Early Childhood Education

Almy, Millie (1915-2001)

 

A twentieth-century leader in the field of early childhood education and psychology, Millie Almy played a critical role in shaping the science of child development, identifying the contribution of play to children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development, and interpreting and popularizing the theories of Jean Piaget. Dr. Almy’s career in early childhood education began during her undergraduate studies at Vassar College, where she majored in Child Study and worked in the Vassar nursery school. Following college and prior to attending Teachers College at Columbia University, where she earned her master’s and doctorate degrees, Dr. Almy taught in a day nursery and directed a regional alliance of federally funded nursery schools near Buffalo, NY, for the Works Progress Administration, as well as federally funded “Lanham Act” child-care centers established during World War II.

Dr. Almy is widely credited with bringing Piagetian theory into the discourse about young children in the United States, and was widely acknowledged as one of the foremost Piagetian interpreters and theorists in the world. She helped to explain how young children came to understand complex subjects such as science, mathematics, and literature through direct experience, manipulation, and visualization before they could understand abstract concepts. Her writings and research about play and observation of young children remain classics in the field. Her scholarship reflected her extensive “hands-on” experience with young children in early care and education programs. She served on the faculty of Teachers College at Columbia (1944-1948, 1952-1971) and of the Education School at the University of California at Berkeley (1971-1980), and was President of the National Association of Nursery Educators, as well as a delegate to the Mid-Century White House Conference on Children.

Dr. Almy recognized that the United States “needed greatly expanded programs for young children and their families.” She also believed that the success of early childhood programs depended on “the availability of a special kind of early childhood educator... described as a double specialist, one who could both teach young children and assess their development, work equally well with adults as well as with children, think concretely as one must in dealing with children, but also think abstractly and formally as one must in planning and executing programs and researching them.” To this end, she led an Interdisciplinary Program for Leaders in Day Care at the University of California at Berkeley from 1974 to 1978, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, reflecting her belief that teachers need information from diverse disciplines as well as skills from other professions. She favored professional training for those working with young children, and lamented the poor compensation and low status that drove many skilled practitioners from the field.

Beloved by her students, Dr. Almy continued to mentor graduates long after they had completed studying under her tutelage. Following her retirement, she continued to conduct research across the world, including as a Fulbright Fellow in New South Wales. She also served as a Visiting Professor at Mills College in Oakland, and as a docent at the Oakland Museum. See also Curriculum, Science.

Further Readings: Almy, M. C. (1966). Young children’s thinking: Studies of some aspects of Piaget’s theory. New York: Teachers College Press; Almy, M. C. (1975). The early childhood educator at work. New York: McGraw-Hill; Almy, M. C. (1979). The impact of Piaget on early childhood education. In Frank B. Murray, ed. The impact of Piagetian theory on education, philosophy, psychiatry, and philosophy. Baltimore: University Park Press; Almy, M. C. (1979). Ways of studying children: An observational manual for early childhood teachers. New York: Teachers College Press; Stewart, D. (1991). The oral history of Millie Almy, Ph.D. Unpublished manuscript, University of California at Berkeley; Lannak, Jane (1995). Millie Almy: Nursery school education pioneer. Journal of Education CLXXVII(3), 39-55.

 

Marcy Whitebook