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Death of Marie Bell, early childhood education pioneer

Press Release – NZEI
Marie Bell will be remembered as a truly inspirational woman with a passion for young children and education that has left a lasting mark on New Zealand’s early childhood education sector, NZEI Te Riu Roa National Executive member Judith Nowotarski says.

Marie Bell, aged 90, died in Wellington yesterday after a lifetime committed to promoting child-friendly education and the holistic development of young children. She was an accomplished teacher educator and academic, a founding member of Parents Centre and was awarded the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2006 for services to early childhood education. She was a life-long learner herself, undertaking post-graduate study throughout her life and completing her PhD in 2005 at the age of 82 – Victoria University’s oldest-ever doctorate.

An early proponent of children learning through play, her teaching emphasised holistic development, understanding of children’s behaviour, respect for individual growth and learning, and positive relationships between adult and child – ideas which are “common sense” now but were seen as radical in the late 1950s.

Marie Bell trained as a primary school teacher in 1939 at Wellington Training College before doing post-war study at the London Institute of Education. She returned to New Zealand keen to implement progressive child-centred practices in kindergartens here. She was appointed as a lecturer in “junior education” at the Wellington Training College. In the 1950s she became active teaching ante natal classes for Parents Centre and lecturing for Playcentre supervisors and Kindergarten teacher trainees. 

In 1962, she led a group of parents setting up Matauranga, a progressive parent co-oeprative school based on the principles of parent participation, holistic development, learning through play and freedom from corporal punishment. She taught at Matauranga from 1963-1971.

“Marie Bell was a consumate educator, challenging the orthodoxies of the 1940s and helping create the world-leading early childhood education sector New Zealand has today,” Judith Nowotarski says. “Thousands of teachers today were influenced by her and her ideas and New Zealand children are very much the better for her life and work.”

Press Release – New Zealand Kindergartens
“A passionate advocate for the rights of children and families, Marie Bell was a truly inspirational woman” said New Zealand Kindergartens Chief Executive Clare Wells.

Dr Marie Bell, passed away in Wellington yesterday (3 November 2012) “Marie was a tireless advocate for children, and for parent’s to be supported and empowered as parents.” said Clare Wells. “Marie established Matauranga School in Wellington in the 1960’s, which was run as a parent co-operative and for over 50 years, Marie worked as a volunteer for Parents Centres.”

Marie was a lecturer at Wellington Teachers College in 1960s and 70’s. “Marie influenced the teaching practice of hundreds of kindergarten teachers. She believed in children learning through free play and parent’s involvement in their children’s learning.” said Clare Wells.

“Marie’s remarkable contribution to education will be her enduring legacy. Her strong sense of social justice and belief that it is the right of every child to be supported and given the opportunity to reach her or his potential, underpinned her work in education” said Clare Wells.

“Graduating with a PHd in her 80’s, is testimony to Marie’s energy and passion for learning. She had a keen interest in politics and policy, was generous with her time, and had a wonderful sense of humour. Marie was a truly remarkable woman and we are all the more rich for having known and worked with her.” Clare Wells said. We convey our deepest sympathy to Marie’s family and friends at this time.

1 comment:

  1. Madalene Frost, 5. November 2012, 7:48

    What a wonderful woman Marie was. She helped me to change my life in the mid 1970s, when I was a student and she was a lecturer at Wellington Kindergarten Teachers College, and my children went to Matauranga school – from a conservative apologist for tough parenting, to an advocate for children and families through postive and respectful parent child and teacher child relationships.

    My feminism and early childhood philosophy were honed through Marie’s influence.

    Thank you, Marie. I will always remember you.

    Ka kite

    Madalene