Nuturing the spirit of our tamariki

By Robin Wilkins – Pūriri teacher

Dr. Montessori observed that children go through four distinct and noticeable periods of physical and psychological development; birth to six (development of the absorbent mind and individual personality), six to twelve (elaboration of mind and personality), twelve to eighteen, (development of social independence), and eighteen to twenty-four (spiritual and moral independence). Development is intense at the beginning of each plane, then peaks and tapers down to the next plane. As ākonga move from plane to plane, absorbing all the lessons presented, they are also working hard to discover who they are along the way. Needless to say, stress and anxiety are part of this journey.

Mental health is essential, meaning we need to approach the care of feelings and minds as diligently as we approach physical health. Science tells us that when the body is experiencing excessive anxiety, it can be due to the connection between the amygdala – the brain’s “fight or flight” region and the prefrontal lobe – the regulating part of the brain. The frontal lobe is supposed to keep the amygdala in check, but in children and teens, that process is still under construction.

Tamariki are going to respond to stressors differently than adults do and may have a harder time regulating the stress-triggering part of the brain.

There are many types of stress and anxiety, which can make them tricky to spot. These can be mistaken as learning disorders because the behaviour challenges that result can impact a child’s ability to be successful in school. A child or teen dealing with chronic stress and anxiety may miss school a lot, frequently complain of stomach upset, have attention/focus struggles, be inattentive and/or restless, be clingy or even angry and disruptive.

An article entitled ‘Anxiety in the Classroom’ from the Child Mind Institute lists a variety of common types of stress/anxiety. Social anxiety – related to peers and social interactions which cause extreme self-consciousness; generalised anxiety – across the board stress response to a variety of stimuli; obsessive compulsive behaviour such as hand-washing; specific phobias – profound fear of certain situations, activities, etc. Stress can vary wildly between children in the same age group, e.g. one child may act out in a visible and audible way while another child could become withdrawn and inattentive. And as children become older, anxiety and stress become harder to spot – their struggles aren’t always visible.

While the social/emotional Montessori curriculum delivered in class helps ākonga to develop strategies for coping with anxiety and stress, the Child Mind Institute also lists some pointers to guide parents who wish to help their children escape the cycle of anxiety at

Kathryn Berkett, a neuro-science expert and Hutt local, also has many great links on how we can identify and support anxiety and trauma in our tamariki, as well as build resilience on her website

The Wā Ora Montessori School Graduation Questionnaire

By Thomas McGrath – Deputy Principal High School

Montessori emphasised that education is to be an ‘aid to life’. But, what does this mean in the final years of school (15–18 years) where a large focus is on gaining a formal qualification? Here are some questions that I would hope graduates of Wā Ora Montessori school could answer ‘Yes’ to from being educated at Wā Ora. Take the test yourself.

1. Do you know your place in the time and space of our evolving human and environmental history and the power you have to effect meaningful and long lasting change, both now and in the future?

2. Do you have the means and confidence to solve problems or resolve conflict for yourself or others, through understanding and empathy, especially with those who are more vulnerable than, or different to, you?

3. Can you work and sustain focus on an individual or collaborative task or project by necessity and/or choice, not only to receive remuneration, but for fulfillment?

4. Do you know how to take care of your physical, spiritual, mental and social needs?

5. Can you read, view, listen to, calculate, research, estimate, hypothesise, test, confirm, reflect upon, criticise and admire the world, both natural and supranatural?

6. Are you an independent and interdependent ‘life-long lover of learning’?

7. Can you speak confidently and genuinely, in more than one language, with another person/s using appropriate social/cultural etiquette?

8. Will you respect and uphold the rules that are required to govern society, protest or affect change to rules that are inadequate or even harmful, and be persistent yet gracious if your efforts are not immediately successful?

9. Can you safely use a range of appropriate tools and materials for a specific functional, survival, or creative purpose?

10. Are you aware of the many forms of waste humans produce and how to reduce, reuse, recycle, and dispose of waste correctly; and do you?

11. Can you sustainably and ethically earn your own money, understand interest and investment, exercise your power and rights as a consumer without getting misled by marketing and advertising?

12. Do you know how to care for a range of plants and animals?

13. Do you understand the role physical and digital technology plays in society, and how to use, and/or develop it for productive means?

14. Do you understand the significance of, and our duty towards, honouring New Zealand’s bi-cultural history, and that our nation is founded on the basis of mutual respect for the unique cultural and personal identities of all its inhabitants?

15. Can you play a range of sports or games fairly, for pleasure or for competition?

16. Do you appreciate the Arts as a means of personal and social pleasure, criticism, comment, documentation, and exploration?

17. Do you acknowledge that world peace relies on harnessing the diversity of all humankind, according to strength and with awareness of weakness, towards achieving a shared aim?

18. Can you organise and cook a healthy and affordable meal for a group and clean up afterwards?

Being “Restorative”

By Jason Johnson – Kawakawa teacher – High school

When I am asked to explain what ‘restorative practices’ actually are, I find it useful to think about what we are trying to achieve when using them. We use them when we are trying to restore relationships. At times when trust has been
broken and the relationship has become damaged.

As humans, we rely on trusting our fellow person to get on with our day. We have to be able to expect that they do not intend to harm us, or else we end up constantly vigilant. But more than that, we know that truly amazing feats are
possible when we work together, which can’t happen if we don’t trust each other.

Young people need help with relationships. We all do, sometimes. We make mistakes. We break the trust of others. Montessori taught that young people build their personality through action, by trying and doing things with their hands; experiencing their own success and failure. They also experiment with their words, sometimes with equally disastrous outcomes. It’s important that they have the freedom to make these mistakes, but also important that we address any harm that occurs as a result.

As their guides in this life, we are charged with helping them to restore the relationships that get damaged along the way. We use restorative practices to help them see that whatever impact a situation is having on them, it is having
other impacts on other people too; to help them see that until that impact or harm has been acknowledged, it hangs about in the air, continuing to erode the trust between the parties. Restorative processes keep the dignity of all
people in the foreground. They hold us accountable to others.

Perhaps most challengingly though, our young people inevitably look to adult relationships too. They notice the way that we interact in the world, and behave accordingly. It is up to us to model restorative behaviours in our daily lives.
We must try to avoid using totalising language, strive to understand the different lenses through which others see the world and be prepared to change our own views. It’s not always easy, but what part of being a parent is?

Tikanga in the classroom

By Krista Kerr – Pōhutukawa teacher

I am often asked as a teacher, “What can I be doing at home to be more aligned with school?” In answering this I usually talk about topics related to the special Montessori character of our kura; such things as allowing independence, providing order and consistency, having freedoms and responsibilities, etc.

However, another part of what we do and how we are at Wā Ora is related to bi-culturalism. Individual akomanga (classrooms) and te kura as a whole adhere to certain tikanga, which children easily and naturally absorb and follow.

An excerpt from explains: “Generally speaking, tikanga are Māori customary practices or behaviours. The concept is derived from the Māori word ‘tika’ which means ‘right’ or ‘correct’ so, in Māori terms, to act in accordance with tikanga is to behave in a way that is culturally proper or appropriate.”

A lot of tikanga are based on the Māori concept of Tapu and Noa.

“Tapu can be interpreted as “sacred” but also “not ordinary”, “special” or even forbidden. It is one of the strongest forces in Māori culture. People, places, events and objects can be Tapu and should not be interfered with. Also, everything associated with the human body is considered tapu in Māori belief.

Noa, “ordinary” or “known” is the opposite of Tapu and refers to ordinary, everyday things such as food.”

Some of these tikanga include taking shoes off before entering a class (to leave the puehu or dust we carry from the outside world at the door); not sitting or putting hats on tables, especially tables which are used for kai; saying a karakia before eating kai; and not touching a head of a child, unless invited to – this relates to the head being a very important part of the body (tapu). Using different cloths for different purposes is another example – we have different cloths for a table, for the floor and for bodies, such as hand towels. These are only used for their specific purpose and washed separately.

If you do come into an akomanga and are politely asked, for example, not to sit at a table or to remove your shoes, and do not know the reasons behind this, please do ask. To many, the tikanga adhered to in kura can be just as mystifying as some of the Montessori materials and philosophies we have, but both are great conversation starters and learning opportunities.

Some of you may already have similar tikanga at home or you may have different tikanga based on your own culture and customs. Just as I am sharing our Wā Ora tikanga with you so that you have an understanding of why we do some of the things we do, we love to hear more about your tikanga (what happens in the home lives of ngā tamariki) so that we can appreciate what is important to you and your way of being.