Unidentified kindergarten probably Auckland, c. 1970s Hocken Collections University of Otago, MS1881/002

Kindergarten Heritage Collection in New Zealand

The historic documents, stories, artifacts, images and commentaries are the first phase of a project to provide a comprehensive web-based repository of information on New Zealand kindergartens. This initial collection has been sourced and collated by Dr Kerry Bethell and Professor Helen May. At present the coverage is selective, with material from only a few kindergarten associations and/or individual kindergartens. The current selection is sourced partly from the personal archives of Kerry Bethell and Helen May, as well as selective images and documents included with permission from major library collections and includes sample material held by some individual associations.

The site is hosted by NZ Kindergartens Incorporated - Te Pūtahi Kura Pūhou o Aotearoa (NZK) and has been developed by NZK in collaboration with kindergarten associations under the umbrella of Early Childhood Leadership.

An invitation is made to all kindergarten associations and individual kindergartens, to teachers, parent committee and association members past and present, and to anyone with personal papers, kindergarten artifacts or images to consider submitting material to extend the collection. Please go to contacts and email us for further information.

It is hoped the collection will be a useful resource and will be a guide to the kind of material it is important to preserve and safely store. We intend to develop guidelines to assist in this task. Some associations have already gifted their historic collections to local or national library collections, others have archived their own collections, but there are many unsorted documents in boxes and cupboards that need cataloguing and archiving in some form. This web repository is intended to showcase some of the valuable and interesting documents, images and artifacts we have in New Zealand. Kindergarten is truly an important part of our social history.

About kindergarten in New Zealand

The kindergarten movement in New Zealand is directly descended from the German kindergarten founded by Friedrich Froebel (1782 - 1852) in 1837. The idea of kindergarten eventually arrived in the new colony, via Britain and the United States in the 1870's. The earliest kindergartens were attached to schools such as the kindergarten class established at Christchurch Normal School in 1879. Similarly, kindergarten activities started to be included in some school programmes, such as the Mt Cook Infant School in Wellington that opened in 1878. By the 1880's there are records of a several private kindergartens for which parents paid fees. The first free kindergartens were established in Auckland in 1887 and 1888 and sponsored by the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.  Both kindergartens also included a crèche for babies. They were fully dependent on charitable funding and closed in the 1890's. The Dunedin Free Kindergarten Association was established in 1889 to become the oldest surviving kindergarten association. The first government subsidy to kindergartens began in 1904, but charitable funding-raising remained the mainstay of kindergarten survival.  By 1914 there were kindergarten associations operating in the four main cities. It was not until 1948 that government policy shifted towards a supporting the infrastructure and funding of a national kindergarten movement with a presence in all towns and suburbs.

For an overview of the early NZ kindergarten story see:

Helen May (2013 2nd ed.) The Discovery of Early Childhood,
NZCER Press, Wellington
Helen May (2005) School Beginnings: a nineteenth century colonial story,
NZCER Press, Wellington

Kindergarten origins 1830's - 1870's

In 1837 Friedrich Froebel established a Play and Activity Institute in the village of Bad Blankenburg, in the rural state of Thüringia in Germany.  Froebel did not want young children to be ‘schooled’. Instead, this new institution recreated a home–like atmosphere that extended the possibilities for learning with specially trained teachers and a programme structured around play and self-activity. In 1840 Froebel renamed his institute a ‘kindergarten’. This signified both a ‘garden for children’ where they could observe and interact with nature, but also a ‘garden of children’ that could develop freely, under the guidance of the ‘gardeners of children’, the kindergarten teachers. Froebel’s ideas were radical, not only in terms of his programme of play, but also his championing of the education of women as mothers and teachers. Froebel was promoting a view of childhood, idealistic and romantic maybe, which was playful and purposeful; that placed the early years at the forefront of any education system. His motto, ‘Let us live with and for our children’ became the rationale for a world-wide kindergarten movement actively engaged in educational and social reform intent on transforming the world of childhood. In 1851 a kindergarten verbot closed all kindergartens across German towns and cities. This was in the aftermath of the failed 1848 revolution. Kindergartens had attracted liberal minded sympathisers of political reform.  Froebel died in 1852 and the verbot was not lifted until 1860. In the meantime, kindergarten sympathisers, who were often refugees, exported the idea.

Kindergarten programme of play and activity

Froebel’s kindergarten programme had four elements, all of which are evident in New Zealand kindergartens of today.

1.  The Mother’s Songs (Die Mutter und Koselieder) first published in 1844 and translated into many languages.[i] The illustrated nursery songs were designed to stimulate the senses and provide close interaction between mothers (and teachers) and their children. Each song included finger play instructions and guidance to adults, and are illustrative of the Froebelian approach to early literacy.

2.  Froebel is most remembered for the kindergarten spielgaben, a progression of geometric toys called the ‘gifts’, and activities later named as ‘occupations’. The first ‘gift’ was a soft knitted ball for the young infant. Froebel saw the gifts as playthings designed to stimulate and develop the child’s senses. Subsequent gifts were sets of blocks and tablets of increasing complexity for self-activity and construction. The ‘occupations’ were handcrafts in drawing, weaving, paper folding, sewing and stick-laying etc.

3.  Movement plays involving action circle games.

4.  Gardening activities both indoors and outdoors as space allowed.

Kindergarten relocations

In 1851 a kindergarten was opened in London by refugees Bertha Ronge and her husband. Bertha had attended Froebel’s 1849 kindergarten course in Hamburg. A key person promoting the kindergarten outside of Germany was the Baroness Bertha von Marenholtz-Bülow who visited England in 1854 and demonstrated the games and blocks. That year, the Society of Arts sponsored an International Education Exhibition at which Froebel’s gifts were demonstrated, while the Ronges’ kindergarten was opened to the public. A visitor to the exhibition was Henry Barnard; his letters to Elizabeth Palmer Peabody in the US inspired her to open a kindergarten there. In 1855 the Ronges published A Practical Guide to the English Kindergarten that became a standard text. They were critical of ‘the toyshops [that] have supplied every variety of dolls, animals, houses etc.’ and argued instead that, ‘the child by the very impulse of his nature wants to create.’[ii] The kindergarten promoted a new view of childhood and education. Readers of the Lady’s Newspaper (13 October 1855) were told that ‘Love for children is the prevailing spirit of Froebel’s system of education.’ This was described as a contrast with the ‘current school room [that] had been turned into a house of correction … the ogre land of childhood’. Information about kindergartens was first published in Dunedin when the Otago Witness (OW) (2 September 1876) reported on ‘Women’s Work’ displayed in the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, US. The exhibition kindergarten was sketched. American kindergarteners hoped that their demonstration kindergarten would popularise the kindergarten’s role as an agent of progress. The OW (25 November 1876) sourced a more detailed article on ‘The Kindergarten Gifts and Occupations.’ In 1879, Learmonth Dalrymple, a Dunedin campaigner for girls’ schooling, circulated a pamphlet entitled ‘The Kindergarten, being a brief sketch of Froebel's system of Infant Education’. There was much interest in Dunedin educational circles.

The free kindergarten model

The idea of the free kindergarten for children who figuratively played ‘on city streets’ was promoted in the US. During Froebel’s lifetime, several Volkskindergarten had been established through the advocacy of the Baroness Bertha von Marenholtz-Bülow. In 1854, Froebel’s widow, Louise, became the director of a Public Free Kindergarten in Hamburg. The kindergarten became one of a range of child-saving initiatives intended to transform the play of slum children. The free kindergarten, supported by charitable subscription, would be a sanctuary, recreating romantic ideals of the countryside and counteracting the evils of urban slums. The first kindergarten established in 1889 by the Dunedin Free Kindergarten Association (DFKA) was in Walker Street, an area known as the ‘Devil’s Half Acre’. The city, like the other settlement cities, had not realised the dream for all its settlers and there was a depression. This situation made ripe a project that combined do-it-yourself endeavour and the kindergarten’s ‘new child’ whose metaphorical appearance was as the builder of a new society. The first free kindergartens in New Zealand were established in Auckland under the auspices of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, an organisation active in kindergarten work in the US. The Jubilee Free Kindergarten (1887 - 1899) and the Auckland West Free Kindergarten (1888 - c.1893) also included crèches, an experiment not replicated in Dunedin. It was, however, the successful San Francisco Golden Gate Kindergarten Association  (GGKA) that provided the most information to the DFKA founders.

[i] Friedrich Froebel. Mutter und Koselieder Dichtung und Bilder sur Edlen Plege des Kindheitlebens ein Familienbuch, (Blankenburg de Rodelstadt, 1844).
[ii] Johannes and Bertha Ronge. A Practical Guide to the English Kindergarten: Being an Exposition of Froebel’s System, (J. S. Hodson, London, 1855), iii.