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Emeritus Professor Helen May


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 2011-2013 Helen was the Chair of the Education Panel for the Tertiary Education Commission's PBRF evaluation process and has been appointed Deputy Moderator for the upcoming PBRF round for 2015-2019. Helen retired in 2016 and was appointed an Emeritus Professor. She is currently based in Wellington.

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 projects:

  • NZ Kindergarten History Project (with Kerry Bethell) funded by NZ Kindergarten NZ Kindergartens Inc - Te Putahi Kura Puhou O Aotearoa
  • Re­imagining Teaching: Progressive Pedagogies in Experimental Schools in the early 20th century (with Larry Prochner, Kristen Nawrotski, Alessandra Arce Hal, Yordanka Volkanova) Supported by Froebel Trust, UK.
  • Lessons and Legacies of Early Childhood History (Special Issue of Early Years: An International Research Journal) (with Larry Prochner).


Recent Conference Presentations, Keynote Presentations and Invited Seminars


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.

Selected recent publications (from 2006) below.