If Sir Michael Wilshaw has never heard of Susan Isaacs, then he really ought to drop everything and start reading about her, PDQ!
Susan Isaacs was a great advocate of Nursery Education; indeed she was passionate about it!
Believing that the nursery setting was vital to a child's development, she said, of play:
'Play is for the child a means of living and of understanding life…it is supremely the activity which brings psychic equilibrium in the early years… It is the breath of life to the child, since it is through play activities that he… can work upon his wishes, fears and fantasies, so as to integrate them into a living personality… If we attempt to control and contain it, we simply make it lifeless and formal.'
She also believed that too much interference by the teacher, would be harmful to the young child:
'It is of comparatively little value for young children in the earlier school years to follow a prescribed programme of formal work…If we try to cramp and control him by our own notions of what he ought to be, we may close up the very channels which will bring him value and safety… The passive work of the educator in leaving the child free to make-believe is as valuable a part of his function as his more active services.'
'How serious a mistake it would be to try to make little children grow along the lines which these records show they can follow. They must be given a large measure of freedom to imagine or to think as the need and occasion arises. If we tried to teach them these things formally, or to exert pressure upon them in these directions, we should simply waste our time, and might even do positive damage.'
When I was training to be a teacher, a permanent feature on my bookshelf was a book by Susan Isaacs, which my nursery trained mum had passed on to me. It made fascinating reading and although I was not nursery trained, much of it was still applicable and most helpful to me when I was teaching early years children; in particular the rising fives, in my reception classes. And later on, when I did do a stint in a nursery unit, Susan Isaacs was there, in spirit.
I am a huge believer in 'play with a purpose' and I hope that whatever this 'shake up' brings,
someone will have the sense to stand up and say that first and foremost, PLAY is vital as a firm foundation to a young child's development. Without that, progress will be stunted.
It always amazes me that, when I was training to be a teacher, we had a vast collection of absolutely
brilliant educationalists on whom we could call, to guide and help us in our quest to became
skilled teachers. These people still, to this day, rattle off my tongue.
Yet, we ignore such people, their research, their findings...their common sense....
and, instead, we are going backwards in education!
People like Susan Isaacs must not be ignored. Their contribution to education was massive!