Sylvia Ashton-Warner

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Sylvia Constance Ashton-Warner (married Sylvia Henderson; born December 17, 1908 in Stratford , New Zealand ; died April 28, 1984 in Tauranga , New Zealand) was a New Zealand author and educator . She became known for her reformed pedagogical approaches and the adaptation of British teaching and learning methods to the needs of Māori children.


Sylvia Constance Ashton-Warner was born in New Zealand in 1908 as one of nine children. The mother was the teacher and main provider of the family, the father was unable to work. Her childhood was marked by material poverty and a repeatedly interrupted school career. In 1926 she began teaching in Wellington and Auckland . In 1931 she married Keith Henderson. The couple had three children and worked together as teachers in various schools for Māori children. In addition to her work as a teacher, she worked as an author and painter. She was supported by her husband, who increasingly took care of the housework and looking after the children.


Ashton taught English as a second language to Māori children. In contrast to the teaching methods customary at the time, it took into account the intercultural differences and aroused the interest of the Māori children with child-friendly teaching material and teaching methods that were based on the children's world. During her lifetime, her innovative ideas found greater support abroad than in New Zealand itself. Her pedagogical impulses found their way into the concept of the language experience approach .

In her book Teacher , she presented the teaching methods she had developed in dealing with large groups of small children in school. The didactic core consists of working with key terms from everyday life in children, through which children understand the connection between things, words and writing and through this they find access to reading . She methodically describes her spontaneous and creative ideas in dealing with the children and the use of her own interest in painting and music. She describes how she used the first notes of Beethoven's 5th Symphony as a signature melody to get the children's attention when she wanted to speak to them. In addition to rejecting violence in upbringing, their approach also includes the inclusion of the children's world and consideration of their cultural origins. In the mixed groups in which she taught both Māori and Pākehā children, the development of mutual tolerance was a central concern of her.

Her most successful book was the novel Spinster from 1958, which, following the course of the year, tells of the everyday life and experiences of an unmarried woman (English spinster) in New Zealand until she decides to travel across the ocean in another spring. Like the author, Anna Vorontosov, the first-person narrator , is a teacher in a preschool class and is torn by her love for children, her personal wishes and dreams and the unbearable demands of an over- bureaucratic school system that is not suitable for children . The autobiographical style of the novel is poetic and self-deprecating. It was published in German in 1961 under the title Source of my loneliness and was filmed in the same year by Charles Walters under the title Two Loves . The German dubbed version bears the title The Misfortune (1961) .

In 1985 Michael Firth made another documentary film about her life and her pioneering work with the Māori children with Eleanor David , Nigel Terry and Tom Wilkinson under the title Sylvia .


In Aukland, an academy for educators and an educational library were named after her. A school was also named after her in the Dominican Republic .

Sylvia Ashton-Warner is one of the 999 women on the Heritage Floor of the art installation The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago . Her inscription is assigned to the group around nurse and suffragette Margaret Sanger , who belonged to the 3rd time wing from the American Revolution to the women's movement .

Publications (selection)

  • Teacher. Current edition 1986: Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition 1986, ISBN 0-6716-1768-0 .
  • Stories from the river. Hodder and Stoughton: Auckland, NZ 1986, ISBN 0-340-38214-7
  • I passed this way. Reed Methuen: Auckland, NZ 1985, ISBN 0-3944-2612-6
  • Myself. New York: Simon and Schuster: New York 1967. ISBN 1-1996-7997-6
  • Bell call. Simon and Schuster: New York 1964.
  • Spinster. Secker & Warburg: London 1958. German edition: Source of my loneliness. Translation by Ilse Krämer. Krüger: Hamburg 1961.


  • Alison Jones; Sue Middleton (Ed.) Sylvia Ashton-Warner and New Zealand. New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) 2009, ISBN 978-1-8773-9847-6
  • Judith P. Robertson: Provocations: Sylvia Ashton-Warner and excitability in education. Peter Lang: New York 2006, ISBN 0-8204-7877-6
  • Sydney Gurewitz Clemens: Pay attention to the children: Lessons for teachers and parents from Sylvia Ashton-Warner. Napa, CA: Rattle OK 1996
  • L. Hood: Sylvia !: The biography of Sylvia Ashton-Warner. Auckland, NZ: Viking 1988
  • S. Middleton (Ed.): Sylvia Ashton-Warner [Special issue] . ACE Papers: Working Papers from the Auckland College of Education 2001.

Web links

Sylvia Ashton-Warner in the Internet Movie Database (English)

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Sylvia Ashton-Warner in the Encyclopædia Britannica (English). Retrieved June 12, 2018
  2. ^ Ashton School School History (English). Retrieved June 12, 2018
  3. Eva Odri-Janku: Biography Sylvia Ashton Warner on Fembio. Retrieved June 12, 2018
  4. ^ Sylvia Ashton-Warner: Teacher . 1963. Current edition 1986: Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition 1986, p. 16
  5. ^ Sylvia Ashton-Warner: Teacher . 1963. Current edition 1986: Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition 1986 ISBN 067-1-61768-0 (English)
  6. Alison Jones; Sue Middleton (Ed.) Sylvia Ashton-Warner and New Zealand. New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) 2009 ISBN 978-1877398476 (English)
  7. Trailer on Youtube . Retrieved June 12, 2018.
  8. ^ Ashton Warner Academy (English). Retrieved June 12, 2018
  9. ^ Sylvia Ashton-Warner Library (English). Retrieved June 12, 2018
  10. ^ Ashton School Dominican Republic (English). Retrieved June 13, 2018