Alison Leonard – embracing biculturalism

b. 1936
Life member 1997

This was 1960s. A trained primary school teacher had to step into early childhood education just because her children couldn’t find a place in kindergarten. She uses this opportunity to train herself as a liaison officer to tutor other mothers involved in the playcentre. 

This is the story of Alison Leonard who enjoyed early childhood teaching as much as she loved primary. Her involvement in the playcentre laid the foundation of her early childhood teaching career. Although Alison returned to primary teaching after her children went to school, she didn't turn down opportunities to work with young children. The primary teaching experience gave her a chance to teach children from diverse backgrounds including Pacific, Māori, and Pākehā which she calls as the "delightful aspect of teaching." This inspired her to setup a preschool group to support immigrant families and their children.  

In 1977, Alison joined the preschool attached to Ngā Tauwae College in Mangere as the headteacher. This was the same time when Alison got involved with the New Zealand Childcare Association (now Te Rito Maioha). "She would attend regular meetings, workshops at Auckland Branch and working part-time, tutoring during 1980-1983 as an Area Training Supervisor (ATS)."  

In 1979, when the Association made the move to develop its own childcare certificate, Alison along with others chipped in to "write our own courses." Alison was a full-time Area Training Supervisor from 1983-1987. But when the Association wanted to expand training in Nelson, Alison immediately jumped in to help. From the very beginning, Alison was in full support of the bicultural name shift of the Association. In her own words,  "The philosophy was that Māori were the indigenous first people and everybody else who came were tauiwi, which changes your perspective when you understand that."

Alison feels grateful towards the strong and dedicated women of the Association who were a catalyst in her early childhood teaching journey. This includes Margaret Lamb, Helen Orr, Berys Scouse, Noreen Moorhouse, and Maureen Locke Jehly

Alison’s fond memory of working with the organisation is the 1990 conference. "This was the momentous hui where the New Zealand Childcare Association adopted its new name: Te Tari Puna Ora o Aotearoa/NZCA."  

Alison was a staff representative on the Executive from 1998-1990 and was made a life member in 1997. 

This article is an abridged version from Te Rito Maioha’s book on its life members and their work. You can read the full story of Alison and those of other ECE champions:

Life Stories on the Frontline: Growing a childcare movement in Aotearoa
Ngā kohinga kōrero a te aumangea: Kia mana te ara kōhungahunga ki Aotearoa