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Play School collection

At a glance

  • Children's television
  • Australian Broadcasting Corporation
  • Props including clocks and windows

Longest running children's program

The Play School program produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation holds a significant place in the imagination of generations of Australians. First aired on 18 July 1966, it is the longest running children's program on Australian TV.

Happy Birthday Play School

Touring exhibition

Happy Birthday Play School

Celebrating 50 years

A large clock in the shape of a flower in a pot. The pot and petals are painted pink and the stem is painted green. A large yellow clock face is positioned in the centre of the flower head, which has black plastic numbers and hands.
A large clock in the shape of a rocket with a red cylindrical wooden base with a light blue perforated metal skirt covered in vertical plastic rods, a light pink wooden trunk and painted striped cone top.
The Flower Clock, with a tropical island diorama at the base, and the Rocket Clock. Play School collection, National Museum of Australia. Photos: George Serras.

Iconic props from the show, including the original windows, the Rocket Clock and Flower Clock, are part of the National Museum's collection.

These significant objects allowed presenters to explore educational concepts such as telling the time, and to see the outside world through the Square, Arched and Round windows.

Open wide, come inside

Curator Sophie Jensen shares her personal connection with the Play School windows in this Object Stories video.

Stars of the show

Play School is hosted by a team of talented professional actors – a who's who of the Australian entertainment industry over the years. The program's presenters give children their full attention by talking directly into the camera, which is placed at a child's height. They must never talk down to their audience.

Presenter Benita Collings has recorded the highest number of Play School episodes – 401. Benita's story features in the National Museum's Eternity gallery, where the Arched window is on show.

Cornerstone of children's television

Play School has been a cornerstone of children's television. The ABC transmitted the first episode of Play School on July 18, 1966. The program was based on the format of the BBC production of the same name, which began in 1964 and ceased production in 1988.

For the first series, the set for the Australian show was copied from the British set, but it was soon revised and rebuilt. The new sets included three 'magic windows' – Arched, Round and Square – and a Flower Clock.

After the introduction of colour TV in 1975, the Play School set was rejigged again and the Rocket Clock was added. Each week day, one of the clocks, with its own particular theme music, would rotate to reveal a diorama that acted as a visual cue for the story told in that episode.

A painted carboard and polystyrene diorama of the Taj Mahal, which includes four model elephants.
A diorama of the interior of a Butcher's shop, consisting of a blue checkered patterned semi circle cardboard base, a pink and white checkered triangular carboard background and a cardboard and plastic display case filled with modelling compound 'steaks' and 'sausages'.
From the Taj Mahal in India to the local butcher's shop, these dioramas sat the base of the Rocket Clock, where they were used to introduce the story in each episode. Play School collection, National Museum of Australia.

Clocks and windows

The clocks and windows were a key part of the Play School set until a major redesign in 1999. The windows, the Rocket and Flower clocks were donated to the National Museum and replaced with the Slippery Slide and Hickory Dickory Dock clocks, and later the Train Clock. The windows are now an animated feature which include a diamond window.

A set of three rectangular, grey painted, timber panels with a square, circle and an arch cut out in the centre.
The Square, Arched and Round windows were a regular feature on Play School until a set redesign in 1999. Play School collection, National Museum of Australia. Photo: George Serras.

The Play School collection donated to the National Museum also includes drawings, a toy robot, cardboard car and program script. Dioramas used at the base of the clocks include a model of Mount Fuji, another snowy mountains scene and a pond.

Play School still screens each day and continues to attract new fans, encouraging children to wonder, think, feel and imagine.


The National Museum's exhibition Happy Birthday Play School, developed in collaboration with the ABC, celebrates the program's 50th birthday in 2016.

An earlier National Museum exhibition, Hickory Dickory Dock, was launched in 2002 and toured nationally from 2004 to 2006, with support from the Australian Government's Visions of Australia program and the ABC.

This highlight was written by senior curator Sophie Jensen. The Play School Rocket Clock features in the Museum's Collection Stories book.