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Montessori class in Wanganui, NZ 1919
 

One Hundred Years of Montessori in New Zealand

In 2012 the Montessori community is celebrating 100 years of Montessori in New Zealand.

MANZ marked the New Zealand centenary at the 2012 Conference in Auckland. We invited our community to help build a timeline at the conference; many photos of early classes, people, events, teacher meetings, workshops were contributed to build a pictorial history for Montessori in NZ.

A gift of five centenary cards was given to each delegate at the conference; these card sets are available from MANZ for $12 incl postage within New Zealand. If you wish to purchase these card sets please email e:eo@montessori.org.nz

Montessori in New Zealand - The Early Years

Dr Helen May, Professor of Education at Otago University, describes the ‘short-lived flirtation’ of the NZ education system with Montessori beginning around 1910-12. From her recent book, I am Five and I go to School, we learn that the first recorded New Zealand teacher to have experienced this ‘new method’ of education was Margaret Slingsby Newman, from the Auckland College of Education. Miss Newman travelled in 1910 to Rome ‘‘…where she studied and observed the Montessori method and undoubtedly met Maria Montessori herself. She may have joined Montessori’s 1910 training course, the first of the annual courses the educator established for international educators.’’ (May, 2012, p.78).

There was also early interest by important figures such as James Allen, the newly-appointed Minister of Education. In December 1912, Mr Allen was on his way by ship to London for a conference on defence. On board he met an Australian teacher, Martha Simpson, who had set up a Montessori class for five and six year-olds at Blackfriars School in Sydney a few months earlier. She was on her way to train with Dr Montessori. Allen was interested in finding out more and travelled with her to Rome, met Dr Montessori and attended some training lectures. Allen left ‘‘with this interest in Montessori transformed to enthusiasm’’. (May, 2012, p.81). 

Wanganui Central Infant School ordered a set of Montessori materials in 1912 as part of the school’s objective to ‘‘demonstrate the latest approaches to infant teaching”. (May, 2012, p.83). There are a set of showcase photos from 1919 (see above) showing a wide range of Montessori activities including gardening and activities outside in the playground still in use in the school.

Montessori was also used in other state primary schools: Winifred Maitland, principal of Kelburn Normal School in Wellington, had Montessori equipment made by a local firm in 1915 and there are photos of Montessori activities being used in 1923 by the children.  Visitors to Wellington interested in Montessori were directed by the Department of Education to Kelburn School (May, 2012, p.82). 

Important people remained interested in Montessori and the New Zealand Prime Minister William Massey ordered a set of approved Montessori materials through the High Commissioner in London; however it was lost in a shipwreck and the arrival of a replacement set was delayed due to a shortage of shipping during World War 1. Children at Eastern Hutt School in 1920 were also photographed using Montessori activities on their desktops in 1920.

Emily Blennerhasset travelled to Sydney in 1915 with two other teachers to observe at the Blackfriars School.  She became principal of Wanganui Central Infant School and under her leadership Montessori continued to be used in the school for many years. However May (2012) notes that from 1922 annual reports to Parliament no longer referred to the Montessori method in Wanganui.   This fading of interest in state primary schools in New Zealand was similar to the declining interest in Montessori observed in Europe and the United States in the 1920s. 

In New Zealand Montessori did not completely disappear but became part of the Catholic school system. Mary-Jane Shuker, in her PhD thesis, explains how an attempt was made to integrate Montessori into the Catholic school system in the late 1920s.  Mother Mary. St Domitille trained with Dr Montessori in Rome in 1925 and was given the task of establishing Montessori in the infant school of St Joseph’s Convent School. Several Catholic primary schools, including St Mary’s Catholic School in Lyttelton and Our Lady Star of the Sea in Sumner retained Montessori in their infant schools until the 1940s and1950s, however May (2012) points out that ‘‘there was little visibility of these endeavours or reference to them in mainstream commentary of the time’’ (p.87).

References

May, H. (2012.) I am five and I go to school; Early years schooling in New Zealand, 1900-2010. Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago University Press.

Shuker, M.J (2008). The historical evolution and contemporary status of Montessori schooling in New Zealand, as an example of the adaptation of an alternative educational Idea to a particular national context. (Unpublished PhD thesis). Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.