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Nursery Managers Show


25 Jan 2024

Nursery Managers Book Club: Early Childhood Theories Today

Nursery Managers Book Club: Early Childhood Theories Today
In this month's Nursery Managers Book Club, NMT features editor Charlotte Goddard gets an education in early childhood development theories and the people who pioneered them.

As nurseries are increasingly setting their own curriculum and pedagogical approach, it becomes ever more important for managers to keep up-to-date with theories of early childhood development.

For this month’s Nursery Managers Book Club, I have read Early Childhood Theories Today by Aaron Bradbury and Ruth Swailes. The book is movingly dedicated to Ruth Swailes’ husband Peter, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2021.

Early Childhood Theories Today comprises ten chapters focusing on different theorists, including well-known names like Maria Montessori and Friedrich Froebel and contemporaries such as Julie Fisher and Valerie Daniel. Each chapter seeks to explain how some of the theories developed by these child-centred pioneers can influence day-to-day practice in a nursery, and includes useful case studies and reflective practice exercises.

Many settings already draw from the work of Montessori and Froebel when creating their own pedagogy, as well as Loris Malaguzzi, one of the founders of the Reggio Emilia approach, and I enjoyed learning more about these early years giants. However, it was also interesting to read about some contemporary theorists such as Julie Fisher, who I have been privileged to interview in the past for an article about summerborn children. Ruth Swailes’ chapter on Fisher gives a useful insight into her work around child-centred practice and child-led learning.

Kate Irvine’s chapter on Pierre Bourdieu unpicks the theory of cultural capital, which Ofsted added as one of its criteria for judging the quality of provision in early years and schools in 2019. Both Swailes and Bradbury have spoken out this year about the Department for Education’s attempts to prevent them from speaking at conferences, and their discovery that the government was monitoring their Twitter account. I found myself thinking back to some of Ofsted’s recent publications on early years practice when reading many of these chapters, and wondering to what extent these theorists would agree or disagree. For example, “the pedagogies of Reggio Emilia and Te Whariki reject a knowledge-focused curriculum and embrace uncertainty.”

The book closes with a lively exploration of Margaret McMillan and Grace Owen, the first president and secretary of the Nursery School Association, drawn from letters written by American observer Abigail Admas Eliot in the 1920s. Pam Jarvis’ concluding chapter is a very readable insight into some of the conflicts among educators at the time – Adams writes, for example, “Miss McMillan is so jealous of Mme Montessori’s work that none of the Montessori apparatus can be used here”!

Early Childhood Theories Today has given me an even greater respect for early years managers who are not only dealing with day-to-day practical issues and navigating the changing policy landscape around what the government thinks they should be doing, but also drawing on the work of established theorists and academics to ensure the children in their care have the best possible chances to develop and thrive.

The fact that each chapter is written by a different person does lead to some inconsistencies of style. Speaking as an editor, I have to say that some chapters could have done with a more robust proofreading. However, overall the book provides a readable and accessible guide to some complex early childhood development theories.


More from Nursery Managers Book Club: 50 Fantastic Ideas to Encourage Diversity and Inclusion


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