“The best playgrounds offer not only good equipment but challenge, interest and adventure. These call for energy, initiative and imagination from the staff who frequently have to find junk materials, move them about into different arrangements and add new materials to stimulate the children’s play.”
Eva Millen, Supervising Director, 51st Annual Report, 1962
Places to play and explore are so important for young children. Early on, there was talk of the benefits of fresh air and sunshine and the need for children to have somewhere to run around.
Diana Weir, in her interview to be accepted as a student, remembers being asked by Miss Orange, the Principal of the College, whether she liked gardening. “Because we used to do all the upkeep of the kindergarten,” she explains. “All the gardens, all the painting. We even painted the walls of the kindergartens.”
While some of the environment started out quite basic, there were soon swings and slides, huts and all manner of outdoor equipment.
Sandy Bain remembers, in her days as President of the Association, being involved in designing play areas. It was a time when people went from just having the lawn at the front of their house and the vegetable garden out the back, to actually landscaping their garden. Public playgrounds, which had been quite barren up till that point took on the role of adventure playgrounds.
She recalls the playground at Northcote kindergarten, when that was first built “...and we put in cart tracks and different things like that, things that hadn’t been in before.”
However, she also remembers that playgrounds were also an area of contention.
“Every kindergarten Committee seemed to want to have an edifice that they could leave, that people could see that they got that year. Raising money for paint and paper and all the consumables wasn’t nearly as exciting as planning and building and having fundraising so they could build a fort. For some reason, forts were in a lot of committees’ minds in those days. They just wanted to see something for their time and work.
In those days too, Committees were keen to have old cars, boats and all sorts of things like that in the grounds. Teachers were more aware of children’s play than parents who thought that having an old car for kids to play in was good and there’d be no safety issues. You know, this is just fun. They didn’t see anything further than fun, they didn’t see intellectual play reasons or the developmental reasons that were behind some of the big decisions. But when parents realised the importance of all these things, they got passionate too.”
Today, when you look back at the photographs of the early kindergartens, you’re struck by how desolate they seem. Now, Kidsfirst Kindergartens are lush with vegetation, full of exciting nooks and places to hide and play. Many of the kindergartens are Enviroschools. There’s an emphasis on recycling and an awareness of our surroundings. There are gardens with vegetables growing. There are trees to climb. There’s natural shade. Some of the roses and primulas of the old kindergarten gardens may have given way to NZ natives, tussocks and flaxes, but the environments are simply fantastic. Sandra Laffey suggests that Cashmere’s outdoor space would be nothing without the work of legions of volunteers and the Committees that fundraised to plant the trees that have grown to maturity in the years since. She notes that this is one of the true legacies of the past.
“The grounds are now in order, border gay with flowers, lawn neat and trim.”
Phillipstown School, Annual Report and Balance Sheet 1920 – 1921
Above: Kidsfirst Cashmere's outdoor play area circa 2009.
“... a greater emphasis was placed on the outdoor area as an exciting place for learning. Much interest was evident in planting trees and shrubs to make this an exciting and beautiful place to play. Within programmes there was, along with provision of activities, a continuing recognition and strengthening of the elements which made for a good presschool - friends, space and freedom, equipment and materials, first hand experiences, and people to supervise and take an interst in the children and to share their enthusiasm.”
Carol Eggleston, Supervising Head Teacher, 1980 Annual Report.
Equipment has improved in some ways. Perhaps we have to thank Dr Katherine Whiteside-Taylor for reminding us of the values of swinging and rocking. Quite a lot of swings have been bought and most kindergartens now have a set of these.
Some of the playgrounds are really lovely places for children to enjoy. Some trees were chosen for their quick growth and shade and some because they were good trees for climbing. Where these have grown, playgrounds offer more scope for imaginative play, and they are, I think, less tiring to children than large bare spaces.
Almost all the old cars, boats and stoves have been removed through the year... Some pipes have also been removed. We have observed that the removal of pipes from grassy mounds has enabled children to play more freely on the slope with carts.
Sandpit equipment has been generally better this year with more good spades for digging and more strong metal toys.
The day to day work of the staff with children has reflected the interests of parents. Television programmes are accepted now and are not “news” as they were at first. There has been a lot of talk about space rockets, and landings on the moon.
E Millen Supervising Director. 1965
“Advice to an association opening its first kindergarten… (b) A Kindergarten is “a child’s garden” and it is the child who must always be your first consideration.”
Kindergarten Handbook 1956.
“If one can judge from anything so intangible as “atmosphere” 1939 has been a year of happiness and progress in Kindergarten work in Christchurch.”
Rene Wilke, Prinicpal,
Annual Report, 1939