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Helen May 2019 imageEmeritus Professor
ONZM BEdStud DipEdStud MA PhD(Well) DipTchg



Helen May trained as a primary school teacher in the mid-1960s and in her early career taught 5-6 year olds. Later, when Helen had her own children she worked in childcare and for five years was the Coordinator of the Victoria University crèche. In 1987 Helen began work in teacher education at Hamilton Teachers' College and later the University of Waikato. During the early 1990s she worked with Margaret Carr on the development of Te Whaariki, the first national curriculum guidelines for New Zealand. In 1995 Helen was appointed to the first New Zealand professorial Chair in Early Childhood Education at Victoria University Wellington. In 2005, she was appointed as Professor of Education and Head of Faculty of Education at the University of Otago, and from 2007-2011 was the Dean of the University of Otago College of Education. During 2015-19 Helen was a Deputy Moderator for the PBRF evaluation process. She retired in 2016 and was appointed an Emeritus Professor and is currently based in Wellington. In 2018 and 2019 Helen was on the judging panel for the Prime Minister's Teaching Excellence awards.

Helen May has spoken and published widely in the field of early childhood curriculum and the history and policy of early years education.

  • 1990: NZ Medal for Services to Education
  • 1990: Life Member NZ Childcare Association (Te Rito Maioha - Early Childhood Education
  • 2010: NZEI- Te Rui Roa Honorary Fellow Award
  • 2014–2016: President of the International Froebel Society
  • 2016: New Year Honours: OMNZ for services to Education

Research Interests

Early childhood issues – policy, history, curriculum

Current research projects:

  • Froebelian Endeavours, New Education and the 'Researched' Child from the 1920s to the 1960s (with Larry Prochner, Kristen Nawrotski, Alessandra Arce Hal, Yordanka Volkanova). Funded by the Froebel Trust, (UK) 2020-2023. My case study is titled 'Let's find out” Reimagining the young child as a research worker 1920-1960s.' This project follows on from a previous project (2017-2020) and published in the book, Reimagining Teaching: Progressive Pedagogies in Experimental Schools in the early 20th century (2020) Palgrave Press
  • 60th Jubilee Book to be published in 2023 for Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood NZ – previously the NZ Childcare Association founded by Sonja Davies
  • Chapter for the International Handbook of Froebelian Educational approach, scholarship and research. Editors: Tina Bruce, Yukiyo Nishido, Sacha Powell, Helge Wasmuth, Jane Whinnett. Publisher: Bloomsbury, London. 'Discoveries at the back of the kindergarten cupboard' is based on my work as Kaitiaki of Te Whānau Manaaki o Tararua Archive History Project


  • Secrets Searches and Surprises: Catherine Jubilee Robertson 1890-1979, Cyril Robertson Bradwell 1916-2008, Wellington, 2018
  • Recollections of a Childhood in Kenya, The Red House, Wellington, 2021

In progress

  • The crafts of cloth needle and thread: Nola's story'

Occasional Paper

  • Working for Children and Social Change: Tracing the endeavours of three Scottish lady teachers who immigrated to New Zealand in the early 20th century (with K Bethell), The Red House, Wellington, 2021


Recent Conference Presentations, Keynote Presentations and Invited Seminars

Selected publications

Books published not listed below:

Mind That Child: Childcare as a Social and Political Issue in New Zealand, Blackberry Press, Wellington 1985, pp.95.

Minding Children: Managing Men: Conflict and Compromise in the Lives of Postwar Pakeha Women, Bridget Williams, Wellington, 1992, pp.371.

(With Sue Middleton). Teachers Talk Teaching 1915-1995, early childhood, school teachers college, Dunmore Press, Palmerston North, 1997, pp.380.


May, H., Card, A., & Carroll-Lind, J. (Eds.). (2021). Ngā kohinga kōrero a te aumangea: Kia mana te ara kōhungahunga ki Aotearoa: Life stories on the frontline: Growing a childcare movement in Aotearoa. Wellington, New Zealand: Te Rito Maioha Early Childhood New Zealand.

Arce Hai, A., May, H., Nawrotzki, K., Prochner, L., & Valkanova, Y. (2020). Reimagining teaching in early 20th century experimental schools. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 256p. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-50964-4

Middleton, S., & May, H. (Eds.). (2019). For women and children: A tribute to Geraldine McDonald. Wellington, New Zealand: NZCER Press, 193p.

May, H. (2019). Politics in the playground: The world of early childhood education in Aotearoa New Zealand (3rd ed.). Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago University Press, 414p.

May, H., & Bethell, K. (2017). Growing a kindergarten movement in Aotearoa New Zealand: Its people, purposes and politics. Wellington, New Zealand: NZCER, 323p.

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