Enduring lessons from a forgotten Froebelian foot soldier in Aotearoa-New Zealand

Miss Isabel Little (1876-1937)


  • Helen May


New Zealand, Froebelian, teachers, pedagogy, kindergarten, COVID-19


Miss Isabel Little was a Scottish infant teacher who immigrated to New Zealand in 1912. She was described as a “Froebel trained Scot from Edinburgh” and known around Wellington education circles for her “modern methods”. In contrast to known Froebelian pioneers, Miss Little’s historical footprint is light but the few glimpses yield insights useful to consider in current times. Miss Little is described in this article as a forgotten Froebelian foot soldier who, like others were the mainstay of a kindergarten movement that transformed the early education of children. Individual and collective advocacy, as demonstrated by Miss Little a century ago, are evident in current times.  The political and pedagogical context of early years education has changed in Aotearoa New Zealand (NZ) but there are still battles to be won. Coinciding with the consequences of COVID-19 in 2020 was the government’s intended roll-out of He Taonga te Tamaiti – Early learning action plan 2019-2029, creating calls for a strategic rethink: to hasten rather than slow down its implementation. Connecting these stories, past and present, was accidental as they collided into the space of the author’s life during a stern lockdown that mainly halted the virus at the border. More broadly they epitomize the stretch and potency of Froebelian principles across centuries and places.