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Susan Isaacs

(1885—1948) educational psychologist and psychoanalyst


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(1885–1948) An English early years educator who ran an experimental school in Cambridge called the Malting House from 1924 to 1927. One of Isaacs's enduring legacies for teachers of very young children is the key skill of narrative observation to document the learning responses of children to environmental and cognitive encounters within an emergent curriculum, through both indoor and outdoor activity. Using observation, Isaacs noted the interests and inquiries of children and allowed experiential learning to further children's quests for constructing their own knowledge and understanding. She claimed that children should be able to express their feelings openly and needed the freedom to explore, take risks, and learn through play. Following the educational theories of John Dewey, she valued the joy of discovery. This led to one of the better-known stories about her approach to discovery learning, which involved her response to a group of young children wanting to find out whether a pet rabbit had gone to ‘heaven’ after burying it. Her answer was to allow the exhumation of the rabbit's remains in order, she explained, to satisfy the children's thirst for knowledge. This incident is often cited as testimony to the progressive nature of her headship and her approach to learning. Isaacs claimed that any testing or assessment of achievement would not demonstrate a child's true ability; and she was one of the first critics of Piaget's theory of developmental stages. The guidance for the original Foundation Stage of the national curriculum supported Isaacs's philosophy that parents are the most important educators in a child's life, establishing the importance of significant adults in child development; and this philosophy is equally reflected in the pedagogic principles underpinning the subsequent (2007) Early Years Foundation Stage. After establishing the Malting House, Isaacs went on to lecture in early childhood education at the Institute of Education at the University of London.

From A Dictionary of Education in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Education.


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