New Zealand Kindergartens inc

Kindergartens – first choice early childhood education service.

History of kindergartens in Aotearoa

The Free Kindergarten movement in New Zealand had its beginnings in Dunedin in 1889. It had its origins in a thought. The Rev Rutherford Waddell, passing up and down Walker Street, ‘longed in some way to help the waifs and strays who played in somewhat unsanitary conditions in that neighbourhood’.

Learmonth Dalrymple, who had helped to establish Otago Girl’s High School, was interested in the education of young children and published a pamphlet in 1879 suggesting that at three years old children should be taught in schools based on the ideas of German educationalist Friedrich Frobel. Mark Cohen, editor of the Dunedin Star, had contact with a flourishing kindergarten in San Francisco and hoped to see a kindergarten established in Dunedin.

The ideas came together at a public meeting on 4 March 1889 in the Dunedin Town Hall as a result of which the Dunedin Association was formed in May that year. Rachel Reynolds, ‘a woman of good social position and the mother of nine children’ was elected president and Lavinia Kelsey, the secretary.

The first kindergarten was opened on 10 June 1889 in the Walker Street Mission Hall. It was attached to St Andrew’s Church where Rev Waddell was minister. There were 14 children attending to start with reaching 60 by the end of the year.

In 1905 Mary Richmond began rousing interest in Wellington, and the first free kindergarten opened there in 1906. Two years later, Auckland formed an association to train students and establish free kindergartens. Christchurch followed in 1911.

Due to Miss Richmond’s efforts the government agreed, in 1909, to recognise free kindergartens, inspect them and to all recognised kindergartens, give a capitation grant of two pounds based on average attendance, provided an equal sum of money was raised locally.

At a meeting in Dunedin in 1912, attended by delegates from the four main centres, a move was made to form a national organisation. Subsequently, in 1913 a New Zealand Free Kindergarten Union (NZFKU) was formed but, with the outbreak of war, did not meet again until 1920.

While all four associations (Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington & Auckland) had set up their own training centres, awarding diplomas to those students who had satisfactorily passed the two year course, all kindergarten members were united in a desire to train teachers and at the same time obtain some sort of uniformity. The NZFKU was seen as the best way to attain that goal and, in 1926 it was reconstituted by representatives from the four main centres and Invercargill. A constitution was drawn up and it was decided membership should be open to all free kindergarten associations who were in receipt of a government capitation grant; that meetings be held bi-annually and refresher courses for training centre principals be held in alternate years.

The government withdrew its capitation grant during the depression, but restored it in 1935 and increased it to four pounds per child in 1936, five pounds per child in 1943, plus introduced a one pound for one pound subsidy on buildings and initial equipment.

In 1945, 100 grants of 70 pounds per annum were made available for students in training, and in 1946 the first Supervisor of Pre-School Services was appointed. In 1977 this position became known as Officer for Pre-School Education and the first Director of Early Childhood Education was appointed.

In 1948 the government accepted responsibility for all kindergarten teachers’ salaries. By then there were 19 Associations with 72 recognised free kindergartens. The following year government subsidies rose to two pounds for one pound. By 1956 there were 55 associations operating 175 kindergartens and by 1961 there were 61 associations operating 205 kindergartens.In 1965, school certificate became the minimum qualification for student training. There were 66 Associations with 270 kindergartens.

In 1973, when the Minister of Education opened the NZFKU Annual General Meeting, he announced that all kindergarten sites would be provided free to associations by the government, and the building subsidy would be increased to four pounds for every one pound raised by the community. Regional education boards were asked to undertake planning, supervision and construction of kindergarten buildings on behalf of associations.

In 1974 an administration grant to associations was introduced at the rate of $120 per kindergarten per annum and a sessional grant to kindergarten local committees at the rate of $2 per kindergarten per session. The new building code was accepted and from 1975 all kindergarten teachers’ training was incorporated into the seven teachers’ training colleges.

By 1979 there were 67 associations administering 511 kindergartens. Sessional grants rose to $3.10 per session and administration grants to $185 per kindergarten.

By 1984 some associations had amalgamated to streamline processes, and there were then 50 associations administering 550 kindergartens.

1981 saw the implementation of release time for senior head teachers, and in 1983 the government commenced its policy to lower the child/teacher ratio.

Bulk funding for kindergartens was first proposed in Education to be More, the 1988 report of the government appointed Early Childhood Care and Education Working Group. The group suggested that all early childhood services receive a bulk grant of $3.50 per funded child hour, the existing level of funding available to free kindergartens. The rate did not incorporate the approved staffing ratio necessary to attain the standard of quality which was considered vital for effective early childhood education.

In December 1988 the Labour Government released its statement of intent for early childhood education, Before Five. Bulk funding for early childhood services would be calculated at a level yet to be determined by the government. In 1989, the then Minister of Education and Prime Minister David Lange announced significant increases in funding to services phased in over time, noting that getting the funding (Treasury agreement) was like ‘taking raw meat from the jaws of a rottweiler.’

In October 1990 the National Government came to power and on 19 December 1990 released their Economic & Social Initiative Package which set the parameters of government involvement in early childhood education and ‘pulled back’ on a number of the policy changes proposed in Before Five.

In the Budget the following year, funding for under two year olds was halved and further increases in early childhood payments. In December 1991, kindergarten representatives were advised that there would be a two year transitional period moving to the national average funding rate of $2.86 per child per funded hour.

Associations received their first bulk funding payment, inclusive of all funding except for senior teachers’ salaries, in March 1992. Until November 1992 associations employing senior teachers received the funding for their salaries directly. From 1 November 1992 all kindergarten expenditure, including senior teachers’ salaries, was incorporated in each association’s bulk funding rate.

Bulk funding and the introduction of the Employment Contracts Act 1991, were the primary causes for four associations to withdraw from the NZFKU at the end of 1991. Three of the associations - Wellington, Central North Island, and Waikato - formed the New Zealand Federation of Free Kindergartens (NZFFK). Auckland Kindergarten Association remained independent of a national organisation.

In February 2004 Wellington Association rejoined New Zealand Kindergartens Inc. Today, Auckland, Waikato, Central North Island and Franklin kindergarten associations are members of ‘Early Childhood Leadership’ representing just over 200 kindergartens – around a third nationally.
In 1994 the New Zealand Free Kindergarten Union Inc changed its name to New Zealand Free Kindergarten Associations Inc (NZFKA), after encountering some discomfort to the word ‘union’ in the name, when trying to attract corporate sponsorship. The name was changed again in 2004 to New Zealand Kindergartens Incorporated Te Pūtahi Kura Pūhou o Aotearoa.

Sources of information

Hughes, B. (1989) Flags and building blocks, formality and fun. One hundred years of free kindergarten in New Zealand. Commissioned by the NZFKU. Wellington.
Lockhart, P (1975) Kindergartens in New Zealand 1889 – 1975. Commissioned by the NZFKU. Dunedin.

NZFKU (1993) Bulk Funding Education Campaign – Information Package for Associations. Wellington.

Historical Publications

Flags and Building Blocks, Formality and Fun - one hundred years of free kindergarten in New Zealand Flags and Building Blocks, Formality and Fun - one hundred years of free kindergarten in New Zealand (2263 KB)

Kindergartens in New Zealand 1889-1975 Kindergartens in New Zealand 1889-1975 (5854 KB)

Seventy Five years of Free Kindergarten in New Zealand 1889-1964. (June 1964). Downer, H., NZFKU, NZ Seventy Five years of Free Kindergarten in New Zealand 1889-1964. (June 1964). Downer, H., NZFKU, NZ (4656 KB)



New Zealand Kindergartens Inc

Level 1, 32 The Terrace,
P.O. Box 3058, Wellington
Phone: 04 471-0775

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