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 learning centres, 17 state or state-integrated schools with Montessori primary classes, 4 private Montessori primary schools and 3 Montessori high schools in New Zealand.

How can a school or early learning 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. Unfortunately, the name ‘Montessori’ has never been able to be trademarked, and any early learning centre/school can use the name Montessori. This is a worldwide problem. Many people think that Montessori schools are part of a franchise. However, there are not any Montessori franchises in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Montessori early learning centres are independent businesses, often privately owned and sometimes run by community or parent groups. There may be Montessori early learning centres or schools in your area that do not belong to or support the Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand (MANZ) as school members. MANZ does not promote these early learning centres or schools on the MANZ website or in its publications. These centres or schools can 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 the Association does not assess centres/schools as to their authenticity or their Montessori programmes. However, member schools financially support the work of the Montessori Association and are active participants in the Montessori community and the growth of Montessori education throughout New Zealand.

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

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

Montessori primary classes within New Zealand state primary schools are funded through the Ministry of Education (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. Many Montessori training courses are available; some courses are face-to-face, and others are completed by distance learning. Each Montessori early learning 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/school will either have their Montessori qualification or be working towards it. For further information, see the Parent Guides.

Do Montessori kaiako (teachers) keep up to date with professional development?

Montessori kaiako have a range of opportunities for professional development and learning in the education sector. In addition, Montessori Aotearoa New Zealand (MANZ) organises a conference and professional development and learning workshops for each age group (0-3 years, 3-6 years, 6+ years) each year. These are open for all teachers to attend.

MANZ recommends a minimum of 6 hours of Montessori-focused professional development and learning for teachers each year.

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

In Montessori, tamariki (children) 0-6 years can start anytime from birth and stay until they are six years old. Montessori early learning centres develop their own enrolment procedures. Montessori early learning 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 learning 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 learning centre or school in New Zealand?

All Montessori early learning centres and schools have 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 Concerns and Complaints Policy process 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). Both can offer assistance in situations that are perceived to have serious implications for 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 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 learning 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 1 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 a 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 2 years old. In 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 no 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 the New Zealand Curriculum identifies. 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 can 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 can cater to all these learning areas. The New Zealand curriculum is a framework, and Montessori materials and philosophy can be utilised in delivering 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 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 to start until they are six. However, in many other countries, 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 a strong foundation in the first two years of the cycle, they are now ready to build on that foundation, contributing to independence, self-confidence, and self-esteem. It is the year the children start to read, begin their mathematics operations, and want to write beautifully and creatively (Beth Alcorn MWEI). It is not only Montessorians who believe in the importance of this extra year in an early childhood environment. In his book Raising Boys, Steve Biddulph recommends that boys benefit from attending preschool for an additional 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, history etc. Another important aspect is the leadership role these older children take on in their final year. They become role models; the younger children learn from them and look up to them. How better to demonstrate and share your understanding of a concept than to 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 procedures to inform parents of 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 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 philosophy. These can be online portfolios or hard copies, available to 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 about their child’s learning. These conferences are generally held twice a year or more often if parents or teachers desire.
  • 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 you will get a natural response from your child and their classmates.

Eline Vonk, Montessori at the Gardens, Dunedin, NZ