Early Years Teachers and the Influence of Piaget: Evidence from Oral History

Peter Cunningham. Early Years. Volume 26, Issue 1. 2006.


An understanding of early years practice is enhanced by exploring the historical development of provision. In the past this has been by reference to key thinkers, and a litany of innovators was invoked from Pestalozzi and Froebel (perhaps going back even to Locke and Comenius) through Maria Montessori and the McMillan sisters, Rachel and Margaret. Researchers in social history have focused increasingly on the history of childhood—less familiar to early years practitioners—to take a critical stance on evolving constructions of childhood (Hendrick, 1997). One such construction was embedded in the growth of developmental psychology and research in cultural history, taking account of an increasingly scientific understanding of childhood, certainly enables us to stand back and see such innovators in their social and cultural contexts. We can begin to recognise how policies and practices embodied ‘paradigm shifts’ in interpreting the nature and needs of young children.

An increasing emphasis on the early years in educational provision was a result in part of philanthropic concerns as social attitudes became more ‘humane’, but a by‐product too of ‘eugenic’ concerns at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century. Only one hundred years ago—a very short time span in human history—anxieties about the ‘fitness of the nation’ or even the continued ‘superiority of the race’ began to influence the thinking of educationists and the governing classes. Disease and ignorance were identified as a threat to the body politic for which schools and nurseries offered a possible means of intervention and cure. But another clear factor in raising the profile of early childhood education was a growth in scientific study of children. The great advance claimed for Madame Montessori was in effect the shift from a philosophical paradigm that had underpinned the practices of Froebel, to a psychological paradigm. Montessori was a trained and qualified medical doctor and her ‘Montessori Method’ was founded on methodical scientific observation (Cunningham, 2000). Looking at this connection the other way round, we can also argue for the importance of early childhood education as the prime site of psychology’s intervention in education generally. The major focus of ‘Child Study’ and of developmental psychology as it became a recognised field of scientific enquiry, was on the growth of the infant mind and on the earliest stages in cognitive development.

The Montessori era has been extensively explored. There is value now in refocusing our attention and shifting our sights from 100 years back to just 50 years—merely two generations ago. This period might be characterised by the insertion of Piaget into early years discourse, a phenomenon that lies helpfully within living memory. It offers us the opportunity to call not just on documentary sources but also on oral histories for our research. In earlier writings I have touched on the reception and interpretation of Piaget, and others have examined this feature of professional history drawing on documentary sources (Walkerdine, 1984; Cunningham, 1988; Wooldridge, 1994; Hall, 2000).

The development of ideas can be traced by studying a succession of texts, and one documentary source drawn on in the paper below is the genre of textbook that mediated new thinking and new discoveries for the benefit of students and teachers. But how did the findings of psychological research find their way into classroom practice? We need to explore the agencies of teacher education and training (Gardner & Cunningham, 1998), as well as the texts through which these ideas were mediated (Cunningham, 1988). Intimate evidence is also available, however, from practitioners themselves, and the following discussion draws especially on an oral history archive of teachers that has been collected at the Cambridge University Faculty of Education over more than a decade (Cunningham & Gardner, 2004). The data, which is archived as original audio recordings and as transcription, was subjected to analysis by manual matrix coding, and the testimony selected for discussion here is drawn from respondents who had trained as teachers and who had subsequently taught children in the early years. This kind of historical research does not, and cannot, result in definitive explanations of the transmission of ideas into practice, but it does offer important and valuable insights into the ways that individual teachers, in their different circumstances and varied career paths, understood and implemented the theoretical perspectives they had been offered.

The early years teachers represented below began their careers between 1927 and 1955 and continued teaching into the 1960s and 1970s, and their evidence here has been selected for its references to Piaget and developmental psychology as factors in their training and practice. Over these five decades developmental psychology was gaining in its influence within early years practice, and Jean Piaget in particular was coming to stand for these new perspectives.

Psychology and Education in the Early Decades of the Twentieth Century

Accounts have been given of the growth of psychology in the first decades of the twentieth century and its association with education (Wooldridge, 1994). Evidence of this trend in relation to the early years can be found in documents like the report of a 1936 conference organised by the Nursery School Association of Great Britain (NSA). A ministerial statement to the conference reveals how dominant was the medical model in the acceptance of educational psychology. Oliver Stanley, President of the Board of Education, observed how progress in nursery education had developed from study of the abnormal child and how Montessori herself had been inspired by her experience amongst ‘mentally defective children’ and ‘the more recent advances in the psychology of very young children owes much to the work of the psycho‐analysts with nerve diseases’ (NSA, 1936, p. 4).

Given the representation at such a senior political level, it is perhaps unsurprising that many of the arguments for nursery education put forward at the conference rest on the ends of a stable society, democracy and citizenship, and compensation for social deprivations, rather than on the ‘laws’ of children’s development. However there are some emphatic references to the latter. But Lillian de Lissa, as Chair of the Association (and Principal of Gipsy Hill Teacher Training College) argued strongly to the conference that: ‘education of young children should be based on an acceptance of the facts that natural growth is spontaneous and that it is governed by definite laws which the teacher must study, respect and assist’ (NSA, 1936, p. 7). She was highly critical of the assumption that public nursery education was for poor children only—it should be for all children to encourage monitoring of physical and educational needs.

Susan Isaacs, who was very active within the Nursery School Association, had quite recently published research based on her observations at the Malting House School in Cambridge (Isaacs, 1930, 1933). But what was available to trainee teachers in the way of more general textbooks? John Adams and Percy Nunn, successive directors of the London Institute of Education had both written, in the early 1920s, influential texts of a wide scope encompassing theoretical principles and current practice, and these notable and popular treatises incorporated insights from psychological research within a wide sweep of theoretical perspectives including the philosophical and sociological.

Although these works are well documented in accounts of mainstream developments, individual professional memories frequently recall less eminent books, but ones that were widely read by students in training and by teachers. An example is Learning and Teaching: an Introduction to Psychology and Education by Hughes and Hughes, cited with great affection by at least one respondent, and which has indeed been described by an authority on the history of psychology as ‘one of the most successful British textbooks of educational psychology’. The first edition was published in 1937, its third edition and 21st impression appearing in 1959. It was a book that must have been bought, and read, by many teachers and students over those years. Dr A. G. Hughes was a former district inspector of schools, London County Council, and a training college lecturer, as was his wife Dr. E. H. Hughes. There are interesting connections to be traced here between the worlds of teacher training, the inspectorate of schools in London and the growth of organised research in educational psychology. Hughes and Hughes’ book was based on the belief that psychology studied in close connection with problems arising in school and classroom could offer teachers valuable help. The authors therefore worked from practical situations to theoretical issues, using footnotes to indicate difficult and controversial theory. Suggestions were offered for first‐hand observation and experimentation throughout, constructing the teacher in effect as an active researcher and combining the activity of teaching with the study of psychology.

This book is a text‐book in the original sense of the term; it provides a text which it is hoped will prove a convenient starting point for a more exhaustive enquiry into the psychology, principles and methods of education. (Hughes & Hughes, 1937, p. 6)

Their work, then, offers a textbook of psychology, with less of the wide theoretical range of Adams’ and Nunn’s work, indicating a gradual trend that was occurring towards ‘fragmentation’ of educational theory with key books coming from a multiplicity of disciplines (Lagemann, 2000, pp. ix-xi).

Piaget and His Influence

In Hughes and Hughes’ work Piaget had only received one fleeting mention, and that mainly to question the egocentrism that he had attributed to young children’s talk. But from general surveys of psychological theory, subsequent textbooks begin to focus exclusively on Piaget. There was increasingly general agreement in Britain and North America from the early 1950s that Piaget was the foremost contributor to the field of intellectual development. Piaget was not accessible to most students in the original, but it was in a humbler kind of textbook that he was interpreted, books designed moreover to support new courses of initial teacher training as they expanded to include three and even four years in the new B.Ed degree. Brearley and Hitchfield, prominent Froebelians, considered that the implications of Piaget’s work needed urgently to be worked out in the practice of teaching. They held that teachers needed to read some of Piaget’s work, but were impeded by the difficulty of his books, the complex theoretical exposition which, it was argued, contrasted with the ‘beautiful and detailed clarity and simplicity’ of his experimental examples.

For many years, people who have worked in child centred education have had philosophical theory and intuitive judgement to guide them, but have lacked scientific justification for what they were doing. Piaget’s work is now providing scientific evidence from experiments, with concrete examples and demonstration from children’s behaviour for what was previously a matter of opinion. (Brearley & Hitchfield, 1966, xi-xii, my emphasis)

In other words, Piagetian theory was drawn upon to provide a post facto rationale for a pedagogy that was proceeding by instinct. But Piaget was a prolific and difficult writer, whose works required careful introduction, and a considerable literature for trainee teachers emerged, interpreting and applying Piaget’s theories to the work of the classroom.

One leading publisher’s response to the burgeoning of education theory in extended courses was the Students’ Library of Education, a series of small paperbacks published by Routledge and Kegan Paul, and one of the best‐selling titles in that series was Ruth Beard’s (1969) An Outline of Piaget’s Developmental Psychology. The format of the series was an almost pocket‐sized paperback, text well spaced with plentiful sub‐headings—ideally designed to cram for examinations. So, to the quest for a scientific rationale for child‐centred pedagogy was added the aim of enhancing the academic content of teachers’ training. Not only must Piaget’s work be translated into a form adapted to classroom implementation, but also into a form examinable by the traditional means of academic assessment.

In her Foucauldian analysis of the insertion of Piaget’s theory into primary school practice, Walkerdine (1984) reaches back to the early twentieth century to identify the intertwining of child study and mental measurement as twin aspects of the scientific classification of childhood and the conversion of a moral problem into a scientific one. She sees the production of the truth of developmental psychology as specific to a set of educational practices that are ‘normalising’ in that they constitute ‘a mode of observation and surveillance and production of children’ (Walkerdine, 1984, p. 195). Taking as her premise that no psychology exists outside a particular set of historical conditions of possibility, and that those conditions made possible both the discourse of cognitive development and the child‐centred pedagogy, she argues that progressive primary education becomes a form of covert reproduction under liberal or even radical reform. It is precisely the scientific claims to truth that were so effective in producing practices that were otherwise castigated from both left and right as ‘ideological’.

Jodie Hall (2000) studied the impact of Piaget and Isaacs in relation to innovations in the primary science curriculum. She concluded that English responses to Piaget were grounded strongly in the highly pragmatic pedagogy of Susan Isaacs, which encouraged children to follow up interests in a ‘trial and error’ fashion, but that at the same time the concept of hierarchies of experience and knowledge were influential. Innovative science projects reflected a belief that very young children could employ verbal logic and that propositional thinking could be found under the age of 11. Despite elaborations, modifications and alternative accounts, however, Caroline Lister (1990) noted that a decade after his death Piaget continued to dominate cognitive developmental psychology in the sense he had fundamentally shaped the discipline and his approach was still deeply ingrained. Whilst it was necessary to be cautious about the implications for teachers and for schools, and indiscriminate application of Piagetian principles might arguably restrict the range of educational experiences for children, the task of the teacher remained one of making connections between children’s ‘intuitions’ and what is taught in school. Lister also cited David Wood’s 1988 observation that for over 20 years psychologists and educators had ‘explored the ramifications of Piaget’s theory and transformed it into curricula, approaches to teaching, and a whole philosophy of education’ (Lister, 1990, pp. 193-194).

Whilst Walkerdine, Lister and Hall have thus reflected on and investigated from various angles the impact of Piagetian psychology on primary practice, the process whereby this translation from the laboratory to the classroom takes place is one that demands investigation and should be of particular interest to trainers and educators of teachers. Documentary evidence exists in the form of texts, as we have seen, but a dimension remaining to be explored is how the teachers themselves perceived their mediating role in this respect.

Evidence from Oral Testimony

In the transition from the laboratory to the classroom, it is ultimately the individual teachers who apply what they have learned of psychological research, mediated through their own experiences of formal training and other forms of professional development. Vital evidence for this process lies in the living memories of early years teachers whose careers spanned the 1930s to the 1970s.

In the Archive of Teacher Memory we have gathered, over the course of several projects, the memories and career histories of 250 teachers. One enquiry focused particularly on teachers trained between the two world wars, teachers who had undertaken the ‘student teacher’ route of entry to the profession whilst another explored specifically the personal accounts of teachers who had taught before, during and immediately after the Second World War. This data enables us to engage with teachers’ own recollected understandings of how psychological theory impinged on their practice. Although this was not a principal focus of the enquiry, the data nevertheless offers insights into a less tidy process of translating theory into practice. Their comments on the role of psychology constitute only a small fragment of the rich data that constitutes memories of professional careers and personal lives, but these comments nevertheless reveal a range of attitudes and experiences from which we can learn.

Many respondents were quite dismissive of psychology, and quite a number could not recall the significance or even the name of Piaget. Frances Cuffley trained at Homerton College, Cambridge, in the latter years of the war, and taught mostly in infant schools before completing her career with 20 years as a primary head. She did remember Piaget but offered a robustly self‐confident and dismissive assessment of psychological theory:

We had Piaget, yes, oh yes. Yes, well I didn’t really take any of them very seriously I have to say. We had to write essays and things but I’ve told you I’m not very good at that. We had to write essays and so on and all these folk had to be mentioned or discussed or something but it was like water off a duck’s back, I have to say. It didn’t seem relevant. It really didn’t seem to me very relevant and I always thought it was partly because I’d been so long in school that the children were more important than all this sort of airy fairy stuff. I think I just had a sort of natural empathy with them. I mean the little boys would get up to things and I knew what they were going to get up to before they did it because I would have liked to have done it myself. (WEP Respondent C 009. All names used in this paper are pseudonyms)

The implication here is that, as well as relying on her own empathy, the encounter with Piaget may have been later in her career, and that was true even of the youngest of this group of respondents. Anne Hammond received her initial training in 1951-1953 at Goldsmiths and understandably, given the arts emphasis of the college, she made a clear association between child psychology and the expressive arts. The details of any other theorists she may have encountered had not been memorised, but Piaget came to be of interest later in her career.

We did child psychology. I think what it did, what the lectures did was to enable us to understand what … something of what children’s needs were and of how best those needs were met. Now, we did movement at college. It was … Have you heard of Laban? Now he was an Eastern European and the teacher was a Laban specialist so he did this very free music movement, often to music which … then came out in the BBC music and movement broadcasts. I don’t think … they wouldn’t have come in then but they lead that sort of free dancing, which was so different to the drill that I had in my primary school. I suppose it leads me to believe that, yes, Goldsmiths was progressive to an extent. I mean it wasn’t way‐out, certainly because a lot of value was attached to your academic progress but … I think … Yes. I think we were allowed to consider the children with regard to not just learning to read and write and to perform in the three Rs, but to express themselves in dance and drama and art. I think those subjects were considered to be important. Now they wouldn’t have said, I don’t suppose, that they were as important as the academic so‐called subjects but I am very interested in your question about Goldsmiths being progressive and about Child Psychology and I suppose what I picked up … I just happened … I just think I’ve made connections between this interest in the Arts, the expressive Arts, Drama and Creative Writing was encouraged then. So yes. They weren’t excessively progressive and nor was the Child Psychology … It didn’t answer all my questions but it did … I know it did whet my appetite to know more.

Piaget came to mind but Piaget was further along the line. I don’t remember being very interested in him until I was teaching … Now, where would I have been? … Piaget? … I don’t think I was interested in Piaget until much later on and I am afraid that the names of people who we learned about, they’ve just gone completely out of my mind. (WEP Respondent C 006)

Psychological theory appears to have been understood by different teachers in relation specifically to particular curriculum subjects or to particular aspects of the teaching role. Mary Howlett, who trained at Furzedown in the later 1930s and taught infants in Surrey for 40 years from 1938, associated Piaget most with the development of children’s mathematical and scientific understanding, offering conservation of volume as her example. However, she also rejected any implication that discovery learning might do away with the need for teacher’s guidance.

Piaget means quite a bit to me, I always think of Piaget—he showed that children don’t understand nearly as much as you think they do. We assume that they know things which they have no idea of and you can have a large jug with water in it, or you can have a tall tube with the same amount of water in it, but of course it comes up much higher and so there’s more water in that than there is in that to a child. That’s one thing that he showed me when I began to read some of his experiments and I did then begin to think ‘Do these children know what I’m on about? Have they got any idea what I’m talking about?’ Of course they had some idea but we did, we always have assumed that children know the obvious things, know what is obvious to us.

Oh I could easily learn from him, yes. Oh yes, I don’t condemn everything out of hand! But I do maintain that children need guidance, that they will never make anything of life if they are left to do it on their own. (WEP Respondent A 061)

Quite a few teachers recalled Piaget in connection with the teaching of maths, including one who confused him with the inventor of the Cuisenaire coloured rods.

In the mind of Ruby Hall, who attended the Froebel course at Saffron Walden during the war, Piaget was associated with a ‘whole sentence’ approach to the teaching of reading, concreteness lying in the sentence and the word, where a letter ‘sound’ was highly abstract.

Respondent: Oh Piaget, yes, yes. Of course. That was fascinating, wasn’t it? The Piaget theories really.

Interviewer: Mmm. Did he write about the ideas of children go through stages of development?

R: Yes, I think he did. And I think that’s important.

I: How did you use that in your teaching?

R: Well, well I tried to always have a plan of procedure. I think that it isn’t … they’re doing a lot of phonics now, aren’t they? We did a whole scheme of reading, whereby we did look and say, sentence method and phonics. You have to get down to the basics in the end. But, you know, children can read a word like ‘elephant’ long before they can read ‘e’ or ‘l’ and so, if you’ve got a whole sentence with ‘an elephant’ in it, they’ll read that before they read the other things. Then you can break it down. I think the whole needs to be taken first, and then broken down because they’re saying things like ‘w’, ‘c’ and they don’t know what it’s all about. But they know what it is when you say, ‘This is an elephant’. And then you can say, ‘Elephant starts with “e”’. I think that the way to do it … In books they always put ‘“A” is for apple or “a” is for apple’, don’t they? I think it should be ‘Apple starts with … put your mouth ready to say it—A’ Simple isn’t it? But ‘a’ is abstract, isn’t it, unless you say ‘Apple starts with “a”’

I: Was this the way that they were teaching you at Saffron Walden?

R: Mmm. We learned lots of methods of teaching, not just one. And we used them all. We used them all. (WEP Respondent G 014)

From 1949 to 1951 Laura Stanley was a student at the Froebel Educational Institute, Offley Place, Hertfordshire. She was aware of Piaget, whom she erroneously equated with Froebel as originator of a ‘method’ but implicitly too theoretical, but was more impressed by Schonell, not for his psychological research but for its practical outcomes in the form of reading schemes.

I mean we did go into those sorts of people and new methods, you know, different methods of education. Because, I mean Piaget and Froebel had some similar ideas in different ways but … Yes, I mean the psychology was obviously important but in the end, really the nitty‐gritty, I mean we had this book called ‘Schonell’ by Schonell ‘the teaching of reading’, and that set out everything, you know, the business of flash cards and basic vocabulary and things like that. (WEP Respondent C 012)

It is noteworthy that the psychologist Frederick Schonell, who had worked with Cyril Burt and Percy Nunn in London and went on to be Professor of Education at Birmingham, should be remembered by this teacher less for his considerable research on special educational needs than for his reading schemes.

For some the particular application of psychology was in teaching troubled children. Ruth Netley recalled hearing about theorists presented rather dully in her initial training but seeing the relevance to her later career in teaching children with special needs. She had attended the Froebel Institute at Roehampton in the early years of the war, then later worked in nursery and infant schools, in social work and play therapy.

Oh yes, we had a lot of Piaget … we had a dull lecturer for that and … yes we really did have Piaget stuck down our throats and Froebel, these two people of course … Yes, I suppose it wasn’t awfully excitingly presented to us, but I was excited by just finding out myself really in the library. She was a nice little soul, the one who did the lectures on Piaget and Froebel and various other people. (WEP Respondent D 006)

She found it relevant and helpful in her later career:

Yes. Oh yes. I mean I had been on and on always because I went in to work with very severely disturbed children later on after the war and so on and I have been doing that all of my life really you see, working with the difficult children, child guidance and so on and so of course we have just sort of gone on from there.

Ruth’s training as a play therapist in the early 1950s was preceded by attendance at Dorothy Gardner’s Child Development Course, the course originally and notably established at the London Institute of Education by Susan Isaacs.

Significantly, two other of those respondents who spoke extensively about psychology had undertaken this same course, Jean Appleby in 1947-48 and Marjorie Poulton in 1949-50. Personal testimony thus reinforces the great significance of Isaacs in the English dissemination of developmental psychology and of Piagetian research. Jean Appleby’s abiding memory was of attending an in‐service lecture and finding herself in the company of training college lecturers, representing another world from the teachers themselves:

When I was the head and the staff—several of us went to—I think it was some lectures related to Piaget actually—I mean that was what had caused the lectures to be given at the Institute of Education, London. And I don’t know how, we must have applied early I think because when we got there and what—about four left, four or five lectures were altogether. I remember thinking ‘I don’t think these people are infant teachers, they look too well dressed to start with and they’re too confident’. I thought, ‘I bet they’re training college lecturers’, and they were. And one of my staff said to me, ‘These aren’t really quite like infant teachers are they?’ (PITT Respondent A212)

This recollection also reflects the instrumentality of the training colleges in this dissemination, an observation especially wry in that she herself went on to be a college lecturer.

Outstanding testimony in identifying a constructive contribution of child psychology to a fundamental shift in teacher-pupil relations was that of Marjorie Poulton. She was the oldest of this group of early years teachers amongst our interviewees, beginning her career in 1927 as a teacher of infants in Peckham. She offered a positive account of the child psychology she’d had in training at Avery Hill College, South London, but recognised that she understood it more fully in the context of practice and the closeness to children that she developed as a teacher. She also developed her knowledge of psychology later in her career by following the course Susan Isaacs had started at the Institute of Education in London (though by the time Marjorie took the course, Dorothy Gardner had taken over as course director).

I’d already done some psychology at school of course, in the Sixth Form but that was excellent. Our child psychology lecturer was first rate and I began to understand children of that age. I hadn’t thought much about it before, yes, early childhood and the progression—which I followed up at London University afterwards cause I did their Child Development Diploma when I was much older, that was Susan Isaacs’ idea.

Oh we did Piaget! Oh yes we did. We did more Piaget later on though that was when we went out a lot from London University Institute of Education, did a lot more then, only the beginnings but it opened my eyes to child psychology. It was valuable to me, it opened my eyes. Well broadly speaking I suppose more of an understanding of childhood.

No, we were not close to children in college, we were all teaching as teacher, space, pupils. I can never remember in training ever talking to a child as an individual child, it was still teaching a class. But it set me thinking about children, perhaps I thought more so when I got into a school and began to teach myself then I thought more about it, but I think the seeds were sown there, it was a broad, a broad knowledge of psychology, not perhaps particularly related to children but I myself began to relate it to children. I think that was me, I don’t think it was the way it was presented. (WEP Respondent A 088)


These lengthy extracts reveal something of the rich quality and personal texture of the data as retired early years teachers recounted their professional careers. The aim of this research is to gain some insights from the perspective of the practitioner about their experience of change through key developments in policy and practice; their responses and motivation in adapting to change. It offers a more complex account than the grand narratives that historians have traditionally compiled from purely documentary evidence centring on great thinkers, key texts and policy initiatives.

Over the period 1927 to 1953, the dates of initial training represented here, Piaget’s theories were becoming better known though discussion and some translation, though the digests and simplifications so characteristic of the 1960s had not yet arrived. In student perceptions of a polarity between theory and practice, there was some hint of a top‐down dimension to dissemination, that theory was more favoured by college lecturers than by classroom practitioners, but with experience and in practice there were also signs of a developing sense of relevance. This corresponds with more recent discussions by Lilian Katz and James Raths who identified the ‘feedforward effect’: ‘Graduates’ evaluation of a preservice experience and the meanings attached to it change as time passes and subsequent experiences and understandings accrue’ (Katz & Raths, 1992, p. 350).

The role of in‐service education was clearly important in the experiences recalled in this paper, and in particular the child development course at the London Institute stands out in a number of respondents’ memories. In line with the quest amongst teachers for ideas that informed practice, Piagetian theory was often most clearly recalled through its application to particular curricular subjects or to identifying and providing for special needs.

But above all we find evidence of a distinctive shift in teacher-child relationships over that historical period and some illustration of the contribution made to this by psychological theory, epitomised in the towering figure of Piaget and in his focus on the individual learner, as recalled by a substantial number of teachers. This might be the starting point for more extensive research. There is scope for further investigation of documentary archives that would reveal more about the content and methods of initial and in‐service training for early years teachers. Piaget would undoubtedly feature quite explicitly here, where other influences—such as that of Freud—may be more obscure. The latter theme in turn might send us back to the oral testimony where some evidence can be found of the way Freudian psychology and attention to emotional growth was understood to inform the professional lives and practices of early years teachers over a similar period. Documents and personal memory can together shed new light on these important themes.