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Early Childhood Education Pioneer Remembered

Early Childhood Education Pioneer Remembered

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, passed away yesterday (Saturday) 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."


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