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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Pre-school education is not part of the State system of education; it is provided by voluntary organisations - associations - formed for the purpose of establishing and controlling the centres. Government financial assistance is, however, available to these associations and the work is under the general supervision of the Department of Education.

Typical pre-school education is given by the free kindergarten and the play centre. Both institutions provide only a half-day programme for the children attending, because it is believed that half-day attendance is best suited to present needs in New Zealand. The half-day provides a stabilising routine in the lives of the children, and is both socially and emotionally a preparation for the wider experience of the infant school. Further, the half-day attendance acknowledges fully the role of the home and parents as the all-important factor in the sound development of the child.

Free kindergartens cater for two groups of children, one group attending morning sessions on five days of the week, and the other attending afternoon sessions on two afternoons of the week. The play centres, on the other hand, offer a number of sessions ranging from one to four each week, depending on the needs of the district, but attendance for any child is limited to three sessions. In both free kindergartens and in play centres, the programmes are planned to provide long periods of indoor and outdoor play with a minimum of routine periods. It is usually possible to ensure that the children spend a great deal of time out of doors when the weather is favourable.

Government financial assistance is available for free kindergartens which are established and maintained by properly constituted associations and which are recognised for the purpose by the Minister of Education. Even with this assistance, however, considerable financial responsibility falls on the local community. The association must raise locally one-third of the cost of a suitable quarter-acre site, and one-third of the cost of a standard-type building, of furnishing and equipping it, and of developing the outdoor play area. In addition, approximately £400 per annum must be found locally for running and maintenance costs. Government financial assistance is as follows:

  • A subsidy of £2 for £1 is paid on approved expenditure on sites, buildings and equipment.

  • The Department of Education meets the cost of the salaries of the teachers at approved scale rates and in relation to an approved staffing schedule.

Free kindergartens are “free” in the sense that no fee may be charged, but parents usually make a contribution in the form of weekly donations. The remainder of the funds necessary for running costs is obtained from a variety of fund-raising activities.

Kindergarten teachers are trained at kindergarten training colleges administered by the four largest associations in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin. The course is a two-year one, at the end of which successful candidates gain the New Zealand Kindergarten Diploma awarded by the New Zealand Free Kindergarten Union. These teachers are available for the national service. The syllabus of training is drawn up by the New Zealand Free Kindergarten Union and approved by the Director of Education. Students in training receive a Government allowance at an annual rate, and a boarding allowance is paid to those who are obliged to live away from home in order to undertake the course. The Government accepts full responsibility for the cost of sites and buildings for kindergarten training colleges and pays a subsidy on the cost of approved furniture and equipment.

Financial assistance is available also for Play Centre Associations on the following basis:

  • An “establishment” grant of £50 to help with the cost of equipping the centre to the standard required.

  • An annual “maintenance” grant in respect of each recognised centre calculated at the rate of £40 per annum for each session held in the week, with a limit of three sessions in any week.

The costs of running the centres, over and above the Government grant, are met by the parent groups. Charges are made for attendance, usually in the form of an enrolment fee for mothers and attendance fees for each attendance, though in some centres a fee is arranged on a term basis. Additional funds are raised by way of donations and of local effort of various kinds. The great majority of play centres use buildings that are not their own. The movement itself has always strongly supported the principle of better-planned community buildings designed to meet more satisfactorily the needs of many and varied community activities, rather than that of embarking on a policy of providing permanent buildings for its special purpose. In some cases, however, where adequate community buildings have not been available, the play centre group has secured a suitable building of its own. Play centres are run by trained supervisors with the assistance of regular mother helpers on a rota basis. The Play Centres Associations have developed their own supervisor training courses which are conducted under the regional councils of Adult Education. The supervisors, who are recruited from among the ranks of the parents in the centre, undertake practical assignments also, and at the end of the training course are awarded a Supervisor's Certificate. The associations have developed also well planned programmes in the field of parent education, thus making an important contribution to family life.

Free Kindergarten Associations, of which there are 63 administering about 250 recognised kindergartens, are usually affiliated to the New Zealand Free Kindergarten Union, the national body concerned with policy making. It is the union which holds the priority list for the development of new kindergarten projects, and it is the union which makes representation to the Minister on the changing needs of the associations. The union speaks for the associations on all policy matters. The Federation of Play Centres Associations is the national body to which all the associations belong, and it is this body that speaks for the movement on matters affecting the welfare of the centres.

by Moira Frances Gallagher, formerly Supervisor of Pre-school Services, Department of Education, Wellington.


Moira Frances Gallagher, formerly Supervisor of Pre-school Services, Department of Education, Wellington.