Montessori in Aotearoa New Zealand

Find answers to some commonly asked questions about Montessori education in Aotearoa New Zealand.

There are currently nearly 200 Montessori early childhood centres, 19 state or state-integrated schools with Montessori primary classes, 4 private Montessori primary schools and 2 Montessori high schools in New Zealand.

How can a school or centre call itself 'Montessori ' if it is not a member of Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand?

Dr Maria Montessori opened the first Casa dei Bambini Montessori school in 1907. Interest in her educational philosophy grew quickly and within a few short years there were Montessori schools in Europe, the United States and Canada. The name Montessori has never been able to be trademarked and any school can use name Montessori. This is a worldwide problem. Many people think that Montessori schools are part of a franchise.

There is no Montessori franchise in New Zealand. Montessori early childhood centres are independent businesses, often privately owned and sometimes run by community or parent groups. There may be Montessori early childhood centres or schools  in your area that do not to belong to or support the Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand (MANZ) as school members. MANZ does not promote these early childhood centres or schools on the MANZ website or in its publications. These centres or schools are able to use the name Montessori despite not being members of MANZ.

Over 75% of Montessori early childhood centres and all primary and high schools belong to MANZ. Membership is voluntary and schools are not assessed by the Association as to their authenticity or otherwise of their Montessori programmes. Member schools financially support the work of the Montessori Association and are active participants in the Montessori community and in the growth of Montessori education throughout New Zealand.

How are Montessori early childhood centres and schools funded in New Zealand?

Montessori early childhood centres  (ECE) are all part of the New Zealand early childhood sector and are licensed and funded by the Ministry of Education (MoE), in the same way as other  teacher-led early childhood services such as kindergartens, early learning centres and childcare centres.

Montessori primary classes within New Zealand state primary schools are funded through MoE and depend on parental donations. Private Montessori primary schools or high schools charge fees and receive limited funding from the government.

What teacher qualifications do Montessori teachers have in New Zealand?

In New Zealand Montessori teachers should have Montessori qualifications for the age group they teach in addition to state qualifications such as a Bachelor of Teaching or Diploma of Teaching. There are many Montessori training courses available; some courses are face to face and others are completed by distance learning. Each Montessori centre or school decides individually whether the Montessori qualification the teacher holds is appropriate for their school or centre. Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand (MANZ) recommends that at the very least, the lead teacher in the classroom has a Montessori teaching qualification for the age group they teach and that ideally, all staff in the centre will either have their Montessori qualification or be working towards it. For further information see the Parent Guides.

Do Montessori teachers keep up to date with professional development?

Montessori teachers have a range of opportunities for professional development  in the education sector. In addition Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand (MANZ) organises frequent professional development events and an annual conference for the New Zealand Montessori community.

MANZ recommends 6-12 hours of Montessori focused professional development for teachers each year.

At what age do children start Montessori early childhood centres or schools?

In Montessori early childhood children can start anytime from birth and stay until they are six years old. Montessori early childhood centres develop their own enrollment procedures. Montessori early childhood centres try to maintain a cross section of ages and often prefer not to start children older than four years.

Montessori primary starts with six year olds and most Montessori primary classes collaborate with contributing early childhood centres to ensure that children remain in the Montessori 3-6 programme, rather than moving to primary at five years old.

What do I do if I have a concern or complaint about a Montessori early childhood centres or school in New Zealand?

All Montessori early childhood centres and schools have a set of operating policies including a Concerns and Complaints Policy. This policy should be displayed or available to parents at all times. If you have a concern or complaint you should follow the processes outlined in the Concerns and Complaints Policy. This usually involves addressing the concern to a staff member. Most complaint policies attempt to sort out issues within the centre or school and may require both parties to make compromises.

If you feel you have followed the process in the Concerns and Complaints Policy and have not reached a ‘resolution’ you have a few other options. You may be able to enlist the help of an experienced  ‘mediator’ in your local community, to help you address your complaint with the centre or school.

If your concern remains unresolved you can approach your local Ministry of Education (MoE) or Education Review Office (ER)). MoE and/or ERO can offer assistance in situations that are perceived to have serious implications to the health or safety of the children in the school or centre. MoE and ERO work closely together to deal with complaints or concerns raised by parents.

Neither Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand (MANZ) nor MoE or ERO have the power or resources to mediate in disputes between individuals in Montessori centres or schools.

Any complaints sent to MANZ are raised with the Montessori centre or school concerned. However, MANZ has no legal responsibility for Montessori centres or schools and does not have control over the fees charged, donations requested or operation of individual Montessori centres or schools.

Who starts Montessori early childhood centres or schools in New Zealand?

The impetus to establish a Montessori school is varied. Many community-based schools have been started by parent groups and privately owned schools by teacher-owners or other individuals or businesses. Montessori centres and schools in New Zealand vary in size from one to 14 classrooms.

How many teachers should be in a Montessori classroom in New Zealand?

The Montessori learning community reaches its full potential when the number of adults is kept to the minimum, since the real work of learning belongs to the child. In New Zealand a 1:10 is required for early childhood centres for children over two years old. For Montessori primary  classrooms for children from  6-12 years, Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand (MANZ) recommends a 1:28 ratio. Children develop the ability to concentrate and to become absorbed in their chosen activity or work when interruptions by adults or whole group times are kept to a minimum.

I understand that Montessori primary children are free to choose their own work each day and that there are not set times for subjects. How do I know that my child will cover all aspects of the New Zealand state curriculum?

Many parents are faced with the weighty decision early on in their child’s life as to which system of education they feel would best suit their child’s needs as they get older.  Something that weighs heavily on the mind of parents, and rightly so, is the coverage of the New Zealand Curriculum within the Montessori approach to teaching and learning.  The New Zealand Curriculum encompasses a range of skills and learning areas, all of which can be taught through a Montessori programme.

There are five key competencies that are identified by the New Zealand Curriculum.  They are: thinking, using language, symbols and texts, managing self, relating to others and participating and contributing.  These competencies have been identified to assist in the development of the whole human being, the ultimate goal being people who are active members and contributors to the wider community.   There are eight essential learning areas; English, the arts, health and physical education, learning languages, mathematics and statistics, science, social sciences and technology.   The Montessori approach is able to fit easily into the New Zealand Curriculum but “it is a framework rather than a detailed plan.  This means while every  school curriculum must be clearly aligned with the intent of this document,  schools have considerable flexibility when determining the detail.  In doing  this, they can draw on a wide range of ideas, resources, and models.”             The New Zealand Curriculum, Ministry of Education, 2007 p.16

Through the Montessori Cosmic Education, the Montessori teacher or guide is able to cater for all these learning areas.  The New Zealand curriculum is a framework and Montessori materials and philosophy can be utilised in the delivery of the New Zealand Curriculum.  The interrelated nature of Montessori Cosmic Education allows an organic approach to the coverage of the essential learning areas.  For example, encompassed within a study of The Timeline of Man, in addition to history and social studies, students are exposed to different parts of mathematics such as scale measurement.  Following the students’ interests lead to personal inquiry and research which involves many different aspects of reading and writing.  In a study of primitive tools, technology can be studied and applied in real life.

As Montessori educators, we are fortunate to be able to guide the children during their learning journeys within such a framework that allows for a more open, and Montessori delivery of the NZ curriculum.

Tesneem Couper, Eastern Suburbs Montessori Primary School, Glendowie, Auckland, New Zealand

Why is the Montessori early childhood environment a good place for children until they are six years old?

In New Zealand children traditionally start primary school at five years of age, even though it is not a legal requirement that they start until they are six.  In many other countries in the world, particularly in Europe, primary schooling does not start until the child is six!

The Montessori programme is a three-year programme and the final year is important as it is the year in which everything comes together.  If children have had a strong foundation in the first two years of the cycle, they are now ready to build on that foundation, and this in itself contributes to independence, self confidence, and self-esteem. It is the year in which the children start to read, they begin their mathematics operations, and they want to write beautifully and creatively (Beth Alcorn MWEI).  It is not only Montessorians, though, who believe in the importance of this extra year in a early childhood environment. Steve Biddulph in his book Raising Boys recommends that boys in particular benefit from attending the preschool for an extra year, and not start school until they are six.

In the third year, the child is able to increase their general knowledge through exploration with the activities provided in the prepared environment relating to geography, science, zoology, biology, botany, and history etc.  Another important aspect is the leadership role that these older children take on in their final year.  They become the role models; the younger children learn from them and really look up to them.  How better to demonstrate and share your understanding of a concept that to actually present it to someone else, further increasing your independence and self-esteem?

Leonie Kelly, Marshwood Montessori School, Glendowie, Auckland, New Zealand

What information should I expect from my child’s Montessori early childhood centre about his learning?

Every Montessori centre will have its own procedures to inform parents on their child’s learning, but here are some ways your child’s teacher might communicate with you.

  • When a child starts in our class we invite parents/caregivers into the classroom after the programme is finished so that we can give an idea of what to expect from the programme and from the teachers.
  • On a daily basis teachers talk informally to parents at pick-up time.
  • Through the individual child’s Learning Stories we can show the child’s learning including some information on Montessori materials and Montessori philosophy. These can be  online portfolios or hard copies which are available to both children and families. Families are encouraged to add any information or stories about their child.
  • Parent/teacher conferences are a more formal way of informing the parents on their child’s learning. These conferences are generally held twice a year or more often if desired by parents or teachers.
  • Profile nights are an opportunity for the child to share something special from their learning journey with their parents.
  • There can be classroom meetings or education evenings on specific areas of the environment.
  • You can ask the teacher if you can observe in your child’s classroom. You might be asked to sit in a specific chair and/or in a specific place. This will help you to observe the children from a distance. Be aware, though, that your child might act differently when you are around. The more unobtrusive you can be, the more likely it is that you get a natural response from your child and his/her classmates.

Eline Vonk, Montessori at the Gardens, Dunedin, NZ