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NZ's National Early Childhood Curriculum: Te Whāriki


Te Whāriki is New Zealand's (first) national curriculum policy statement, released in 1996, it is "a framework for providing tamariki/children's early learning and development within a sociocultural context. It emphasises the learning partnership between kaiako/teachers, parents, and whānau/families. Kaiako/teachers weave an holistic curriculum in response to tamariki/children's learning and development in the early childhood setting and the wider context of the child's world." (MinEdu)

The curriculum is founded on the following aspirations: for young children "to grow up as competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body, and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society."

The purpose of the curriculum is to provide a consistent vision or framework for all ECE services in New Zealand. The document takes into account the future (how it may evolve), as well as how it can be applied to a range of different ECE settings and cultures. As it says on page 10: 'The document is divided into four sections. It is important, however, that is it read and used as an integrated whole. The principles, strands, and goals are common to all early childhood services. The ways in which they are put into practice, however, may differ from service to service'.

Also, important to the understanding of the curriculum is that both the English and Maori texts are meant to be read together - they parallel and complement each other, thus providing a basis for bicultural early childhood education in New Zealand.

The curriculum is envisaged as a whāriki, or mat, woven from the principles, strands and goals, which once again recognise the wide variety of services within New Zealand - in terms of their programmes, philosophies, structures, and environments, which will contribute to the distinctive or unique patterns of the whāriki.

For example:

- cultural perspectives, such as in kòhanga reo or various Pacific Islands early childhood centres;
- structural differences, such as in sessional or full-day programmes;
- organisational differences, such as in kindergartens or child care centres;
- different environments, such as in home- based or centre-based programmes;
- philosophical emphases, such as in Playcentre, Montessori, or Rudolf Steiner programmes;
- different resources which are available in urban and rural settings;
- the ways in which the local community participates;
- the age range of children in the programme.

The Principles

Empowerment/Whakamana: The early childhood curriculum empowers the child to learn and grow/Mà te whàriki o te kòhanga reo e whakatò te kaha ki roto i te mokopuna, ki te ako, kia pakari ai tana tipu.

Holistic Development/Kotahitanga: The early childhood curriculum reflects the holistic way children learn and grow/Mà te whàriki o te kòhanga reo e whakaata te kotahitanga o ngà whakahaere katoa mò te ako a te mokopuna, mò te tipu o te mokopuna.

Family and Community/Whànau Tangata: The wider world of family and community is an integral part of the early childhood curriculum/Me whiri mai te whànau, te hapù, te iwi, me tauiwi, me ò ràtou wàhi nohonga, ki roto i te whàriki o te kòhanga reo, hei àwhina, hei tautoko i te akoranga, i te whakatipuranga o te mokopuna.

Relationships/Ngà Hononga: Children learn through responsive and reciprocal relationships with people, places, and things. Mà roto i ngà piringa, i ngà whakahaere i waenganui o te mokopuna me te katoa, e whakatò te kaha ki roto i te mokopuna ki te ako.

Strands and Goals

These arise from the principles and are essential areas of learning and development. Each strand has several goals.

Strand 1: Well-being – Mana Atua
The health and well-being of the child are protected and nurtured.
Children experience an environment where:
- their health is promoted;
- their emotional well-being is nurtured;
- they are kept safe from harm.

Strand 2: Belonging – Mana Whenua
Children and their families feel a sense of belonging.
- connecting links with the family and the wider world are affirmed and extended;
- they know that they have a place;
- they feel comfortable with the routines, customs, and regular events;
- they know the limits and boundaries of acceptable behaviour.

Strand 3: Contribution – Mana Tangata
Opportunities for learning are equitable, and each child’s contribution is valued.
Children experience an environment where:
- there are equitable opportunities for learning, irrespective of gender, ability, age, ethnicity, or background;
- they are affirmed as individuals;
- they are encouraged to learn with and alongside others.

Strand 4: Communication – Mana Reo
The languages and symbols of their own and other cultures are promoted and protected.
Children experience an environment where:
- they develop non-verbal communication skills for a range of purposes;
- they develop verbal communication skills for a range of purposes;
- they experience the stories and symbols of their own and other cultures;
- they discover and develop different ways to be creative and expressive.

Strand 5: Exploration – Mana Aotùroa
The child learns through active exploration of the environment.
Children experience an environment where:
- their play is valued as meaningful learning and the importance of spontaneous play is recognised;
- they gain confidence in and control of their bodies;
- they learn strategies for active exploration, thinking, and reasoning;
- they develop working theories for making sense of the natural, social, physical, and material worlds.

Via the Ministry of Education.

For a slideshow that explains each of the strands and principles, see the video slideshow:

What the New Zealand Ministry of Education says about the architecture of early childhood education


The Ministry of Education is the Government's lead advisor for the New Zealand's education system. It is where you can find out about budget initiatives, consultation, education initiatives, policies and strategies and where you can browse or download strategic publications, annual reports etc.

The Early Childhood Education section is divided into two sections: ECE Lead, which provides information about leading, managing and administering early childhood education services; and ECE Educate, which provides information on how to ensure quality teaching and learning.

The section Premises and Facilities (ECE Lead - Centre-based Services - Premises and Facilities) is the closest to dealing with the architetcural qulaity of ECE centres.

It quotes: 'to use premises and facilities that...provide sufficient and suitable space for a range of activities, facilities for food preparation, eating, sleeping, storage, toileting, and washing, and sufficient and suitable heating, lighting, noise control, ventilation, and equipment to support ...appropriate curriculum implementation by the service provider; and safe and healthy practices by the service provider; and to comply with the requirements of Schedule 4 (which relates to activity spaces).'

Each licensed service provider to whom this regulation applies must comply with the premises and facilities standard: general." ('General' criteria can be found here.)

Other links on this page include: new services, general, food preparation and eating spaces, toilet and handwashing facilities, other sanitary facilities, and sleep.

Under 'General' can be found the following criteria and guidelines:

New Services - Design and Layout of Premises:

As quoted from MinEdu:


The design and layout of the premises should:

'support the provision of different types of indoor and outdoor experiences; and include quiet spaces, areas for physically active play, and space for a range of individual and group learning experiences appropriate to the number, ages, and abilities of children attending.'

'Existing services are exempt from complying with this criterion until 30 November 2020 or any earlier date prescribed by the Minister.'

The rationale describes the criteria as aiming 'to uphold a minimum level of quality education by ensuring that children have access to an environment that is 'fit for purpose' - that is, can support a range of activities.'


New centres need to be designed and laid out so that the physical environment does not hinder the way the curriculum can be provided. Activity spaces need to be configured to allow for a range of learning experiences, as well as meeting the minimum space per child requirement…

Does not hinder? Should the physical environment not be designed to fully support the curriclum's philosophy?


Aerial view of early childhood centre layout.

Different spaces within the early childhood centre.

Layout showing inside/outside space.

This section (New Services - Design and Layout of Premises) is certainly very basic and does not go into great detail or depth of how important the environment is for children's learning experiences and well-being.

The above example images show a typical New Zealand ECE centre, which encompasses all of the 'requirements' - activity spaces etc….

It does not however touch on the architetcural qualities of the centre…(such as light, thermal quality, ventilation, materiality)

Another section under ECE Lead is Establishing a centre-based service - Designing and building your service.

This gives advice on 'choosing your site' , resource consent and 'design steps' which encourages developing a design in collaboration with an architect, teachers, community and local Ministry of Education office.

The Design Steps include:

1. The following resources -

The Design and Build Scheme with Signature Homes, with examples shown above from the Signature Homes website, which offers early childhood providors a packaged design from a catalogue, which can be modified to their particular needs. The Centre Design Guide, which offers advice on creating various "activity areas" such as bathrooms, storage, sandpits etc. Renovating an existing building or building a new service, which offers a checklist of things to consider such as shaded areas, road access etc.

2. Contact regional Health Protection Officer (HPO) and discuss building plans.

3. Ensure plans comply with the Building Regulations 2004, as well as the Early Childhood Services Regulations 2008. The Ministry of Education's licensing assessment tool for centre-based ECE Services is also available for use.

4. Contact local Ministry of Education office for feedback.

They also include articles, books and dvd's such as Mark Dudek's 'Kindergarten Architecture'. For full list see here.

Overall, the Ministry of Education website focuses on facilities that support activities and the curriculum, as well as health and safety. It does not inspire architetcurally designed creative and inspiring, well-designed and thought out architetcural spaces that support the child's entire well-being or hauora (social, physical, mental and spiritual).

The site is also fairly confusing, as I had difficulty locating where I might find mention of architecture. On a positive note the links to resources that might guide the design process (including the book: 'Kindergarten Architecture') is very useful.

Perhaps guidance can be improved with providing case studies that showcase the design process of centres that have been successfully designed by an architect in collaboration with the community guiding future centres to be the best they can be.

'Els Colors' Nursery School, Spain by RCR Architects designed in 2002

'Els Colors' Nursery School in Barcelona, Spain is designed as a simple 'box-like' structure using steel vertical columns and concrete horizontal beams and has glazed laminated glass facades.

The simple boxy rooms are differentiated by the colours, with each 'class-room' facing onto an inner courtyard. Clean, sleek and minimalist, the colourful forms create a beautiful sculpture.

Yet whether this is an architetcure for young children I am yet to be convinced, and sympathise for whoever's job it is to clean fingerprints off the glass.

Ken Robinson advocates a learning revolution that recognises creativity

Sir Ken Robinson challenges the way we're educating children and proposes a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence.

Whilst this does not relate specifically to very young children it is interesting to consider how early childhood education can embrace children's creative talents...

Ted Talks: 'Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity', June 2006.

"Why don't we get the best out of people?"

Sir Ken Robinson argues we've been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies, far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity, are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences.

"We are educating people out of their creativity"

A visionary cultural leader, Sir Ken led the British government's 1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education, a massive inquiry into the significance of creativity in the educational system and the economy, and was knighted in 2003 for his achievements. His latest book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, a deep look at human creativity and education, was published in January 2009.

In 2010, (four years later) Robinson presented an inspiring and humerous follow-up to his 2006 presentation, called 'Bring on the learning revolution!'. He picks up where he left the last talk, referencing Al Gore's 'Climate Crisis' and says there is a second crisis, that demands equal urgency - "a crisis of human resources", that we "make poor use of our talents".

Robinson makes a compelling case for re-evaluating "a revolution" of our education systems to cater for all our talents.

the cool hunter

The Cool Hunter, is one of the most-read culture and design sites that celebrates creativity, it is a hub for what's cool, thoughtful, innovative and original, valuing global relevance, not trends.

Its aim is to cater for "creative influencers who stay in the know and ahead of the curve. Global in outlook, culturally discerning, The Cool Hunter readers are connected, creatively aware, confident, stylish and sociable. They value architecture, design, style, music, fashion and entertainment. They work, play and travel internationally and bring with them distinguished tastes and a demanding appetite for quality information."
Celebrating the beautiful and enduring from architecture, design, gadgets, lifestyle, urban living, fashion, travel and pop culture. The Cool Hunter is not a trend-spotter, trend-watcher or trend predictor, but aims to be ahead of and outside of trends and fads.

The Cool Hunter also has a whole category dedicated to 'kids'.

A post by Cool Hunter writer Tuija Seipell - Reinventing Kids' Spaces/Playgrounds provides a montage overlaod of beautiful, bright and interesting 'kids' spaces'. Offering inspiration to design fun and playful spaces for(?) kids.

"Kids have boundless imaginations. No matter how poor, colourless and toyless their environment, they’ll find a way to play. They will play with stones, twigs, grass and water, and they will play with each other. They’ll think up ways of turning mundane items into creations that have all the life of the latest computer game."

"...what our urban kids have available to them, is excessively abundant. They have daycare and play spaces, parks, playgrounds, even yards. Yet, when we look at the basic play environments in our communities, there’s no denying that they are sadly short of what they could be. With some colour, imagination, labour and resources, they could all be so much better."

"We spend millions annually on "adult playgrounds" — stadiums, concert halls, bars, restaurants. We spend billions advertising and promoting them. Why is it that we do not seem to want to dedicate the necessary resources to give our children the best we can offer?"

"Every dedicated kids’ arts organization will be able to point you to reams of research reports that show that early access to arts and arts education aids children in all aspects of their lives later on. They will build self-confidence; discover their abilities, skills and talents; and in the best of circumstances, they will grow to be fantastic contributors in their communities. Yet another reason to make sure our kids live and play in environments that are rich in creativity, arts and inspiration."

"If this generation of children is going to be responsible for solving the problems of a world where children are still too hungry to play at all, then we should be paying closer attention. We should be giving our kids — regardless of their resources — all the support and inspiration we can."

Seipell makes a compelling argument to spend more creative time and energy in improving children's 'play-scapes' and spaces. However, like much displayed on the Cool Hunter website, many of the images are just that - inspiration, and do not delve into deeper issues, theories or research and often do not provide references of the artist, designer etc.

It is exciting to see this surge in new designs for young children, yet I can't help but wonder if they are designed with what children want in mind, or if they are designed with our conception of what we think children want in mind...

Open-air schools in Europe

The open air schools were established when tuberculosis was largely present, which affected people living in unhygienic conditions or poor housing. Doctors advocated patient hygiene and improvement in living conditions with fresh air. David Sarson in 1907 advocated designing new 'hygenic architecture' - to let in great masses of air and light. This open-air concept affected the architecture of schools.

The open-air school was born in Berlin, Germany in the 1890s. The first 'cure station' was for men and was built in 1900 in a pine forest near a railway station. Its immediate success led to many more being established in Germany.

Hermann Neufert an education councillor and Bernhard Bendix a school physician were both convinced that the brisk air of the nearby Grunewald forests would be good for weak children and thought that the open-air 'cure-station' would be a good model to follow.

The Charlottenburg Waldschule in Germany (1904)

Waldschule, Charlottenburg, Germany; Walter Spickendorff, architect, 1904, site plan. Photograph obtained from 'Designing Modern Childhoods', p.109.

Waldschule, Charlottenburg, Germany. Classroom and dining sheds. Photograph obtained from 'Designing Modern Childhoods', p.110.

The Waldschule (forest school) opened in 1904 and was designed by Walter Spickendorff. His aim was to maintain visibility for surveillance, to retain the irregular form of the existing landscape and the tall pines and to provide maximum exposure to the sun.

He created a slight hollow in the middle of the plot, which constituted the heart of the school, a space with plants and shelter, surrounded by activity areas, overlooked by the rest galleries, classrooms, kitchen and toilets.

On the children's submission a doctor examined them. At the end of their stay, most had improved markedly. The school grew quickly, requiring an extra classroom, and an 'air and sun bathing area' was installed - a mound of earth and a 2-metre high fence surrounding, where the children came to lie in the sand and soak up the sun. There were also gardens where children were offered plots to cultivate.

It was an innovative educational experiment. Lange, the school principal stressed the modernity of the approach with its emphasis on direct observation, rather than "indirect" studies of stuffed animals and dried plants. Teachers were asked to adapt their methods and "tone" of teaching, replacing irony and sarcasm with encouragement. The design of the school, whilst simple, was a foretaste of things to come. With its location out of the city centre, the size and nature of plot (more space), and no boundaries (except for the plot itself).

The experiment was encouraged by the Prussian government and was publicised at international conferences, as a result many open-air schools were established all over Europe.

The Birmingham Open-Air School (1911)

The first open-air schools were modest constructions, temporary cabins set up on an available plot, and simple in design. Yet, soon began to attract attention and investment in designing permanent open-air schools. The challenge was to build a protective envelope whilst making it as immaterial as possible.

Uffculme Open-Air School, Birmingham, Great Britain, site plan; Barry Peacock, architect, 1911. Drawing obtained from  'Designing Modern Childhoods', p.114.

Uffculme Open-Air School, Birmingham, Great Britain, classroom. Photograph obtained from  'Designing Modern Childhoods', p.114.

One of the first permanent designs was in Birmingham, England. Designed by F. Barry Peacock and Bewlay. It was instigated by Barrow and Geraldine Cadbury, the famous chocolate family because their son had contracted tuberculosis. In 1910, they offered a site and to pay for the construction and the Birmingham Education Committee funded the new open-air school.

The school (like Waldschule) was sited in the suburbs and was made up of classrooms, service rooms, and an open gallery, however, it was not in a forest and the buildings were not cabins. Three square, wood and brick villas, which opened on three sides by means of folding glass doors and topped by a pavilion roof. Only on the northern side was there a solid brick wall, where the blackboard was hung.

"Geraldine Cadbury is credited with the ingenious idea of the central heating system whereby underfloor hot water pipes ran around the sides of the classroom beneath a grille; the theory being that the cold air entering the room would be tempered by the rising heat."

The building represented an inventive and tailored response in light of the limited financial resources.

Open-Air School in Amsterdam: 'for healthy children', 1930

The most radical in terms of density and openness was the open-air school in Amsterdam by the architect Jan Duiker.

Open-Air School for Healthy Children, Cliostraat, Amsterdam, Holland. Jan Duiker, architect, 1930. Photograph obtained from  'Designing Modern Childhoods', p.118.

Designed for children in good health, it was intended to extend the educational benefits to all school children and was to be built in the city on a 2000 square meter plot in the middle of a housing block. Duiker responded to the challenge by designing the classrooms in pairs, with a terrace between for open-air activities. They were superimposed on one another to create three floors, with the blackboard in a corner recess. The concrete construction eradicated the need for bulky weight-bearing corner columns, all four sides had long continuous strips of windows, and heating was filtered through the ceiling.

The Suresnes Open-Air School (1931-1935)


Metaphorical, organic, late modernist and modular international examples of ECE

Since the 1980s there has been a growing recognition that the architecture of early learning and care is not exclusively for care or for education, and a new synthetic building typology is emerging, exhibiting diverse theoretical approaches.

Dudek states 'there are four distinct types' (2000):


Christoph Mackler designed one of the Frankfurt "Kita' day care centres, and stated that 'there is no such thing as architecture for children'. In his design there are no 'child oriented details'. He adopts the metaphor of the building as a small town, where a series of classrooms are arranged either side of a central corridor like terraced houses, with the corridor as the street.

An extreme and clear example of the use of metaphor is the 'sinking boat' Luginsland Kindergarten, Stuttgart by Behnisch and Partner architects, leaving little room for individual interpretation.

Dudek in 'Kindergarten Architecture' makes the point that the standard furniture used does not fit with the fantastical scheme, and "does one wish to live in a fantasy? After all Disneyland is a once in a lifetime experience, to visit it every week may transform the experience into something banal."


Architectural historian Nikolaus Munster says Mackler's Sossenheim 'Kita' takes children seriously, viewing them as 'small adults'. Yet some critics disagree saying the use of metaphor is patronising and attempts to create a synthetic 'Disneyesque' world, which avoids reality.

The Heddernheim-Nord 'Kita' in Frankfurt by Viennese painter Friedensreich Hundertwasser uses metaphor but is also expressionistic, 'a kind of fairytale castle whose onion domes and cosy corners make it seem very playful' (Munster). For Hundertwasser, children's architecture should reconcile the imagination of the child with expressive images, almost like a baroque stage set, using very literal metaphors and narratives as an alternative way of structuring the architecture.

Hundertwasser also attempts to reconcile the relationship between man and nature, with the architecture subsumed into the land, the roof a growing sediment of the landscape with trees and grass. "It's high time we did the opposite for once and went underground. To have the earth above our heads in no way means dwelling in dark caves or damp cellars...for it is our duty to restore the nature we destroy".

Christopher Day's kindergarten for Nant-y-Cwm Steiner School attempts to infuse the Steiner philosophy into architecture, believing that the environment has a positive influence on how children behave:

"The quality of their surroundings affects their play. Fast moving, loud and over-stimulating or dreamy, gentle magical environments induce different responses. Not only do children play differently in a street, beneath a motor-way or in a woodland glade, but also in rooms of different qualities. They also play differently with  inflexibly formed and simply experienced solids, and fluid materials such as water, sand or clay. Elusively formed and coloured, textured and so on, things like tree roots, soft dolls and cloth, support their vivid powers of imagination, whereas harder, harsher, unambiguous ones, such as brightly coloured 'play' cubes depress, although they rarely completely suppress it."

The buildings form imitates nature, the walls tapering out towards their bases, seemingly moulding the building into the earth. Softly curving walls welcome and encourage movement around the building encouraging exploration. His approach of harmony with the environment is what he believes will transform the inner state of being with the children.


Compare the organic approach with the Greisham-Sud 'kita' by Bolles/Wilson & Partner:

Caption reads: The building's face is a long, gently curved wall that might suggest a whale. The windows are playful in shape and composition, including one that marks the building as a Kindergarten with a large 'K'. Other light hearted details include a swooping leader pipe and a duck-lile roof-top monitor that can be appreciated from the roof terrace. The interior's generous corridors are punctuated by built-in furnishings and pools of natural light.

 Peter Wilson explains his approach as being about the building as a 'frame', that is 'neutral, without narrative content' and the 'adjacency a second order of event, a specific and localised event.' Thus, the playful, child-related details are placed within this frame.

The architecture is reminiscent of the modern, yet has architectural details which appeal to children "and lighten the earnest pretensions of much modern architecture" (Dudek, 2000).

This centre ('kita') in Eckenheim designed by Toyo Ito is built into the earth on its entrance side. The berm rests on a curved retaining wall and is pierced by a seemingly narrow entrance passage. Inside, the space is open and playful. The classrooms are lined up against retaining wall and open onto a bright wide hall, which in turn opens onto a playground. The bathrooms are designed in form and colour to suggest flowers within the playground.


During the 1950s, Jean Prouve designed prefabricated building elements and structure in France in order to satisfy tge need for rapidly expanding schools during the post-war years.

His thesis was that school buildings should reflect the times, rather than historical forms.

His few school buildings were made with robust cantilevered frames and infilled planar steel frame windows. Despite their advanced design, however, they were condemned as temporary buildings within 15 years of completion.

One of the earliest examples of modular early childhood centres was the Danish Forest Kindergarten (above), designed by Helle Grangaard for Kompan in Denamrk. Developed to travel around the country to provide children with activities and experiences in the outdoors.

Modular designs have a number of benefits, providing quick and easy construction that is often cheaper than building a traditional building. However, the term 'prefabricated' or 'modular' are often thought of as cheap and unimaginative.

However, this is beginning to change. Prefabricated buildings' benefits (cost and construction) are now seen to outweigh the negatives. Architects are now coming up with some beautifully crafted modular options.

And this is extending also to the architecture of early childhood education and care.

See blog post about Sure Start's new prefabricated building in Mitcham, and a kindergarten in slovenia that utilises the trusty shipping container.

Early childhood education (ECE) Services in NZ

By 1940 childhood was internationally recognised as a distinct stage in human development. A child's value to the family was no longer seen as primarily economic. Instead, children were viewed in terms of 'emotional capital' as socially priceless. New Zealand followed overseas trends and introduced children's education initiatives in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The kindergarten movement, still outside the state system in the war period, benefited from these changes. Funded by voluntary contributions and limited government grants, by 1940 the movement needed more money to ensure a sufficient supply of teachers. In 1942 the government provided bursaries for trainees, and student numbers increased from 31 in 1941 to 72 in 1944. In the same period the number of kindergartens increased from 39 to 52.

Photograph of Joan Myrtle Wood, music teacher, educationalist, singer, and co-founder of the New Zealand Federation of Nursery Playcentres, taken between 1950-59.

The 1940s also saw the beginnings of the Playcentre movement, a less formal approach to pre-school education. Playcentres were first established in Karori, Wellington, with the support of women such as Joan Wood (above), Inge Smithells, Beatrice Beeby and Gwendolen Somerset. Other centres soon followed in Wellington, Palmerston North and Christchurch.

In 1947, additional assistance from government to both the Playcentres Association and the Free Kindergartens Association led to an expansion of pre-school education in New Zealand. (Notes from: New Zealand History Online)


The kindergarten movement in New Zealand first emerged in the form of Froebel societies, and were based on the teachings of Friedrich Froebel. The first free kindergarten was established in Dunedin in 1889. NZ kindergartens are administered through charitable associations as the philosophy is to maintain accessible, high-quality, early childhood care and education services.

Child saluting the British flag in a Dunedin kindergarten, date unknown, but is probably the first kindergarten established in 1889. Photograph obtained from the Dunedin Kindergartens website.

Children and staff of the Wellington Free Kindergarten, 1909, Taranaki Street. The group is gathered outside St Peter's Mission Hall. Photograph obtained from the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Group of children with books at a Wellington kindergarten, 1930's. Photograph obtained from the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Women and children at the Wellington Free Kindergarten, 1944, 196 Taranaki Street. This photograph dates from the time of World War II, and can be seen on the door a notice which states it is open to children of parents engaged in work of national importance. The Wellington Free Kindergarten moved from this building to 112 Tinakori Road on the 2nd of July 1960. Image obtained from The Alexander Turnbull Library.

By the 1940's it focussed on three key elements:

  • Fees would not be charged for attendance (although voluntary donations are requested and parents are expected to fundraise);
  • Kindergartens would be run by trained and qualified teachers, and supported by a professional team of senior teachers; and
  • Parental volunteers would assist in running and managing the service.

Kindergarten associations evolved independently from the government and in 1906 the government began to provide a small per child subsidy. In 1947 the Report of the Consultative Committee on Preschool Education (the Bailey Report) recommended that the state take over the operation of kindergartens, resulting in a partnership between the government and the kindergarten associations, and teacher training was then funded by the government. This led to a transition from kindergarten teaching being viewed as a charity work to one of a profession and a shift of the view that preschool education could benefit children prior to school.

NZ Kindergarten website.


Playcentre, an early childhood education and parenting organisation operates parent-led early childhood education centres throughout New Zealand and delivers the Diploma in Early Childhood and Adult Education. Playcentre is indigenous to New Zealand, but is now also established in Japan.

Their mission is stated as "Whānau Tupu Ngātahi - Families growing together."

Playcentres are co-operatively managed and supervised by parents with support from experienced Association and Federation personnel and provide sessional programmes for children birth to school age in mixed ages environments.

Eastbourne Nursery Playcentre, 1943. Image obtained from The Alexander Turnbull Library. Original caption reads: "A children's playcentre in a Wellington suburb. Several mothers got together, hired a hall, made toys and painted them, and got a trained kindergarten supervisor to mind the children. Now mothers can leave the children at the centre for one afternoon a week. In time the scheme will become more ambitious."

Outdoor playground at a playcentre in Eastbourne, 1944. Showing boys and girls playing on a slide, and a parent standing on the right. Photograph obtained the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Two children painting at easels at the Kelburn Playcentre, 1950. Photograph taken by the Evening Post, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Children at the Korokoro Playcentre, 1978. Photograph taken by the Evening Post, Alexander Turnbull Library. Original caption reads: "With a brand new building behind them, young engine-driver Michael Gore, 4, takes his passenger, Matthew Hickling, 2, for a make-believe tour of the Korokoro Playcentre grounds. The children are among fourteen tinies who moved house, lock, stock and toys from the old scout hall to the new centre in Singer's Rd, which was officially opened by the Mayor of Petone (Mr Gee) last Saturday".

The first playcentre was opened in Karori, Wellington in 1941 during World War II by a group of university- educated women, in order to assist women struggling to raise children while the men were off at war. The playcentre philosophy was “the good of the child and the good of the parents.” The organisation valued active involvement of parents alongside a child-oriented approach to education. The Playcentre philosophy emphasises the importance of child-directed learning through play, a concept that was not widely accepted in the 1940s and 1950s. Prevailing attitudes of the time were inclined towards strict, disciplinarian approaches to child rearing and a belief that real education began only once children started school. The Playcentre philosophy brings mother and child together, rather than providing a separate place for children’s education, which distinguishes it from the kindergartens.

The post-war economic and baby boom, led to the flourishing of Playcentres in new community facilities. The Playcentre movement grew into a federated organisation, established in 1948, thereby allowing regional differences and a decentralised approached to governance. However, enrolments in Playcentre have been decreasing and now comprise only nine percent of enrollments in ECE.

Playcentre website.

Early Education and Care Centres

Early education and care centres provide sessional, all- day, or flexible hour programmes for children from birth to school age. They may be privately owned, non-profit making, or operated as an adjunct to a business or organisation. The centres evolved as a necessary arrangement for children of ‘unfortunate’ mothers who had to work. These arrangements were seen as less preferable than care by mothers in the home or in kindergartens or playcentres. In the 1950s scandals of poorly cared for children in unsafe environments prompted childcare regulation in 1960. The New Zealand Childcare Association (NZCA)the Early Childhood Council emerged as a second membership organisation for centres. emerged in 1963 as a membership association that advocated for raising the reputation and quality of ECE services. In the 1990s

The number of early education and care centres increased as women entered the formal labour force in the 1960s and 70s, where working mothers needed full-day childcare arrangements, not the sessional programmes provided by kindergartens and playcentres. The number of services increased from 719 in 1990 to 1,932 in 2007, and is the fastest growing type of care in New Zealand. The number of children enrolled at these services increased by over 40 percent between 1995 and 2007, making them the largest source of enrolment at 54 percent. Data from 2007 indicate that private providers enroll the largest proportion of children over any other type of service . While early providers were community-based centres or businesses started by women, usually in their homes, there are now several chains operating in New Zealand. Kidicorp, Kindercare, ABC Learning Centres, and Forward Steps operate over 150 centres. In 2007, Kidicorp changed its auspice and is now a public charity. The ABC chain, a relative newcomer to New Zealand, is a publicly traded company listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange. Corporate chains represent less than 10 percent of centres in New Zealand, with the remainder community-based or privately-owned. Geographically, private centres are most heavily represented in the Auckland area, whereas community-based providers dominate the South Island.

Kōhanga Reo

Teaching preschooler's maori language. Photograph obtained from the New Zealand History Online website.

Te Kōhanga Reo grew out of the Māori movement to preserve New Zealand’s indigenous population’s culture and language and to honour the Treaty of Waitangi. Māori children did not historically participate in ECE to the same extent as Pākeha (European descent) children. Many Māori considered that kindergartens and playcentres did not meet their needs. Māori activist Donna Awatere stated:

"The education system is the major gate which keeps Māori out. There is an invisible sign over every kindergarten, playcentre, school and university. That sign reads, “Māoris Keep Out. For Whites’ Use Only.” White people can’t see this sign... Kindergartens are the first of the educational gates: a bastion of white power. Kindergartens have frightened Māori people off pre-school education... Māori parents won’t take their children there, not because they don’t want to, but because kindergartens, in particular, and playcentres to a lesser extent, don’t meet their needs."

Two members of Waitangi Tribunal, Chief Judge Edward Durie and Mr Paul Temm visit kohanga reo (language nursery) at Waiwhetu, Lower Hutt, 1985. Seen with them are (from left) Harehana Pupuke (5), Awhina Woods (4), Tautoko Ratu (6), Matariki Puketapu (2), Benjamin Cowan (1), and Tame Ngaheke (5). Photograph taken by the Evening Post, Alexander Turnbull Library.

The divisions between Māori and Pākeha stem from the differing language in the Treaty of Waitangi signed in 1840. The English version of the Treaty of Waitangi gave the Crown sovereignty over the land; the Māori language version however did not. A land war ensued in the 1860s and in the aftermath of the Crown’s victory, Māori land was confiscated. From that point forward, Māori became a largely landless population. By the 1960s Māori culture and language were disappearing as Māori were assimilated into the dominant Pākeha culture.

A political awakening of the Māori population began in the 1960s and 70s, in which self- determination replaced assimilation. A series of national meetings of Māori tribal leaders in 1979 culminated in the 1981 decision to create Kōhanga Reo, which literally translates as ‘language nests’, Kōhanga Reo were envisioned to strengthen and empower Māori families; and save and maintain te reo Māori (the language). As mother of the movement Iritana Tawhiwhirangi conveyed: “Kōhanga Reo are more than early childhood development but rather envisioned as Māori development”. It is a holistic approach in which Māori language and culture are passed from one generation to the next.

The first was started in Wellington in 1982 followed soon after by three more. Television coverage of Wellington Kōhanga Reo reached the rest of the country spurring rapid development. The Department of Māori Affairs provided some funding to establish kōhanga; however, Māori communities, such as in Mangere, also funded their own. The number peaked in 1994 at 800 and has now decreased to 407 licensed Kōhanga Reo in 2007. Kōhanga Reo enrol approximately 9,000 children, which represents a 52 percent decline in enrolment since 1995. Currently Kōhanga Reo enrol five percent of total enrolment in ECE (2008).

Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust was established in 1982 and formalised as a charitable trust in 1983 to manage the kaupapa (philosophy) of the Kōhanga Reo movement and to facilitate a partnership between the Māori people and the departments of government, in particular, the Department of Māori Affairs. As the governing body for Kōhanga Reo, the Trusts’ main functions are:

• To promote, support and encourage the use and retention of Te Reo Māori;
• To promote and encourage the establishment and maintenance of Te Kōhanga Reo Centres;
• To provide financial, advisory, and administrative assistance for the centres;
• To provide support and the means of obtaining support to people involved in the Te Kōhanga Reo Centres; and
• To liaise with government departments and other relevant bodies on aspects of preschool tuition in Māori language and the administration of the Te Kōhanga Reo programme.

Much of the information has been retrieved from a document by the New Zealand government in 1995 to facilitate public policy dialogue between New Zealand and the United States of America: Early Childhood Education Policy in Aotearoa/ New Zealand: The creation of the 20 Hours Free Programme, 2008. Prepared by Bushhouse, B, K.


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