Independence and choice

Anna McLean – Preschool Deputy Principal

“The child has to acquire physical independence by being self-sufficient; he must become of independent will by using in freedom his own power of choice; he must become capable of independent thought by working alone without interruption.  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.”

The Absorbent Mind, pg. 257, Clio Press, 1992

When we talk about physical independence we are usually referring to the practical life skills that a child needs to master in order to gain independence:  being able to put on their shoes, carry their school bag, hang up their coat, do up a zip or buttons on clothing etc.  The keywords are “being self-sufficient”.  Montessori refers to the child’s development being a path of successive stages of independence.  In the busyness of life, it is easy to carry on doing the tasks that were necessary when a child was very young and incapable of being independent.  As time passes, a toddler will want to take control and do things for themselves, commonly around the age of two, which is often referred to as “the terrible twos”. Their developing will see them wanting to do the activities that they see others doing.  This is a clue for us as adults to adapt our behaviour to allow for a greater level of independence to occur.  Think about the signs you see in your child of them wanting to be self-sufficient and see what changes you can make to support that need. 

As preschool teachers we talk about independence being one of the goals of Montessori education.  Within the prepared environment of a preschool classroom, once a child has been given a lesson on an activity they are free to choose it again and again. Repetition of an activity is an important aspect of becoming self-sufficient and gaining mastery and consequently being able to act in an independent way.  It is through this freedom to choose and being able to work with an activity by themselves, without interruption and for as long as they wish that concentration and the development of the will can develop.   Being able to exercise choice is also about having limits.  For example, if a child is not able to make a choice of work, a kaiako will consider what lessons they have had and offer them a limited number of choices, say two or three.  It is through this limitation that a child can consider which option they prefer and make a choice.   The same limitation of choice can be used at home. Parents can make choices they are comfortable with and then give limited choices: what to eat, what to wear, what stories to read, etc.  Give it a go and see how it works!  By choosing a Montessori education you have already opened the door to your child becoming more independent and being able to make choices.

Whānau Hui Update

Ike Tapini – Whānau Hui Member, Board Deputy Chair

Wā Ora Montessori has always shown a lot of support for Te Āo Māori and our Whānau Hui Rōpu at the school. Working together with kaiako, ākonga and the Wā Ora community allows us to create several key events during the year.


I attended a Māori Boys Catholic College in the 1990s and Matariki was not a thing that we celebrated.  Our 250+ boys trained in Kapa Haka, attended church 6 days a week and were coached to play rugby, but we never celebrated Matariki.  I understand Matariki stopped at some point in the 1940s and was reignited in the 2000s – cemented for many when it was made a public holiday for NZ in 2022.

The hāngi we hold at the High School is one of our highlight events for the whole school year.  200+ pakeke and tamariki attend the evening but in the lead up to the meal, we are supported by:

  • All the Pre-school and Primary classes showcasing Matariki displays for us on the Saturday
  • Pre-school and primary peeling and prepare nearly all our vegetables
  • Tawari were outstanding with prepping stuffing, chopping pumpkins and setting up tables
  • PTA and two whanau funding the purchase of our new Kai Cooker
  • Unwavering support from Acting Principal, Katy Cottrell (especially in Ava’s absence and during the teacher strikes)
  • Whānau Hui parents take annual leave to ensure it all comes together

This year I really enjoyed the room set up, it allowed more whanau to sit together and was more reminiscent of eating at a Marae.  Tamariki were hanging out, pakeke were chatting and the kai was cooking.  We will get better and better with this new cooker as we use it more.  Expect more opportunities for hāngi to be prepared during the school year!

Next up – Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori: Whakapapa

This is the second largest event of the year for Whānau Hui and this year we have a theme.  Our tamariki will participate through learnings and items in their classes and we will have a whānau evening again, same as last year.  September 8, keep it free 😊.

The theme this year is Whakapapa – Genealogy: where you come from.

Whakapapa allows for very wide interpretations and can draw from stories in our past.  For me, the gold has always been in the stories that can be told – remembering that facts aren’t always the key item in a good story.   There are many great stories that come from whakapapa: war soldiers, Greek demi-gods, taniwha and local NZ heroes.  

So, I look forward to seeing what our tamariki learn and create.  And I hope to share some of my whakapapa at our whānau evening for Te Wiki o Te Reo.  It will be a bit of fun 😊


Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou katoa

The Importance of Contribution from Local to Global Communities

By Rose Langridge – Humanities & English teacher

“The child, that ‘forgotten citizen’, must be appreciated in accordance with his true value” – Maria Montessori Education and Peace, p. 38

I am always brought to this idea when the level three social studies class embarks on their social campaign to change policies. This year has been no different. 

They decided to focus on the issue of food waste in the Hutt Valley and aimed for curbside collection. They believe that we need to be caretakers for future generations. We can not have a peaceful world if we do not preserve the place we call home. 

They decided on three courses of action

  1. Creating a petition (the link is they felt they could reach a wider group of people quickly relying on social media.
    2. Doing flyer drops in their own neighbourhoods to connect with their own communities.
    3. Writing letters to members of the Hutt City Council and the Upper Hutt City Council. 
  2. They did this as they felt that this was the best way to access the people who were in the position to discuss the policies in place and make changes. 

They completed all their actions and got a response from many politicians. Josh Briggs came in to discuss their proposal with them. They were invited to speak at the next committee meeting. Three members of the group went along and took part they wrote an exceptionally well-versed argument. The councillors were incredibly impressed with their ideas. It was apparent that they had a solid grasp of the issue that was very much current and future-focused.

Having the opportunity to contribute to this process and seeing the impact that they can have was very powerful for them. They were able to have a voice in a democratic process. 

I kept thinking about them whilst I was completing the facilitator training for the Montessori Model United Nations last week. This course gives the student participants a taste of how decisions are made and how delegates from countries from all over the world meet and discuss issues impacting all countries. The MMUN began in 2006 with 200 students. Since then hundreds of schools and thousands of participants join every year. Judith Cunningham founded MMUN to help children find their voices and work to Implement Maria Montessori’s dream of world peace. 

From seeing akonga working with their local council to those who have travelled to New York and Rome as well as participating in MMUN events online it is very easy to see Maria’s dream coming into play. Education leads to peace. It is big work and essential to our future. 

As Maria said: “An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking; it involves the spiritual development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to understand the times in which they live.” – Maria Montessori Education and Peace, p. 30

Community work in the adolescent program

By Jason Johnson – Kawakawa Teacher

The following is the preamble of a writing assignment given to Kawakawa students this term, in which they were to discuss an idea from a piece of poetry they had studied over the year. Studying poetry with adolescents is always a hard sell at first, given that it requires a) engaging your brain fully before 10am, but also b) engaging with complex and elusive problems that often appear to have no right answer. Yet it remains a non-negotiable part of our Montessori English program. And it always proves rewarding. Poetry nourishes adolescent minds, feeding their creative tendencies as they carry out the big work of developing their own identity through self-expression. 

Last term, we studied poetry, as well as theory about poetic writing. We read a lot of poems. We talked and wrote about the kinds of language features we might find in a poem or want to use in our own poetry. And yes, we wrote some poetry. This term, we kept thinking about poetry and added in a bunch of lessons on how to do good transactional writing (paragraphing, thesis statements, organising your ideas, etc). And here we are, almost done.

Why?! Why oh why, Jason and Hilary, have you made us spend sowwww laaaawwng on poetry!?! Poetry is so “mysterious”! It makes no sense! It’s so dummmmmmmmmmmmb.

Perhaps one could think about it as follows.

The words we choose, when we write, are important. We could choose other words. There are so many!  Poetry encourages us to play with words, but also to be selective and accurate with our choices; to find the best words to express an idea or feeling. It reminds us that words carry more than their literal meaning – words can have connotations that affect the reader. Poetry encourages us to be conscious of our word choices. And that makes us better writers.

But we want you to be better readers too! Reading is about more than just decoding and verbalising words on a page. It’s about making sense of those words. Finding ideas in those words that connect with our understanding, and help us to build new ideas. Proust (1871-1922) said that the heart of reading is where we go beyond the wisdom of the writer to discover our own. 

In poetic writing, ideas can be built up, stacked layer upon cheese-dripping layer, using all that figurative language, so that after you’ve finished reading it, you keep finding more tasty morsels of ideas…faintly lingering… poetry encourages us to play with ideas. Whereas transactional writing takes ideas seriously. It trains us to lay them out clearly for everyone else to understand, and make sure that there is no room for misunderstanding. 

So it’s never really been about the poetry, per se. Really, this has been a long, drawn-out, elaborate workshop on writing about ideas. This skill will be applicable to any kind of writing you have to do in the future. 

If you’re not writing ideas, then are you even writing?


Katy Cottrell  – Deputy Principal of High School / Acting Principal

Manawa maiea te putanga o Matariki

Mānawa maiea te ariki o te rangi

Manawa maiea te matahi o te tau

Māori believe that appearance of Matariki in the morning sky in mid-winter marks the Māori New Year, or Te Matahi o te Tau. Matariki is the star cluster that is most commonly known as Pleiades or M45. The arrival of Matariki is a sign for people to gather, to honour the dead, celebrate the present and plan for the future. Hence the phrase ‘Matariki hunga nui’ meaning the many people of Matariki.

For our tupuna, our Māori ancestors, astronomy was interwoven into all facets of life. Meticulous observations of the movements of the stars and planets, the changing position of the sun, the phases of the moon and the appearance of anomalies such as comets and meteors were recorded and handed down from generation to generation as part of Māori oral tradition. This knowledge was connected to seasonal activities such as planting and harvesting, the flowering of plants, the spawning of fish and the natural cycles of the environment. This astronomical knowledge sits at the heart of our many regional ecological calendar systems that guided Māori from season to season.

To celebrate Matariki at Wā Ora, we will be hosting the following events: 

Matariki School Concert

Thursday 22nd June 9.30am start (finish approx 11am). This will be held in T2 at the High School and whānau are welcome. All areas of the school will be performing either waiata or short plays and Tawari ākonga will be MC and their band will be performing.

Tawari Sleepover

Friday 23rd June. Tawari Māori ākonga has organised a Te Hautapu ceremony and will be honouring the past and looking into the future. This involves an overnight sleepover so that the ākonga can look at the stars and make predictions for the future. They will also be preparing a full hāngī. 

Matariki Day Activities

Saturday 24th June 2pm – 4pm. Each Preschool and Primary classroom will be hosting an activity in relation to one of the Matariki stars. Whānau will be able to visit each class to participate in all 9 activities (if time permits) during the 2-hour period. Whānau are required to RSVP for this event to ensure each class has enough materials for the required activity. Further information will be sent out by the committee organising this event closer to the time.

Matariki Evening Hāngī  

Saturday 24th June 4pm – 7pm. Due to the fabulous fundraising efforts of our whānau hui and PTA and a generous donation from Crewcare, our school cleaning contractors, we have been able to purchase our very own hāngī steamer.  We will be using this to serve kai at our evening feast which will include meat/veg, veg, gluten free. The event will take place 4.30-7.00pm at the High School. Tickets will be limited and you will need to RSVP for the event- more details to follow later in the week.                                      

Source: Te Iwa Matariki

Mother’s Day stories from ākonga

Tania Gaffney  – Deputy Principal Primary / 6-9 Head Teacher – Rātā

Kia ora whānau,

I hope everyone had a great Mother’s Day a couple of weekends ago.  We wanted to share with you some of the writing done in Rāta class about mums.  Only those that have given permission have been shared.

Kia pai tō rā


My mum hates me annoying my little sister. She always gets a cup of coffee from the kitchen. I use the massage gun on her back to show my love. By Addison

My mum is the shortest in the family. My mum is like a cat. My mum likes me helping her and likes me doing new things. By Amelia T

My mum loves coffee! (she’s crazy about it) She loves roses and the smell of them. She likes feijoas and feijoa pie. She likes reading and colouring in and sketching and drawing. By Lucy

My mum has red hair. She speaks Spanish and she loves cake especially chocolate cake. I love my mum so much. By Loretta

My mum was born in 1972 and has the same birthday as my uncle. Her hobbies are gardening and cooking. Her best friend is coffee. Her favourite game on her phone is Scrabble and on a board, her favourite game is Ludo. My mum loves me to bits and she loves sweets. One of her favourite things in the whole world is her phone. She speaks 3 languages, Hindi, English and Fijian. She has dark hair with light brown stripes. She loves dogs because she had one when she was growing up and she also likes singing. When she makes her bed she likes to put on music. She reads a lot of books. One time she was carrying a chair and she saw a funny video on the TV and dropped the chair on my foot. I love her so much even when she is angry at me. By Nyla

My mum is my super hero. She is 33. She likes Chinese foods, chocolate and baked sweets. She is very good at gardening and teaching right from wrong. She does not allow mean words in the house and if you don’t say thank you then you can’t get it until you say it. She is a beautiful singer. If the house is not clean, we clean it. She likes when family come or if there is a play date. If there is time mum would love to play with us. She loves movie night and watching funny animal videos and playing the wii. I love Char so much.  By Aria B 

Science in the Preschool Akomanga

Tara Israelson – Nīkau Head Teacher – Preschool

I was once asked how we, as Montessori preschool teachers, incorporate science into our curriculum. I had to think for a moment to figure out how to answer because it’s not a simple answer. You see, in our preschool classrooms we don’t have many activities with the sole purpose of investigating a scientific concept, at least not explicitly. Instead our Montessori curriculum invites the child to engage in what we like to think of as “spontaneous science” – the sensorial experiences of different concepts in real time, directed by the children.

Rather than systematically investigating the questions of “why?” and “how?” things happen, our preschool children explore the world with their senses and make scientific discoveries almost by accident. When these discoveries are made by the child we, as teachers, have the privilege of watching the wonder unfold and we don’t always explain the science behind what they have experienced.

A 3-year-old child who mixes paint at the easel will discover that blue and yellow make green by accident one day and the next time they choose to paint they may put blue and yellow together again to see if green appears. A child building the Pink Tower may attempt to build the tower upside down and will watch as it topples due to insufficient support. An attempt may be made again, with a different block at the bottom, and the tower may stand – or not. This is how the preschool age child develops their own working theories about the world and we want to allow these theories to form without a lot of “spoilers”. So, rather than tell the child that blue and yellow make green and then invite them to prove our theory, we wait for the child to figure it out and then tell us. That being said we, the kaiārahi, don’t ignore the science happening around us! We support children by naming their experiences: a surface can be “rough” or “smooth”, a prism can be “thick” or “thin”. We also ask questions when we can see a child needs help, for example we might ask “where do insects like to hide?” when a child is
struggling to find them.

Children make sense of the world through their discoveries and their ability to share them with others. This idea is so powerful for young children – that they can work together alongside a friend or a teacher and solve a problem, or hypothesize and then experiment to determine whether their hypothesis was correct. We listen as they hypothesize, we stand back as they explore and experiment, and we often guide them with questions as they try to make sense of something new they have experienced. As they grow older this technique becomes more refined, but for our preschool tamariki it is so important to be given the space to truly explore, try something new, and share their findings with their community.

Through their daily work and play in our Montessori classrooms these children are laying the foundation for future scientific study. Not only are they developing working theories about the world that they will further investigate in Primary and Secondary school or even in their adult lives, they are also building confidence in themselves as explorers, scientists, discoverers and pioneers. Their minds know no limits, their hands are their tools, the world is their laboratory.

Montessori and Adolescent Mental Health

By Michael Draper Physics and Digital Technology Teacher – High School

In a time of increasing concern about adolescent mental health, it’s always great to read about research that backs up Maria Montessori’s guidance on adolescent development and mental health.

Research published by the University of Virginia in January 2022 found that mixed-age classes, greater social stability in school, hands-on learning, self-directed activity, and a collaborative play approach to education leads to better well-being outcomes in adulthood. The research found that those who attended a Montessori school for at least two years reported higher well-being as an adult than those who had not. In addition, the longer a person attended a school of this type, the higher their level of well-being in adulthood.

University of Cambridge Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, expert in the development of social cognition and decision making in the human adolescent brain and adolescent mental health, and author of Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain, writes that the period of adolescence is when “a teenager’s social world changes the most dramatically”. When transitioning from primary to secondary school, there are many biological and cognitive changes: how teenagers use their “social brain” or the “network of brain regions” to interact with others goes under substantial development during this time, development which continues for several years.

That adolescents take greater risks with their friends is a well-known feature of teenage development. As Blakemore says: “There is a huge amount of evidence that they are very susceptible to peer influence – if you think about the risks we are worried about teenagers taking (smoking, binge drinking, experimenting with drugs, dangerous driving) they don’t do those things on their own. They are taking those risks when they are with their friends. … There’s a drive for them to do that because they are particularly sensitive to being excluded by their peer group. To avoid social exclusion at any cost is their number one goal and that might result in them being more influenced by their friends than other age groups are.”  Blakemore goes on to discuss the critical role parents must play in the period of brain development during adolescence, noting: “It is a necessary part of the period of adolescence to become independent from your parents. And in order to do that, you need to forge your own identity, establish yourself with your peer group, test things out and explore.”

A lot of this adolescent ‘work’ happens outside the home, much of it at school, as that is where adolescents spend a significant portion of their time with peers. As a Montessori Adolescent Teacher and Guide, I have the privilege of accompanying our ākonga as they do this work. This involves assisting their academic progress and supporting their social and emotional function as individuals and as a group.  What I find especially wonderful is the way our Montessori adolescents accept and support each other, resolve difficulties and operate as a healthy thriving community.

Welcome back to Term 2

By Katy Cottrell – Acting Principal

Tena koutou katoa,

I hope you all have had a restful, well deserved break and taken time to reconnect with whanau and friends.

Over the holidays I was lucky to visit Zealandia and Staglands. It was great to take time out to reflect and think about my natural surroundings. As Maria Montessori stated (1976); “There is no description, no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees, and all the life to be found around them, in a real forest. Something emanates from those trees which speaks to the soul, something no book, no museum is capable of giving” This made me think about the importance of nature within our Montessori principles and within our school setting.

Maria Montessori respected nature and believed it should be used to inspire children. She did not believe in confining children to the classroom and that kaiako should be taking children out into nature. Maria Montessori (1982) discussed; “There must be provision for the child to have contact with nature, to understand and appreciate the order, the harmony and the beauty in nature… so that the child may better understand and participate in the marvellous things which civilisation creates”.

It was not just being in nature that Maria Montessori suggested, it was the use of natural materials such as woods, metals, and cotton that children came into contact with within the prepared environment. Synthetics or plastics were not preferred. This in turn influenced child-size real objects to come into play. Furniture needed to be child-sized so that the child did not depend on the adult. Springstone Montessori school (US) stated; “Rakes, hoes, pitchers, tongs, shovels should all fit children’s hands and height so that the work is made easier, thus ensuring proper use and completion of the work without frustration”.

Over the term I hope to make the most of the opportunities of spending time with our akonga outside of the classroom.

This term Ava Szabo will be on her Principal’s sabbatical that she was awarded last year. During her absence the following staff will step up to take on additional responsibilities: I will step up as Acting Principal from my usual role as DP in the High School. Tania Gaffney will take on some additional responsibilities in the Primary School, Anna Mclean will take on additional responsibilities in the Preschool and Hilary Asquith will take on additional responsibilities in Kawakawa.

I would also like to welcome Cameron Burns, who will be joining us as our new PE teacher and Sports Co-ordinator. Craig Bluett will also be joining us as our new art teacher.

I hope you all have a great start to the term.

Mauri tū, mauri ora

Essence of the 3-6 Child

By Ava Szabo – Principal

Kia ora e te whānau.

Welcome to the final week of Term One. It’s hard to believe Easter is almost here.

I recently attended my second Montessori Education evening of the term, hosted by the Preschool. These evenings are held across each sector every term and are always interesting and informative.

The Preschool education evening presented by Amy and Tara focused on the ‘Essence of the 3-6 Child’. Maria Montessori was the first female physician in Italy and she spent much of her time understanding, assessing and reassessing her ideas of child development through observation, looking at the attributes of the child at different stages of development.

Maria Montessori broke down the development of the child into four distinct stages.  These are 0-6, 6-12, 12-18 and 18-24.  The first three years of each phase are for developing and forming and the second three years are for crystallizing and cementing e.g. Walking – 0-3 the child is beginning to move the body to be upright, the 3-6 child is refining this movement.  It was also explained that the Montessori materials are specifically designed to assist in this development.

During the education evening we explored and explained the absorbent mind, the sensitive periods and the development of the will. The latter is a child with their own mind who has the freedom to act in the world. Whānau were offered practical advice for home to help and support the development of their tamariki. This very brief summary is but a small portion of the evening.

I would strongly encourage you to attend these evenings as they are a great way to catch up with others in the community and learn a little more of our Montessori philosophy.

You may remember that next term (Term 2), I will not be at school. I will be taking my Principal’s sabbatical that was awarded last year. During my absence the following staff will step up to take on additional responsibilities:

Katy Cottrell who is our DP in the High School will step up as Acting Principal.

Tania Gaffney will take on some additional responsibilities in the Primary School

Anna Mclean will take on additional responsibilities in the Preschool.

Hilary Asquith will take on additional responsibilities in Kawakawa.

I wish you all a wonderful Term One holiday break and I look forward to seeing you all in Term Three.