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