Sylvia Ashton-Warner

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Sylvia Ashton-Warner, MBE

Teacher and writer Sylvia Ashton-Warner MBE, developed new approaches to teaching children which are still influential in New Zealand teacher training today. In the 1930s, she and her husband Keith Henderson, who was also a teacher, began working in primary schools in rural New Zealand which were part of the system of 'native' schools, whose students were largely Māori.

After suffering some mental health problems, Ashton-Warner began writing and also started developing her theories about encouraging creativity in children. The couple taught around the East Coast of the North Island and in settlements on the Whanganui River. 

Ashton-Warner published several articles but in 1958 her first novel, Spinster, was released and became a best-seller internationally. It is a fictional account of a passionate and artistic teacher developing her teaching scheme, while working with Māori children in a remote rural school. It was later made into a feature film starring Shirley MacLaine.

She continued writing all her life publishing several more novels as well as short stories and books on her educational theories. She taught teachers in Canada and the United States and in 1979 published her autobiography, which was also turned into the feature film Sylvia

In this excerpt from a 1966 radio interview she explains that the personal statement and convictions of an author are more important in fiction than the subject matter or setting.

Find out more about Sylvia Ashton-Warner:

Watch a 1978 television interview with Sylvia Ashton-Warner

Listen to memories from one of her Pipiriki pupils. 

Read about Sylvia Ashton-Warner on Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

View the profile for Sylvia Ashton-Warner by the New Zealand Book Council

Image: Sylvia Ashton-Warner with children in a classroom in 1951. PAColl-2522-2-001 Alexander Turnbull Library.

Catalogue Reference 5268

Year 1966


RNZ National

Excerpt: 00:02:17

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