This study’s original data were collected in interviews with 23 pioneer leaders of early childhood education in Aotearoa, New Zealand. They were asked to remember play, free play and learning through play. Their collective experiences cover over 60 years of ‘the everyday’ recalled in the local array of diverse early childhood services as well as in academic and political contexts. Their stories indicated major shifts in understanding about how children grow, learn and develop; shifts in where, how and why children play. In particular, there were shifts in how adults (especially teachers) can influence play and learning. In response to the complexity of the data gathered, a bricolage approach was used to identify themes using the etymological and hermeneutic tools of the bricoleur-as-researcher. The bricolage was also evident in the practicalities of the analytical process – the use of juxtaposed drawings, for example, and in the recognition that the ‘self’ (the motivations and processing of the researcher) was at the core of the meaning-making process.