Taranaki St Kindergarten, c. 1930's Alexander Turnbull Library, PAColl 193-1-36

National network

Kindergartens are operated by regional associations. The oldest is the Dunedin Free Kindergarten Association, established in 1889.


Kindergarten is a network of services offered nationwide across diverse communities. Kindergartens are in every community and operated by regional kindergarten associations. In 2017, there are 30 regional kindergarten associations supporting over 650 kindergartens. The largest association - Auckland - operates 107 kindergartens, and the smallest is Geraldine with one kindergarten.


Defined in the Education Act 1989, a kindergarten association is an organisation ‘founded for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a kindergarten or kindergartens’. Associations have always been and remain so, independent and autonomous not-for-profit entities, and registered charities. They are the employer of all staff including kindergarten teachers and the owner or leasee of kindergarten properties. The association is the entity that receives funding from government to provide services and is responsible for ensuring kindergarten services meet Ministry of Education regulations and other statutory obligations. Associations are bound by the provisions of the State Sector Act 1988 which sets out the requirements of associations as employers and provides for the collective bargaining of employment conditions for teachers. Associations have governance boards and specialist management and professional leadership teams to oversee the successful operation of the association and kindergartens.


Kindergartens vary both within and across associations and reflect their unique communities. However all kindergartens, regardless of the association which operates them, have key features in common. Te Whāriki is the early childhood education curriculum in all kindergartens. Kindergartens employ 100% qualified, registered teachers and kindergarten teaching teams are supported by professional leaders. Kindergartens are committed to working closely with parents and communities.


Many associations also offer additional services such as education and care or home-based services. Forest or nature discovery kindergartens, kindergartens attached to school-based teen parent units, and kindergarten within a ‘community hub’ are features. Many associations and kindergartens are part of wider government programmes such as Whānau Ora, Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL) and Incredible Years (IY). Kindergartens feature in the Enviroschools programme and more and more are becoming involved in Environmental Education for Sustainability. 


The history of each kindergarten association is unique with much variety in age, size and regional character. A few associations have deposited their historical archives in regional libraries or museums. Most of the records are still housed in regional association offices and indeed in the storerooms and cupboards of individual kindergartens. Some records have been catalogued; others remain unsorted in boxes and in cupboards.


The story of kindergarten associations and their kindergartens have been documented in NZFKU publications. These list the year kindergartens were established and in some cases tell the story of how the community work together to raise the funds to build a kindergarten in their community. These publications are Kindergartens in New Zealand 1889-1975 and Seventy Five years of Free Kindergarten in New Zealand 1889-1964.

Building a national organisation


The New Zealand Free Kindergarten Union Incorporated (NZFKU - the Union) was established in 1926 to co-ordinate the work of the five Free Kindergarten Associations then in operation: Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Auckland and Invercargill.



The idea of an umbrella organisation for kindergartens was initiated at a 1912 conference held in Dunedin and attended by delegates from the four city associations. In 1913 the New Zealand Free Kindergarten Union NZFKU, was formed but the outbreak of World War One in 1914 delayed formal development of the organisation until 1920 when a second conference was held in Wellington. The NZFKU was finally constituted in 1926 and the five association delegates agreed that membership would be open to all associations in receipt of the Government capitation grant and that national conferences would be held biannually. In 1939 The Union was officially recognised by the Government as representing the associations’ views regarding policy. The negotiating and advocacy role of the Union significantly expanded after 1948 when the Department of Education established the first Supervisor of Pre-school Services and later Pre-school Officers (later Advisers) whose task was to regulate and co-ordinate the expansion of kindergartens as an education service across the regions.


While each association was initially constituted to operate a single kindergarten, in time associations expanded to operate a few, and in some city locations many kindergartens. By the 1970s there were 75 associations affiliated to the NZFKU.  Since that time the number of affiliated associations have more than halved mostly as a result of smaller associations merging to become larger regional entities. In the post 1990 era a few associations severed their affiliation with some subsequently to re-affiliate. In current times four North Island associations are members of Early Childhood Leadership (ECL) and the Gisborne association operates independently. ECL work with NZK on significant issues relating to the kindergarten movement and work as a group independently on matters of mutual interest to those associations.


From the start the Union took a leading role in the co-ordination of kindergarten training across the regional associations. Until 1973, four city associations operated a kindergarten training programme. The Union also had a key role in instigating funding negotiations with respective governments. In the post 1946 era the Union was much engaged in working with the Department to improve standards in relation to kindergarten programmes, buildings, equipment, staffing and qualifications.


In 1994 The NZFKU changed its name to New Zealand Free Kindergarten Associations Inc. (NZFKA). The name changed again in 2004 to New Zealand Kindergartens Incorporated - Te Pūtahi Kura Puhou o Aotearoa (NZK).  


Further information:


Hughes, B. (1989) Flags and building blocks, formality and fun. One hundred years of free kindergarten in New Zealand, NZFKU, Wellington.


Lockhart, P (1975) Kindergartens in New Zealand 1889 – 1975, NZFKU, Dunedin.


Conference speeches

1960 Helen Downer, President (PDF 564KB)

1962 Helen Downer, President(PDF 755KB)

1963 Helen Downer, President's opening remarks (PDF 2.8MB)

1964 Helen Downer, President's opening remarks (PDF  2.5MB)

1965 Helen Downer, President's opening remarks (PDF 651KB)

1966 Laura Ingram, President (PDF 1.6MB)

1967 Laura Ingram, President (PDF 540KB)

1969 Mr S Breach, District Senior Inspector Schools, Otago (PDF 2.7MB)

1970 Laura Ingram, President (PDF 571KB)

1972 George Gair, Minister of Education  (PDF 814KB)

1972 Hugh Pickering, Minister of Education (PDF 1.3MB)

1972 Laura Ingram, President (PDF 613KB)

1973 Phil Amos, Minister of Education (PDF 1.5MB )

1977 Les Gander, Minister of Education (PDF 3.3MB)

1980 Lynne Bruce, speech to NZFKU conference (PDF 476KB)

1984 Russell Marshall, Minister of Education (PDF 2.1MB)

1985 Russell Marshall, Minister of Education (PDF 1.7MB)

1985 Val Burns, Director of ECE Department of Education (PDF 1.7KB)

1986 Russell Marshall, Minister of Education (PDF 877KB)

1986 Patricia Scully, President (PDF 198KB)

1988 Phil Goff, Minister of Education (PDF 4.1MB)

1991 Clare Wells Address to the NZFKU Annual Conference (PDF 187KB)

1997 Brian Donnelly, Assoc. Minister of Education (PDF 755KB)

1997 Howard Fancy, Secretary for Education (PDF 999KB)


4 October 1955 NZFKU conference, Christchurch Star Times (JPG 6.2MB)

17 September 1957 NZFKU Conference, NZ Herald Tribune (PDF 2.5MB)

4 October 1961 Kindergarten consolidation, Christchurch Press (PDF 427KB)

1962 Plea to keep NZ Kindergarten's free, NZFKU conference, Wanganui (PDF 1.1MB)

3 October 1963 Helen Downer, Rotorua Post (PDF 988KB)

23 October 1963 NZFKU Conference, Nelson Mail (PDF 251KB)

1963 Kindergarten can help Maoris, Napier Kindergarten Association scrapbook

24 September 1965 NZFKU conference, New Plymouth, Taranaki News (PDF 1.0MB)

28 September 1966 Kindergartens should amalgamate, Westport conference report (PDF 322KB)

28 September 1966 NZFKU conference, Westport Times (PDF 442KB)

28 August 1968 Maori element, Marlborough Express (JPG 3.5MB)

24 October 1969 Flexibility needed in Kindergartens Southland, Southland Times (JPG 2.1MB)

25 October 1969 Māori children need kindergarten, Southland Times (JPG 2.5MB)

4 October 1973 NZFKU conference, Timaru Herald (PDF 966KB)


1935 NZFKU badge, presented to Nancy Arthur (JPG 100KB)

1968 NZFKU conference cartoon (JPG 1.0MB)

1973 Kindergarten week (PDF 2.3MB)


1962 Moira Gallagher, 1962 Conference (PDF 1.7MB)

1964 Phyliss Varcoe, report to NZFKU 1964 conference (PDF 4.1MB)

1964 Isobel Christison, 1964 conference (PDF 130KB)

1965 Isobel Christison, 1965 conference (PDF 1.2MB)

1967 Report on speech by Isobel Christison, 1967 Conference (PDF 919KB)

1967  Isobel Christison, 1967 conference (PDF 1.3MB)

25 September 1969 Miss Christison and Miss Ingram, Southland Times (JPG 2.2MB)

December 1970 Helen Downer, NZ Women's Weekly (PDF 468KB)

1972 Isobel Christison, 1972 conference (PDF 877KB)

Bernice Lindegren (DOC 135KB)

Life members

NZFKU -NZK Life membership recipients (DOC 15KB)

NZFKU-NZK Hon. Life Member citations (DOC 73KB)


Presidents of New Zealand Kindergartens (DOC 39KB)


1926 NZFKU conference, Wellington (JPG 2.7B)

1930 NZFKU Conference, Wellington (JPG 58KB)

1934-36 NZFKU Evening Post  (PDF 545KB)

1955 NZFKU Conference (JPG 4.4MB)

1962 NZFKU Conference, Wanganui (JPG 188KB)

c. mid 1960's NZFKU conference, (JPG 189KB)

1965 NZFKU Conference, New Plymouth (PDF 707KB)

1966 NZFKU Conference, Westport (PDF 607KB)

c. late 1960's NZFKU Conference, (JPG 440KB)

1969 NZFKU Conference, Invercargill (JPG 2.8MB)

24 September 1969 NZFKU Executive, Southland Times (JPG 3.6MB)

1974 NZFKU Conference, Lower Hutt  (JPG 4.1MB)

1975 NZFKU Conference, Christchurch (JPG 199KB)

1976 NZFKU 50th Anniversary - Cake from Kaikohe Free Kindergarten (JPG 178KB)

1976 NZFKU 50th Jubilee, Kaikohe (JPG 1.1MB)

c. late 1970's NZFKU conference (JPG 166KB)

1985 NZFKU Executive (JPG 161KB)

2015 NZKI Conference,  Whanganui (JPG 335KB)

NZFKU undated Conference, Dunedin (JPG 291KB)


Method of Establishing a Free Kindergarten c. 1930s NZFKU (PDF 602KB)

Kindergarten Handbook (1956) New Zealand Free Kindergarten Union (Inc) (13.9MB)

Kindergarten teaching as a career (1960) NZFKU (PDF 1.1MB)

Seventy Five years of Free Kindergarten in New Zealand 1889-1964 (June 1964) Downer, H., NZFKU, NZ (4.6MB)

The Free Kindergarten Movement in New Zealand (1970) Simpson, Myrtle for the NZFKU (pdf 17.7MB)

Kindergarten Handbook (1972). New Zealand Free Kindergarten Union (Inc) (9.4MB)

Kindergartens in New Zealand 1889-1975 (March 1975) Lockhart, P.M., Varcoe, P.M., Ryan, M. (28.5MB)

Standard By-Laws for Associations (Reprinted with amendments January 1978) NZFKU (1.2MB)

Free Kindergarten and Your Child (1983) NZ Free Kindergarten Union (4.6MB) 

Kindergarten in the community. A discussion booklet  (1986) NZFKU, February (2.3MB)

Flags and Building Blocks, Formality and Fun - one hundred years of free kindergarten in New Zealand (1989)(2.3MB)

Kindergarten - A great place to start (1994) NZ Free Kindergarten Association Inc (3.0MB)

Come let us live with our children WFKA (PDF 13.8MB)


1956-57 NZFKU executive report (PDF 1.7MB)

1957-58 NZFKU executive report (PDF 679KB)

1958-59 NZFKU executive report (PDF 591KB)

1960-61 NZFKU executive report (PDF 2.3MB)

1962-63 NZFKU executive report (PDF 2.0MB)

1963-64 NZFKU executive report (PDF 1.7MB)

1964-65 NZFKU executive report (PDF 2.0MB)

1965-66 NZFKU executive report (PDF 2.1MB)

1966-67 NZFKU executive report (PDF 2.0MB)

1968-69 NZFKU executive report (PDF 1.2MB)

1969-70 NZFKU executive report (PDF 1.2MB)

1971-72 NZFKU executive report (PDF 3.3MB)

1972-73 NZFKU executive report (PDF 760KB)


1962 Mary Pattrick (Purdy) Report to NZFKU on 1962 OMEP Congress - London (PDF 1.9MB)

1997 NZFKA President's Annual Report (PDF 193KB)

Report of the president Mrs A Keith Hadfield on her visit to South Island Kindergartens (PDF 617KB)



Kindergarten Education newsletters

NZFKU Newsletters