The Freud Museum

Events Archive

25 November 1995

The Psychology of Nursery Education

Conference Report

As part of the Anna Freud Centenary Celebrations in 1995, the Freud Museum organised a joint conference with the Anna Freud Centre on The Psychology of Nursery Education. The subject was not chosen at random: Anna Freud developed her work as a practical response to political and social need, and it seemed that 50 years later the question of pre-school education was very much on the political agenda. In the UK the government has made a commitment to 'provide, over time, good quality pre-school places for all four year olds whose parents wish to take them up'. But what do we mean by 'education' for a nursery age child and what are the best conditions in which this can be achieved? By focusing on some of the psychological issues brought to the surface in the nursery situation, the conference was intended to provide a forum for psychotherapists, parents, nursery professionals and teachers to exchange views in a fruitful way.

The conference addressed a number of important topics. Many speakers considered the important relation between home and nursery, including Anne-Marie Sandler in her introduction and Mary Day in discussing her work in family centres in London. The problems of separation and attachment, and the meaning of play, aggression and conflict in the nursery setting, were visibly demonstrated in Lynn Barnett's video presentation with Pauline Cohen and Nancy Brenner. Tina Bruce, a former director of the Froebel Institute Early Childhood Research Centre, described her vision of an early childhood curriculum which considers 'the whole child', while Alice Colonna from Yale University recorded Anna Freud's contribution to understanding the 'social-moral' development of the child. In speaking of language development Adam Phillips made a plea for valuing the capacity 'not to talk' - a space to escape from the demands of language. Conversely the misery of not being able to talk was shown in Ricky Emanuel's paper describing specific anxieties of children in nurseries, which were expressed in disruptive behaviour or withdrawal. In accordance with Anna Freud's practical turn of mind, the conference also considered the bricks and mortar. Hephzibah Kaplan gave an illustrated talk on the architecture of nursery environments and how it can be improved.

We would like to thank all of the conference participants, including Shirley Maxwell, director of the Froebel Institute Early Childhood Research Centre, who kindly agreed to chair the conference and made some telling contributions throughout the day. Some of the papers from the conference have been published as a small book The Psychology of Nursery Education edited by Ivan Ward (Karnac Books for the Freud Museum 1998).

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