Hobart Free Kindergarten, 1911 (AOT, PH30/1/1136F)

Kindergarten, Friedrich Froebel's word meaning 'children's garden', refers to an establishment for the education of children below the statutory school age. Other terms used are pre-school centre, pre-school and pre-kindergarten. Tasmanian activity began in the early twentieth century when the Education Department began setting up kindergarten classes in large primary schools, some independent schools also began classes, and Free Kindergarten committees raised funds to establish kindergartens in poor areas to give children a start in life. The first, the Frederick St Kindergarten and the Barclay Kindergarten, were established in 1910 in Launceston and Hobart respectively. Free Kindergarten committees united to form the Kindergarten Union of Tasmania in 1939.

Free kindergartens included religious encouragement: the Hobart Free Kindergarten, 1911
(AOT, PH30/1/1136E)

From 1938, the Commonwealth established Lady Gowrie Child Centres in each state capital, in co-operation with the Australian Association for Pre-school Child Development. These centres offered a modern three-year pre-school education programme and were used for demonstration and research. The Lady Gowrie Child Centre in Hobart stimulated parent interest, which led to a demand for the extension of pre-school education to many parts of Tasmania.

The Kindergarten Union of Tasmania could offer advice on standards and equipment, but could not fund the employment of teachers and often had to establish new centres in temporary premises. Approaches made by parents to the government resulted in an agreement to set up pre-school centres 'where suitable premises and a person to act as teacher' could be found. Later, partnerships developed in which parent groups provided sites, materials and equipment, and the Education Department employed teachers and began providing buildings. Many individual pre-schools were established, as well as pre-school classes in many primary schools, though this approach did lead to uneven development and sometimes duplication. Parent involvement continued to be a strong feature. The Kindergarten Union of Tasmania and the Department of Education both provided funds for three-year teacher training at mainland teachers' colleges. In the late 1940s, the Department of Education appointed a Supervisor of Pre-Schools, bringing pre-school education firmly into the 'education' field instead of 'health', as occurred, for example, in Victoria.

In the 1960s the Education Department set up a committee to look at the education of young children. The recommendations of the committee's report, 'Education from Three to Eight' (1968), were accepted, and the various strands of 'Early Childhood Education' were drawn together. Separate pre-school centres were linked with the nearest primary schools to provide unity and continuity of education. Parent co-operation, an integral part of the pre-school programme, naturally moved into the primary schools to enrich the learning of all young children, and early childhood teachers had opportunities to move from pre-school to grade two, and no longer worked in isolation. Pre-school education was extended from the 1970s with the growth of child-care, as it was offered by many child-care centres. Now, as usual, the main restriction on extension of early childhood education at the pre-school end is availability of funds, and developments are largely the outcome of educational decision rather than parent pressure.

Elspeth Hope-Johnstone