The philosophical base of kindergartens developed in Hawaii through contacts made by Henry Castle, a scholarly son of the early missionaries Samuel N. and Mary Castle. In his college studies, Henry became a friend and colleague of several of the leading American progressives of the period. En route home to Hawai‘i, he drowned at sea. His sister, Harriet Castle, inspired by his work, seized on her brother’s progressive ideas about education, as well as his acquaintances
She brought the foremost educational philosopher of the day, John Dewey, to Hawai‘i for a series of lectures and a sharing of ideas. With money from their waterfront- and sugar-based corporation, Castle & Cooke, the Castles formed a family foundation…arguably one of the first American foundations. Through her consistent effort, Harriet Castle, with the The Woman’s Board of Missions, led what became KCAA.
Founded in 1895, KCAA was Hawaii’s first eleemosynary organization, and offered the first teacher training and free Kindergartens to all of Hawaii’s children. Originally referred to as Free Kindergarten and Children’s Aid Association, the schools were based on two critical beliefs about early education: That quality early childhood education should be accessible and affordable for all children, and that the teaching of young children required a unique curriculum and highly trained teachers. KCAA led the way in desegregation efforts in Hawaii. Palama School (predecessor to Na Lei School) was opened in 1896 without racial segregation—a revolutionary practice for that era. In 1897, KCAA’s annual report stated, “It is the growing conviction of those who conduct this work that the expansion must be in the quality of the work done, rather than in the number of children to be taken under our charge”, which remains a guiding principle of our work today.
In the 1920s the founders of FKCAA started to lobby for public kindergartens. When 12 public kindergartens were created by the governor in 1943, FKCAA administered many of them, in addition to running private kindergartens. In 1949 the organization began to charge tuition for kindergarten and was renamed KCAA, but it continued to provide a substantial amount of tuition aid.
Today that spirit of leadership and innovation continues at KCAA’s six nationally accredited Oahu preschools: Muriel, Atherton, Kuapa, Na Lei, Mother Rice and Wai Kahala.