre for study and work.”” (Montessori, From Childhood to Adolescence, 2007, p. 67)

Although our kura is in an urban setting, the position of the Kawakawa buildings and surrounding land provides kaiako with a great alternative for offering a programme that aligns with Montessori ideals for adolescent learning. We work hard to uphold a connection to the land, weaving into our programme, wherever possible, meaningful activity and project options in our outdoor environment.

For students Y8 – Y10, “The hand has now become the instrument of the brain; and it is through the activity of his [sic] hands that he [sic] enriches his experience, and develops himself [sic] at the same time.” (Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 112)

When first purchased, much of the High School land, and the stream that runs around the boundary, was overgrown with blackberry, gorse and other ‘unhelpful’ flora, and the land mostly consisted of ‘rotten rock’. Through occupations units, micro-economy, community work, and an established relationship with He Puāwai Trust volunteers, new, ongoing and completed projects feature in our outdoor space. We can genuinely claim that a strong base of work and study connecting the work of the hand to the development of the mind takes place outdoors providing students with a multitude of opportunities and projects encompassing designing, building, creating, restoring and developing our outdoor spaces; planting, growing, harvesting, preparing, eating, composting; experimenting, tweaking, succeeding, failing, completing, abandoning, starting and maintaining for future generations of ‘Kawakawians’ to continue should they wish.

We now have a hen run, a potting shed, an amphitheatre, a peace garden in the making, a wetland boardwalk, bush tracks, raised garden beds, flower gardens, a developing orchard… to name a few enterprises… all done by a collaboration of rangatahi and kaiako.

There are times when our adolescents are low on energy – their bodies are growing at a massive rate! – but with encouragement and the space to work at their own pace, they experience the joy of learning that comes through meaningful work which contributes directly to the kaitiakitanga of our grounds.

What a treat it was, during the recent holidays, to watch a former student visit and run from space to space exclaiming with delight at projects she had contributed to, flora she had planted and tended! Earlier in the year a student from Tāwari popped in and was thrilled to see the stream restoration work he began three years ago, succeeding and being further developed. On Friday, I watched as a student who had spent community work time creating and installing a system to protect the spinach he planted earlier in the day, return to the site to reflect on his efforts with a contented smile spreading quietly across his face.

It felt good… and I feel blessed to be working alongside our awesome Kawakawa rangatahi.

The Human Tendencies

By Tania Gaffney – Rātā Teacher & Deputy Principal Primary

After the 1st plane of development (i.e. Preschool) we do not talk of Sensitive Periods any more, rather how we are catering to the Human Tendencies of the 2nd plane child.

Human tendencies are innate characteristics that every human has from birth throughout life which they use to meet their own needs. They do not follow any sequence, rather they work with each other in an interconnected way. They are as follows:

– Tendency to Order, e.g. following a sequence, understanding cause and effect, following a train of thought or an argument.

– Tendency to Orient, e.g. adapting to new situations.

– Tendency to Work or Manipulate, e.g. putting ideas into action, manipulating equipment.

– Tendency to Repeat, e.g. repeating a skill/s to build competency.

– Tendency to be Exact or Perfect, e.g. getting something to match the idea in your head.

– Tendency to Explore, e.g. the urge to investigate, to broaden our knowledge or horizons.

– Tendency to Abstraction, e.g. beginning with the concrete form which leads to being able to play with an idea without the concrete form.

– Tendency to Communicate, e.g. sharing, cooperating and collaborating with others.

When a Montessori teacher thinks about their class they ask themselves, “How are we allowing for the human tendencies to be lived out by the tamariki?”  Communication is an example. When I was young, we each had our own desk which the teacher generally arranged individually or occasionally in pairs but always with the idea of restricting the flow of communication and movement.  Consequently, we did everything in our power to communicate covertly with each other by whispering or passing notes.  Our ākonga have the freedom to move about and communicate with each other in class. This leads to children helping each other, collaborating on projects or chatting over morning tea.

What about the Tendency to order?  The 6-12 mind is quite different from the 0-6 mind where for the young child, the tendency to order is more about the external environment.  At the older level there is always creative disorder during work time, but everything still has a home and the environment should still be as beautiful as the 3-6 class.  The order that is being developed here is more in the mind of the 6-12 year old, e.g. learning about the order of the universe, the world and society and how they work.

It might be interesting for you to watch your tamariki and see how they are trying to fulfil their human needs through these tendencies and ask yourself, “Is there something I need to do to help my child communicate with me or adapt to some new situation?”

Literacy in Preschool

Tara Israelson – Nīkau Head Teacher – Preschool

With the topic of literacy featuring regularly in the news this year, I thought I would share the way literacy is approached in our Montessori Preschool.  The language area is often a place we start when orienting new tamariki, with oral language and vocabulary proving to be a great way to build relationships, and also foster a love of learning new words and developing their own spoken language ability.

For the 3-year-old, language games are hugely popular, and one that we begin very early on in their journey with us is the ‘sound game’, which you may know as “I spy”.  This game is to build phonemic awareness in the child – to help them understand that words are made from units of sound that can be broken down such as in the word cat:  /c/, /a/, /t/.  Often when tamariki first begin playing this game they are able to isolate that first sound but it can take months or years before they are hearing each component sound.  This is why we play this game with everyone from day 1 to their last day with us!  This leads the way to the sandpaper letters where ngā tamariki begin to learn the letter symbols to match the sounds.  This lesson is given regularly, for months or years and during this time they are also being introduced to letter formation, first with chalk and then with pencil and paper.  It is important to note that we use the sound of the letter, not the name!  Once the tamaiti feels confident and comfortable we move on to word building with the moveable alphabet.  We always begin with writing before reading, as it is a simpler process for tamariki to build words from their own mind using the sounds they know before they begin decoding and interpreting words written by others.  Children spend a lot of time with the moveable alphabet learning and experimenting with lists and sentences, while being able to plan out their composition prior to writing it down on paper.  Here is where we can introduce punctuation and capital letters once they are experienced writers.  When we begin noticing tamariki attempting to read back what they have written we will begin the journey into reading with phonetic reading first before moving on to more complex words such as “puzzle words” or words with phonograms and blended consonants.  At this stage the child is offered something new to read every day.  They may label items in the classroom or act out actions written on slips, or they may be introduced to the different parts of speech through interactive reading games. This is the general progression through our language and literacy area.

While all children are set up with a strong foundation for sound and letter awareness before moving on to their Primary school journey, it is important to keep in mind that all tamariki develop these skills at their own pace.  Our top priority is self-confidence and a love of learning.

Welcome back to Term 2!

Ava Szabo – Principal

Kia ora Koutou et te whānau.

Welcome back to school as we begin Term 2. I hope the school holidays provided some well-deserved rest and relaxation for you all.  School holidays are always a great time to catch up with family and friends.  If, like me, you stayed home over the break I hope you found some backyard sunshine to enjoy.

The holiday period is always a busy time for schools as we get some of the big jobs done that cannot be completed when we are all onsite.

At the High School, we were able to clear the enormous blackberry patch that had started to take over our green space. This was a large amount of work that took two days to complete.  Have a look at the photos, what a difference this has made!

We have also finally been able to re-surface our staff carpark at Waddington Drive.  This is a fantastic improvement giving all our staff a space to park each day and not get stuck in the mud during the wet winter months.

Each year we participate in the ANZAC Day wreath laying ceremony at the Lower Hutt Cenotaph along with several other Lower Hutt schools.  This is a time for commemoration and remembrance for so many. This year, our wreath was laid by two of our Yr11 ākonga: Patira Scanlon and Kalen James. Thank you both so much for your mahi.

I would also like to welcome Venice Kho to our staff this term. Venice joins us as a Teacher Aide in the 6-9 area of Primary.

I wish you all a good first week and look forward to seeing you all at school.

From Kawakawa to Tāwari

Michael Draper – Physics and Digital Technology Teacher – High School

“When are we ever going to use this?” This is a common question from teenagers in conventional schools. Yet we rarely hear this question in Tāwari. Why is that?

Maria Montessori identified that the primary drive for adolescents is learning what they need to function as an adult. Part of this is social. In the 2nd plane (6-12yo) children learn through social play, safe in their place as a child within a family/whānau.  In the adolescent (3rd) plane (12-18yo) ākonga move to preparing to participate in adult society. Their social experimentation and learning suddenly becomes very real and earnest as they work to establish their own unique identity and self-expression, and fit in with others beyond the safety of family/whānau. Part of this is occupational.  Where 2nd plane ākonga build their knowledge of the world, in the 3rd plane, the adolescent is learning how to be a contributing and therefore valued member of society. Historically, adolescents would enter some form of apprenticeship, working at the feet of a master to learn their trade or occupation. These would start with learning simple tasks and being of basic assistance to others. Then, as their confidence and familiarity with real work progresses, they would move on to more skilled and complex tasks.  This progression corresponds with both Maria Montessori’s observations of adolescents and our modern understanding about the adolescent body and brain development: culminating in greater physical capabilities and the blossoming of abstract thinking.

Adolescents want to learn. They are driven to learn what they perceive will be useful for them as adults. Just telling them there is purpose isn’t enough. If they can’t see for themselves a connection between what they’re learning and its usefulness as an adult, they struggle to maintain attention. The key here is relevance. When ākonga see relevance in what they are learning they learn faster, understanding and retaining more and being more able to apply what they have learned.

At Wā Ora this is reflected in the different learning and work patterns of Kawakawa (school years 8-10) and Tāwari (school years 11-13).  In Kawakawa, the emphasis is on social development and on building practical experience of working with others and the physical world. While still important, there is less emphasis on academic learning in Kawakawa, partly because the brain changes underway during this time slow this academic learning and partly so they can build experiences that prepare them for future learning. In Tāwari the priority shifts to academic development and self-management, consistent with the greater aspirations and growing capacity for abstract learning of the older adolescent.  Here the social and practical work in Kawakawa pay off, providing the questions, problems and awareness of opportunities that become launching points for their engagement with the learning in Tāwari. The foundations they build in Kawakawa make the question “When will I ever use this?” redundant as they tackle the more rigorous and academic work of Tāwari.


Principal Update

Ava Szabo – Principal

Kia ora Koutou e te whānau.

I have been very fortunate this term to be able to travel to the AMS (American Montessori Society) conference in Orlando, Florida.  This is an Annual gathering of Montessori teachers from across the USA and many other parts of the world. This year there were over 4000 people representing 25 counties. I met teachers and administrators from Australia, South Korea, Mexico and of course, the United States.

The theme for this conference was “STANDING TOGETHER TO INSPIRE CHANGE & CREATE IMPACT” – Standing as a united front, committed to sparking advancement and amplifying influence.

This sentiment is so true for all of Montessori regardless of where we are in the world.

My first event of the conference was a school visit and was to ‘Innovation Montessori Ocoee’.  I was attracted to this school as it was also started by a group of dedicated and committed whānau.  Another great example of community action.

The school was started in 2011 by a group of parents who had their children in a local private Montessori school, but wanted their Montessori experience to extend into elementary. They leased a few suites in a strip mall and opened for 108 children in kindergarten through to 2nd grade.  Today, Innovation boasts a new home on 20 acres in Ocoee, including five acres of wetlands that afford the children access to green spaces and serves nearly 800 students from Early Childhood through to Secondary.

I am always amazed that wherever I have travelled to visit Montessori schools, there is always the comfort of feeling at home; the familiarity of the prepared environment is very special.


I was also able to attend many keynote speakers, workshops and lectures.  The subjects ranged from Leadership, Neurodiversity in a Montessori Environment, Science of Reading, the prepared Adult, Banned Books and Curriculum, How Literature Inspires Empathy, Grace and Courtesy, Creativity and Innovations and so much more. It was very humbling to listen to so many experienced skilled experts across so many areas of education, research and work.

The final keynote speaker was Phil Hansen, an artist who spoke of his journey with his art – how and why he became an Art School dropout and then reconnected with art several years later. He spoke of ‘Limitations’ and ‘Self Limiting Belief’, explaining that a limitation is something that is placed in our way and a self-limiting belief was something we have put in our own way. A limitation allows for possibility while a self-limiting belief blocks all paths and does not leave room for possibility.

Phil gave us pause to think about how these beliefs form for our tamariki. He drew on the power of observation to recognise limitations and self-limiting beliefs and then the importance of Reflection, Identification, Recognition and Goal Setting to move past our self-limiting belief.  A very thoughtful presentation.

You can find out more about Phil Hansen from a Ted Talk he gave back in 2013

Have a great week and I look forward to sharing more in my next pānui.

The Importance of Grace and Courtesy

Kala Reyes – Rewarewa Head Teacher

If you have a child in preschool, you might have heard of grace and courtesy. Grace and courtesy is a fundamental aspect of Montessori philosophy rooted in respect, empathy, and kindness. These are delivered as group lessons to help tamariki learn socially acceptable ways of doing things, fostering a harmonious and respectful learning environment. Tamariki learn to navigate social situations with kindness, empathy, and respect for others’ feelings and boundaries.

The adults in the environment play a pivotal role in weaving grace and courtesy into daily activities and interactions. As kaiako, we model the behaviour and language that we want to see and hear from our tamariki. We show them how to move gracefully, for example opening and closing doors gently, walking around someone’s mat or table without knocking over their work, or helping an upset friend. We also share language like “are you available?” when a tamaiti wants to engage in a conversation, or saying “no, thank you” as a polite way to decline an invitation. Tamariki are keen observers who imitate the social behaviours they see around them. Through grace and courtesy lessons, they learn to communicate their needs and emotions effectively, as well as respond empathetically to the needs of others.

In the book Positive Discipline in the Montessori Classroom: preparing an environment that fosters respect, kindness & responsibility, authors Nelsen and DeLorenzo list numerous grace and courtesy lessons for all Montessori age groups. Here are some examples:




•    Introducing yourself

•    Basic table manners

•    Coughing/sneezing into your sleeve

•    Listening when others are talking

•    Offering food or drink

•    Joining a group or a game

•    Saying “no” / receiving “no” respectfully

•    Resolving conflicts peacefully

•    Introducing others

•    Dividing labour in a group project

•    Declining an invitation politely

•    Asking for help

•    Initiating conversations

•    Giving and receiving meaningful compliments

•    Representing the school in public

•    Stating opinions respectfully

•    Cell phone etiquette

•    Negotiating conflicts between friends

•    Expressing empathy

•    Listening openly to different perspectives and opinions

Source: Nelsen, J., DeLorenzo, C. (2021). Positive Discipline in the Montessori Classroom: Preparing an Environment that Fosters Respect, Kindness & Responsibility (pp. 74-79). Parent-Child Press.

Montessori is focused on the education of the whole person, not only the intellect. Grace and courtesy lessons sit alongside all the other curriculum areas like mathematics and literacy; when there are less challenging behaviours to manage, then there is more time for kaiako to connect tamariki to meaningful work.

It is important to remember that children are not born with social skills; they first learn these from their families at home, then at school and other social environments. When we think about our own childhoods, we might remember being scolded for breaking a social norm that we didn’t know existed! By instilling the principles of grace and courtesy in our children from an early age, we empower them to become compassionate, respectful, and socially responsible individuals who contribute positively to the world around them.

Supporting Our Kura: The Impact of Parent Donations

Byron Lynds – Presiding Member, Board of Trustees

As members of our Wā Ora community, we are incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to provide our tamariki with an authentic Montessori education. The school is very grateful for the donations we receive from families; these contributions play a vital role in sustaining and enhancing the quality of education our tamariki receive.

It’s essential to recognise the significance of Montessori education in shaping the future of our tamariki. The Montessori approach fosters independence, creativity, and a love for learning from a young age. It emphasises hands-on experiences and individualised instruction, laying a solid foundation for lifelong success. As parents, we are committed to ensuring that our tamariki have access to the best possible educational opportunities, and supporting our kura financially is a key part of fulfilling this commitment.

  • The donations we provide are allocated to various critical areas within the school. A portion of these funds is directed towards building costs, ensuring that our school facilities remain safe, welcoming, and conducive to learning. Unlike in a state school where the Government owns the land and buildings, the Board owns the buildings and is responsible for their upkeep. Whether it’s renovating classrooms, maintaining outdoor spaces, or investing in essential infrastructure, these expenses are essential for creating an optimal learning environment for our tamariki.
  • Parent donations contribute significantly to the acquisition of Montessori materials. These materials are the cornerstone of the Montessori method, providing hands-on learning experiences that engage and inspire young minds. From sensorial materials to math manipulatives and language materials, these resources allow our tamariki to explore and discover at their own pace, fostering a deep understanding of concepts and igniting their natural curiosity.
  • Furthermore, our donations support the hiring of additional kaiako and staff members, ensuring that our school maintains low student-to-teacher ratios and personalised attention for each ākonga. This enables us to uphold the principles of individualised instruction and holistic development that are central to the Montessori philosophy. By investing in qualified kaiako, we empower our tamariki to thrive academically, socially and emotionally, laying the groundwork for their future success.

In conclusion, our parent donations are a testament to our commitment to providing our tamariki with the best possible education. By supporting our kura financially, we contribute to its continued growth and excellence. From building costs to Montessori materials and additional teachers, every dollar we donate makes a tangible difference in the lives of our tamariki. Together, let us continue to invest in the future of our community and ensure that every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Thank you for your continued support and dedication to our Wā Ora family.

The Odyssey

Hilary Asquith – Lead Teacher Kawakawa

“To be part of, to belong to, to have a role in, to perform a task for, to be recognised as a member of – those are the parts of the internal engine that drives adolescent activity… to belong to a structure bigger than themselves.”
                    Laurie Ewert Krocker – The NAMTA Journal Vol. 33, No.3 2008

When Maria Montessori formulated her ideas for an ideal adolescent environment, she envisioned a residential farm. The residence would enable insight into the social organisation of adult life. To learn to work, live and belong to a community, and for each adolescent to find their place within it. For us, the Odyssey fulfils parts of that process, to experience living and working alongside each other as part of one community. To observe and understand the strengths of the team and how we all might contribute to the community to create a successful and harmonious environment.

Ten days may seem like a long time at the time, but the reality is it is only just enough to begin to connect as a community. It is just enough time to let our guard down, to need support from one another, to be real. It allows us to truly observe each other, to really see who we each are and the strengths that we each bring to our Kawakawa team. The challenges we face on Odyssey -social, physical, and emotional, move us to understand ourselves better and our impact on others. It creates an environment where we must both be supportive of and supported by others. It is this act of living and experiencing new situations together that provides the environment for us to collaborate and adapt as a community and to create the understanding that each individual belongs to something bigger than themselves. The Odyssey provides an opportunity to create a sense of belonging that is both real and convincing for the students so that they might enter into a space of understanding their role and contribution to the social structure of our class. To learn that the culture of a community must be cohesive, purposeful, and respectful to succeed. That everyone must do their bit to function smoothly. To dually experience both the requirement to be self-managing and reliant on others. The Odyssey experiences allow adolescents to feel that they can be themselves, have a voice in the decision-making, and know that the inevitable challenges and upheavals can be handled fairly, and with compassion. All of this is fundamental to an authentic Montessori adolescent environment.  An environment that will prepare and challenge them to be the best version of themselves and foster a desire to work towards a more harmonious, productive society. The Odyssey is far more than an epic Kiwi adventure, it is an opening at the beginning of each year for each individual to genuinely connect with and actively contribute to the team that will both support and challenge them in the years ahead.

Tōtara Ākonga Contribution

Written by Tōtara ākonga

During my first 4 weeks at Wā Ora I have noticed “space and time”.  The prepared environment is crucial and having 3-hour or longer work cycles means the kaiako can work with ākonga without interruption.  I asked some of our Tōtara ākonga what they thought – Nadine Smyth, Tōtara Teacher

What a Montessori school means to me:
Being able to choose your work freely and learning the responsibility to balance your own work and not having someone telling you what to do all of the time.  Being able to work with your friends and have a good time.  I feel like Montessori can help you to be more creative and not be boxed in.  Not having assignments all the time.

My mum likes it, more freedom to move, we have to pay money, no uniforms!!

The teachers make weird rules like “only two exclamation marks!! (in writing) and “no hat no play”.

We can choose where to sit, and choose what we want to do some of the time.  We have cool materials.

When I was at my last school, I had a very strict teacher.  She would literally tell me exactly what to do, you get told off a lot, especially for talking in the class and you do lots of work on your Chromebook.  We get to do lots of different things in Tōtara, I learn a lot of math and we can do sewing.

We get to do specialist classes.  I like art and P.E.

What tasks have you freely chosen today?
I have written a story about a girl and an evil person who lives in a mirror.   I have been practising addition on paper, I have read some of the “Augy and Me” book and done research on Guinea Pigs.  I have planned my journal and completed spelling.  I have assisted new members of the class with sewing, and setting up the machine.  Next, I plan to play “The Game of Awesome” (a writing game) with my friends.  I love games that include fun and learning with your friends.

We have worked on Grammar, writing, gone to technology, used the peg board, sewing, times tables, drawing, crochet.  Made fruit leather, harvested fruit, prepared it and put it in the dehydrator to make fruit leather.

Today, I worked on my project about the universe.  I did research using books from the Library.  We worked together on Lowest Common Multiple, using the material to follow up on the lesson that Anna gave us.  I did some colouring in, then I completed handwriting from a dictation.

Do you get your mahi (work) done and learn?
I enjoy the freedom I get here.  There is no one way to do work, there are multiple ways to get your work done.  I still work hard.  The teachers make work fun.

We get to do specialist classes.  I like art and P.E.

Can you just muck around all day?
No, the teachers remind us politely and then if we don’t listen, they sometimes take us to the teachers’ table and give us a lesson or work alongside us.  We then follow up on the lessons with equipment.  It is actually pleasantly nice.

Tē tōia, tē haumatia 
Nothing can be achieved without a plan, a workforce and a way of doing things.