The Human Tendency for Orientation



By Tania Gaffney–Deputy Principal Primary

Have you ever walked into the supermarket and the products on the shelves have been rearranged, it can take a while to get used to the new layout again. There are certain ways that we help ourselves with this e.g. reading the signage, asking a worker where something is, using the general knowledge that you have about supermarkets.  These are some tools that we use to re-orient ourselves to a new place.

A couple of weeks ago at our full staff meeting we had a discussion on the Human Tendency of ‘Orientation’.  The tendency to orient is, in its broadest sense, adapting to new situations.  This could be physical, social or emotional.  For our ākonga it could be something hugely obvious, for instance starting a completely new school, or a bit subtler like having a new piece of equipment in the class.

When we think about orientation of ākonga into a new environment or situation, we also need to take into consideration which ‘Plane of Development’ they are in.  How we orient a pre-schooler will not be the same as how we orient an adolescent.

Because the preschooler is still at the stage where they are learning to be physically independent, there is a lot of showing.   The primary schooler is working on their intellectual independence which means there is still showing but now we can include more discussion.

Because Wā Ora spans all the way from playgroup to high school, children are often able to become used to the next environment they are moving into a little before they get there.  For example, the playgroup ākonga can become aware of what is going on in the pre-school over the fence.  The 5 year olds have opportunities to venture into the primary school.  The primary schoolers are often in the high school for various reasons.

Think about how you feel when you have had to start a new job, move to a new house or town, a friend has moved away or a child has moved out of home.  All very obvious and you know before it happens that you’ll have to get used to the way life is now.  But even when it’s something as simple as a change in the supermarket, you still have to reorient yourself, it can take a while to get used to the way things are again, sometimes there is a lot to take in, which is impossible to do all at once.  As a child gets older they have more experience with new situations and negotiating their way through them.  Some ākonga can take longer than others to orient, but the adults (and sometimes the other children) are there helping them along that new path.  As ākonga get older they need less and less direct help with this until as an adult they have learned some skills that will help them to be able to orient efficiently in any environment or situation they find themselves in.

Cursive Writing in 2022

By Tara Israelson – Nīkau Head Teacher – Preschool

In Montessori schools around the world teachers are often asked “why cursive?”.  This is an excellent question, and, as we see more and more schools deciding not to teach cursive at all, it can feel like Montessori is stuck in a different time period.  Well, perhaps this is slightly true if we go back to the genesis of Montessori philosophy.  At the time of the first Casa dei Bambini in Italy in 1907, Dr. Montessori naturally chose to use cursive because it was the smoothest and least complicated style of writing to introduce to budding writers.

Montessori writes in The Discovery of the Child “Let us observe the spontaneous drawing of children when, for example, they are drawing lines on the sand of a garden path with a fallen branch.  We shall never see them draw short straight lines, but long curved ones variously interlaced.” (p 194).   This type of writing involves whole arm movements in shapes such as circles and loops which children the world over include in their creative art.

The continuity of the pencil strokes are also attractive to the child who is still exploring with the writing instrument, almost as an extension of their artistic exploration.  This method of writing also requires less energy from the writer as they “run” the pen/pencil across the page without ever needing to lift it up or think about where the next line or circle is meant to go.  Consider the letter ‘k’.  In cursive this letter is almost like a bow you would find on a gift, all loops and curls.  In print the writer must create a line and then accurately decide where the next two lines are going to go.  The beginning writer does not need this distraction when what they are craving is the flow of getting the words out on paper.

Cursive letters also have an obvious beginning and end which makes it difficult to reverse the letters.  The fluid pattern learned becomes ingrained in muscular memory.  It is also obvious where a word begins and ends, making it easier to write stories.  We find that once our young writers begin linking their letters together it is much easier for them to naturally include space between the words. As the child begins to write, and gets immersed in the flow of their ideas and thoughts, the ability to expend less effort on the mechanics of writing and more on this flow makes cursive the obvious choice.  And, while cursive writing does harken back to the early days of Montessori, there is current research into its benefits and how using cursive writing is actually good for the brain.  In fact, “accumulating evidence suggests that not learning cursive handwriting may hinder the brain’s optimum potential to learn and remember.” (Psychology Today, 2020).

As adults, we are more likely to be using tablets, phones and computers for our communication and perhaps for some of us cursive handwriting feels like a challenge.  If you are interested in refreshing your cursive skills, or if you want to support your child as they begin their journey as a writer (or if you want to decipher what they have written) we have many tutorials to share so just stop in and ask!

If you would like to investigate the current research further here is a useful link

Understanding the 3rd Plane: Adolescence

By Michael Draper —Physics Teacher

The starting point for all Montessori education activity is understanding the developmental drives and needs of the child, at that time (because they change as the child grows).

Maria Montessori identified adolescence (approximately 12 to 18 years), with its own distinct set of developmental drives and needs, as the 3rd plane of human development.  Having developed basic cultural and physical competence (1st plane), and knowledge and frameworks for understanding their physical and human worlds (2nd plane), the adolescent begins the process of moving from dependence on the family to becoming an independent contributing adult member of society. (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p.18).

To operate outside the safety (or in the adolescent perspective, confines) of their family, the adolescent must learn:

  • to express themselves, both personally and as a member of society
  • the elements of supporting themselves materially
  • to participate in and share the benefits of collective work
  • to discharge adult responsibilities and manage adult consequences
  • to support themselves and others emotionally
  • the moral and ethical approaches needed to function successfully in society

The 3rd plane echoes the 1st in that much of the essential learning and development occurs experientially. Where the baby starts as a physical new-born, the adolescent starts as a social new-born, and must experiment with and master patterns of behaviour, attitudes, and communication they will use as a member of wider society.  As with any experimentation, there will be errors and failures along the way, but even these help the adolescent develop adult responses to the complexities of life. (MM, The Adolescent – a “Social Newborn” p73-78)

The physical and neurological changes that occur during adolescence present additional challenges. They experience clumsiness adapting to their changing body. Rapid reproductive and biochemical changes alter and intensify their feelings. Neurological changes impact their brain function. These unpredictable lapses in physical, emotional, and intellectual capability occur as they strive to develop their personal confidence. They need acceptance and patient support as they go through these changes.

The adolescent also needs to study and practise the manual and intellectual skills they will need to earn a living, function in modern society and adapt to our changing world. “But they must not be forced to study every minute, for this is a form of torture that causes mental illness. The human personality must be given a chance to realize every one of its capabilities” (MM, Education and Peace, p.110).

Adolescence is the sensitive period for the development outlined above. “When he enters the workaday world, man must be aware first and foremost of his social responsibility… It is therefore necessary to prepare men to be aware of it and to fulfil it.” (MM, Education and Peace, p.110). This is the heart of Montessori adolescent education.

What IS Montessori?

By Amy Johnson — Kōwhai Head Teacher – Preschool

“Oh, your children go to a Montessori school! What is Montessori?” Do you ever get this question from friends? Relatives? Parents involved in your kids sports or extra curricular activities? As a Montessori professional, one always has the debate when you meet someone and they ask what you do. You can give the short answer “I’m a teacher” or you know that you are committed to a conversation if you say “I am a Montessori teacher.” So, what IS Montessori? Do you talk about the specialised materials in our classrooms? Do you dive into the history of the 120 year old method of education based on observation and a prepared environment? Do you start to compare and contrast what our school does with the more traditional understanding of education? There are so many different ways to respond!

As I sit down to write my contribution for a newsletter that gets distributed throughout our community of families with students of all ages, I wondered… what do you say when someone asks “What is Montessori?” Did you choose Wā Ora because it is a Montessori school? Or for some other reason? Maybe your child has just started with us and you are as new to the idea of a Montessori school as the person asking you. Or possibly your child is about to graduate and you have been answering this question since they were in preschool. Perhaps you came to our school because of a recommendation or because of its’ location. We are all at different places in this journey of understanding.

I do however, want to encourage you to continue to grow and evolve your knowledge of Montessori and our community. Luckily, there are many different ways you could do this! There are parent education evenings throughout the year that highlight unique aspects of our philosophy at each stage and sector of the school. Keep an eye out for these as the weeks pass and I promise you will leave knowing more about your child’s educational experience than you did coming in. Did you know our school has a parent library with some wonderful books and other resources that you can borrow to read and better understand our school’s approach to learning and human development? I know that some of my colleges have hosted ‘book clubs’ that take on a Montessori text that is then discussed regularly, as a group. If some of you are keen, this could be a wonderful way to expand your knowledge of Montessori. If it wasn’t educational philosophy that drew you to our school, then there are plenty of ways to get involved and enrich our community through volunteering with the PTA activities and projects, or you could take time to be a chaperone on a class trip or ‘going out’ project. Everything from informal conversations at children’s birthday parties to workshops and MANZ courses designed for parents and professionals, can all enhance your understanding and appreciation of the type of education your child is experiencing at Wā Ora.

You are an extremely important partner in your child’s educational journey and we love to help share our special approach to their learning and development.

Relationships: the foundation of an effective learning environment


By Hilary Asquith –Kawakawa head teacher

Recently the staff at Wā Ora partook in a refresher course on restorative practices to further embed these processes into our everyday school life. Restorative practices are an approach that recognises that good relationships are the foundation of an effective learning environment. At school, ākonga will often work their hardest and be most eager to learn when they are in a positive relational space with their kaiako and peers. However, just like the rest of us, children and teenagers will, from time to time, make mistakes that damage these relationships. Restorative practices acknowledge that we all need to be given the opportunity to repair the harm caused and move forward with our māna intact. Restorative practices take incidents that might otherwise have resulted in punitive actions and creates opportunities for ākonga to become more self-aware of the impact of their choices. It helps them appreciate their need to take responsibility for their actions by putting relationships at the centre. Punishments, however, can lead to resentment and a withdrawal from relationships and participation in the classroom, and damage their connection with the community that surrounds that young person – the very things they need to move forward positively.

Maria Montessori saw education as a means to build a more harmonious society.

“We must help [the child] to develop within himself that which will make him capable of understanding. It is not merely words; it is a labour of education… for peace cannot exist without justice and without men endowed with a strong conscience.”

 Citizen of the World, Montessori-Pierson. Vol 14. p. 38.

Restorative practices are a mechanism for helping to build that conscience through educating our children about responsibility and nurturing their empathy. It requires people to listen to each other, to view others’ perspectives, and collaborate with them on remedies. It is a process of finding out what it was like for all the individuals involved and what each person needs to feel restored, both within themselves and their community. Done well, a restorative process almost always results in a better understanding of each other, stronger relationships and a more positive community life.

Five of the best questions we can all use with our tamariki anytime an incident occurs are:

  • What happened?
  • What were you thinking or feeling at the time?
  • What have you thought about since it happened?
  • Who has been affected, and how?
  • What do you think needs to be done to make it right?

The language and intricacies of the process may vary with the age of those involved, but the process and outcomes remain essentially the same whether we are supporting preschoolers, adolescents or adults. Local and global events of the past month only remind us as a community, that we need to further value relationships and support the development of restorative skills in hope of a more peaceful future community.

Montessori from birth

By Suzanne Eaddy – Playgroup Co-ordinator

When Maria Montessori began her studies in education in 1897, she found there were no education programmes for children under the age of six. Her observations of young children led her to develop a system of education based on the natural way that children learn, and her first Casa Dei Bambini opened on 6/1/1907 with children aged two to six years old.

Today 0 to 3 years is generally considered a time when babies play while learning to walk and speak.  Then they will attend a Kindy or Playgroup and begin their education at school, aged five. In the Montessori community this is a little different with playgroup, from a few months old, then preschool age three. So, within the Montessori community, when do we consider that education starts for our children?

At birth a baby is totally dependent; their nervous and skeletal systems are not fully developed so independent movement, self-care and communication are impossible. However, the baby’s senses are developed; sight, hearing, smell, feeling/ touch and taste.  From birth the baby’s work is to develop physically and to learn about the environment, language/s and customs they have been born into. Montessori believed that the baby “works” at these tasks because he learns by doing things, by physically interacting with the environment. We cannot tell a baby how to walk or talk; the baby has to learn this himself.

The Montessori educational system is responsive to the “basic responses of human beings allowing their complete development and adaptation to their environment”. One of the difficult skills for a 0 to 3 Montessori parent or teacher is learning to leave a young child uninterrupted for as long as the child is concentrating on an activity. As adults we need to develop preceptorship skills; hands off, encouraging and intervening only if requested or required.  It is fun to sit and play with a young child, however, we must remember:

“Concentration is the key that opens up the child to latent treasures within him” and

“Do not offer to help a child with a task that he believes he can complete”

Montessori developed theories of Planes of Development, Sensitive Periods and the Absorbent Mind. The first Plane of Development is ages 0 to 6 with sub-Planes of 0 to 3 and 3 to 6. From 0 to 3, children develop specific skills at certain times; crawling from 6 to 9 months, walking 9 to 13 months, i.e. during the Sensitive Periods.

A baby is born with no developed knowledge, memory or will power. The necessary organs develop and then the baby has to work to make them function:

“The child has a mind able to absorb knowledge. He has the power to teach himself”

While he is developing a memory, learning that objects have names and listening to sounds that will become words he is also developing his own personality and character which will be completed by age 3. Education and experience will allow further development to this core personality.

0 to 3 (Playgroup) is definitely the beginning of the Montessori education system….   : )

Independence in the second plane

By Richard Goodyear – Tōtara teacher

I want to take a moment to share with you how it has been for me to move from working with adolescents to children in the 9-12 class again. I guided in a 9-12 class at Berhampore Montessori for nine years before moving to Tōtara class in 2013. There I worked with Carol, then Joel until the end of 2015 when I moved to Kawakawa class, staying there for just over four years. More recently, amongst other things, I worked with adolescents including NCEA level students at Harbour Montessori College in Auckland before returning to Tōtara in November of last year.

It’s been a roundabout Montessori journey that has seen me mainly work with kids in their middle childhood years but in two very different aspects: the second half of the second plane of development and the first half of the third. How much did you change between your bright-eyed 10-year-old self and the probably more world-wise 14-year-old? For me, it was a huge shift when I was young, and professionally it has been a massive and fascinating change of mindset and skills required between those two phases.

What I’m absolutely loving about Tōtara is the way we truly challenge them to work independently. Sometimes it’s hard for them. Sometimes they would prefer more structure, to be told what to work on. But we believe, as Montessorians working in the second plane, that the potential of tapping into their inner motivation is too important to squander. We want ākonga to find the sparks of interest that call to them. So questions like ‘what fascinates them?’ ‘how do they best express themselves?’ ‘what are they passionate about?’ and ‘what are they capable of?’ become hugely important to us.

And so after years of working with adolescents where the key priorities are quite different, I find myself in the familiar, lovely, challenging place where free choice is the priority.  How to interest a child in something when they are already busy working on their own freely chosen activity? It isn’t easy, but that is the challenge. I love it when I find something that occupies them in meaningful ways for an hour or two. A good example today was introducing the concept of measuring area (eg how many square metres is…?) with a story (of course) and seeing their little eyes light up. Then setting them a challenge that involved creating diagrams on the netball court with chalk (super fun) and because they are working independently, I could then move on to the next group and entice them, for just a little bit, in something new.  A beautiful day for me, epitomized by Dr Montessori’s famous quote in regards to the second plane child:

 “The secret of good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination.”

The importance of observation in the Montessori classroom

By Robin Wilkins – Pūriri teacher

Even when helping and serving the children, the teacher must not cease to observe them, because the birth of concentration in a child is as delicate a phenomenon as the bursting of a bud into bloom.”

 Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

Maria Montessori was a scientist and a medical doctor, trained in making careful observations. She applied these observation skills to children, much like an anthropologist or botanist, who observes the smallest details. She, watched, learned and changed.   

One of the most vital teaching tools available to Montessori teachers is scientific observation. It is an integral and ongoing part of a Montessori teacher’s work. Observation allows the adult to assess situations, ākonga and strategies without judgment. Observation is a critical component of lesson planning and management of the classroom. We need to have insight about ākonga’s behaviour, social interactions and learning styles. With observation we can help them overcome difficulties and redirect their interest when necessary.

We remember to see who they are, not who we want them to be. We see them with new eyes as they are developing every day, every hour and every minute. They show us what they want or need to learn and then we can see how we can support that. Constant physical movement in a busy classroom can mean we miss out on cues (physical, verbal and social). As the adult, it is important to take time to step back, slow down and silently view the environment with fresh eyes.

Recently I observed two ākonga, at different times, take out the same piece of equipment. A piece was missing and it was very interesting to see the reaction. One put it back on the shelf, the other created the missing piece and then proceeded to practise the concept. This was something that I could have easily missed and gave me new insight into each ākonga.

What can we observe?

Observations can be made for many different reasons. We may need to look at how we can support social, emotional development in the classroom.

We may choose to focus on one thing at a time or observe one child for an extended time. Other times, we may be wondering about the classroom dynamic or an issue. We often see much more detail when we observe so we come to know a child better. We can see when there is a change in their development, for example having success with something they have previously struggled with.

Some questions we might ask about a child or the class include:

  • Is there a feeling of respect and community in the classroom?
  • Which materials are being used, which ones aren’t?
  • Is the activity still productive or are they being safe?
  • What stage of development is each ākonga in? Are they working to master a concept or skill or are they working towards abstraction?
  • Is a child able to concentrate on their work? For how long
  • Is there concentration being protected?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the class?
  • Maybe some Grace and Courtesy lessons are needed to help create more peace in the classroom.

It’s also important for the adult to reflect on their observations and their own practises. We need to allow our mind to be open to change. Have I guided ākonga carefully enough to create a community of respect and peacefulness.

How often would I normally want to interrupt ākonga at work? Sometimes it takes a lot of self-control to stop the impulses of wanting to help or be in control. Are we speaking too much – are our voices constantly interrupting their focus?

We can learn to trust ākonga, especially if we take the time to really observe and understand them.

Taking Pleasure in the “Small” Things

By Krista Kerr – Pōhutukawa teacher

For me, one of the best things about teaching (and there are so many) is the reminder tamariki give us numerous times each and every day of the wonder and delight to be taken in ‘small’ things – if we are open to seeing the importance of them!

Wearing the same shirt as a friend, enjoying a book, tying a perfect bow, noticing a rhyming word in their sentence, making someone else laugh, figuring out where a puzzle piece goes, being able to reach the tap for the first time… these are all examples of what we as adults may casually accept as everyday occurrences. However, for tamariki they are all moments of joy; self-made discoveries that add to their experiences and to their character. We have seen a child become completely absorbed in making funny faces for 20 minutes in the mirror they were walking past – and then laughing so hard that their whole body was shaking! Perhaps they had never before realised or explored the different expressions that their face could make, or perhaps they were simply absorbed in enjoying the moment.

Our classes are a hive of activity as tamariki use their hands and minds to explore the world around them; the materials on the shelf as well as the social aspects of being part of a community. Alongside this learning we also place importance on learning outside. Well-being is a term that is being used more widespread these days, with the recognition that holistic well-being (mind, body and spirit) is an area which needs more attention, increasingly for children. Getting outside, exercising our bodies and calming our minds is great for hauora (health and wellbeing), as well as a great place to wonder, make discoveries and explore.

Exploration is a feature of our early childhood curriculum, Te Whāriki. The strand of Exploration/Mana Aotūroa has as its goals:

Children experience an environment where:

  • their play is valued as meaningful learning and the importance of spontaneous play is recognised
  • they gain confidence in and control of their bodies
  • they learn strategies for active exploration, thinking and reasoning
  • they develop working theories for making sense of the natural, social, physical and material worlds.

This theme of mana aotūroa is also a feature of Montessori education, and the acknowledgement that exploration thrives on as well as feeds the sense of delight that tamariki so easily find in their days. “We observe that a child occupied with matters that awaken his interest seems to blossom, to expand, evincing undreamed of character traits; his abilities give him great satisfaction, and he smiles with a sweet and joyous smile.” (Maria Montessori, Citizen of the World, p. 96)

So why wait for big events to celebrate when so much is going on all the time – if we only take the time to see and appreciate it!

Please stick with me



By Allyson Ashfield — Kawakawa teacher

Let’s face it teenagers are a bit of a mystery to parents!

Dr. Montessori called adolescents social newborns and wrote of them, “What is it? A mystery. Just as the newborn’s mind is a mystery, so is the social newborn a mystery…. A decisive, delicate period, worthy of our respect, presents itself as our responsibility.”

If teenagers knew about their teenage years prior, they might write you a message something like this:

Dear Mum and Dad

Please stick with me as I can’t think clearly right now because there is a rather substantial section of my prefrontal cortex missing. It’s a fairly important chunk, something having to do with rational thought. It won’t be fully developed until I’m about 25. 

It doesn’t matter that I’m smart; it doesn’t insulate me from the normal developmental stages that we all go through. Judgement and intelligence are two completely distinct things.

And, the same thing that makes my brain wonderfully flexible, creative and sponge-like also makes me impulsive. Not necessarily reckless or negligent but just more impulsive than I will be later in life. So when you look at me like I have ten heads after I’ve done something “stupid” or failed to do something “smart,” you’re not really helping. I am more inclined to respond with my amygdala (emotionally) rather than with my prefrontal cortex. The question “What were you thinking?” has the answer – I wasn’t!

At this point in my life, I get that you love me, but my friends are my everything. Please understand that. Right now I choose my friends, but, don’t be fooled, I love you and I’m watching you. Carefully.

Here’s what you can do to help and support me:

  1. Model adulting. I see all the behaviours that you are modeling and I hear all of the words you say.
  2. Let me figure things out for myself. If you allow me to experience the consequences of my own actions I will learn from them. 
  3. Tell me about you. I want you to tell me all the stories of the crazy things you did as a teen, and what you learned from them. Then give me the space to do the same.
  4. Help me with perspective. – Keep reminding me of the big picture. 
  5. Keep me safe. Please remind me that drugs and driving don’t mix. 
  6. Be kind. I will learn kindness from you.
  7. Show interest in the things I enjoy. Someday I will choose to share my interests with you and it will make me feel good if you validate those interests, by at least acting interested.

When the haze of adolescence lifts, you will find a confident, strong, competent, kind adult where a surly teenager once stood. In the meantime, buckle up for the ride!

(This is an abridged version of an article I read earlier this year written by Helene Wingens)