Naumburg, Margaret (1890-1983) - Early Childhood Education - Pedagogy

Early Childhood Education

Naumburg, Margaret (1890-1983)


Margaret Naumburg, a prominent figure in the “new schools” movement in the United States for six decades, was the founder of Walden School. The curriculum of this psychoanalytically based New York City educational program emphasized the creative arts and the social sciences, while fostering the development of mathematics and science skills through innovative developmentally appropriate learning experiences. In her middle years, Naumburg utilized insights gained from her study of psychology, her work in psychiatric hospitals, and her school curricular and administrative experiences as the bases of the art therapy and art education courses she developed and taught at New York University, and later at the New School for Social Research.

Naumburg received her baccalaureate degree from Barnard College, where she studied with John Dewey, beginning a lifelong educational dialogue. She received a diploma from Dr. Maria Montessori’s first training course for English-speaking teachers, spent a summer exploring the Organic School with Marietta Johnson, and did postgraduate work at Columbia University. She studied Dalcroze Eurhyth- mics, F. Matthias Alexander’s Physical Co-ordination, Alys Bentley’s Correlated Movements and Music, and Dr. Yorke Trotter’s Rhythmic Method of Teaching Music and incorporated aspects of these methods into the school curriculum.

Lillian Wald of the Henry Street Settlement provided the setting for Naumburg’s first Montessori class. In October 1914, when Naumburg decided that a more eclectic curriculum would respond better to children’s needs, she and a friend opened the nursery school class that became The Children’s School. Naum- burg and her colleagues, including Margaret Pollitzer, Elizabeth Goldsmith, Alvie Nitscheke, Cornelia Goldsmith, and Hannah Falk developed, assessed, analyzed and honed the school’s philosophy and curriculum. Walden School, renamed in honor of the democratic tradition of the New England Transcendentalists, was built on psychoanalytic principles; attention to the balanced development of children’s physical, emotional and intellectual powers; and a curriculum that evolved from the needs of the children and promoted learning by personal experience. The students benefited from courses taught by such well-known figures as Ernst Bloch (music), A. A. Goldenweiser (anthropology), and Lewis Mumford (English).

The visual arts program, directed by Naumburg’s sister Florence Cane, drew praise from educators, parents, and writers. In addition to enhancing the environment with two- and three-dimensional art works, the children were intimately involved in decorating their school walls and furnishings. Older children painted walls, doors, and room dividers for their younger schoolmates as well as themselves. Some of the students’ artwork was displayed in New York City art galleries.

Naumburg was a prolific writer. Her early works include articles about Maria Montessori, the Gary, Indiana schools, Eurhythmics, and progressive education. Later works on education describe the founding and development of Walden School, its philosophy, curriculum and intellectual roots, and the physical and affective environment it provided. Naumburg also wrote several of the earliest art therapy texts in the United States.

Margaret Naumburg’s life and work demonstrated a consistency of purpose and philosophy. She utilized her knowledge of and talents in the creative arts, psychology and psychoanalysis, and writing, to enhance the lives of children. She did this through her work with schizophrenic and psychoneurotic children and young people in art therapy. She left a lasting legacy to the field of early childhood education by founding and directing Walden School, and creating a faculty and staff of individuals who carried its progressive, creative ideas throughout the country and the world, into history and into action.

Further Readings: Beck, Robert H. (1958-1959). Progressive education and American progressivism: Margaret Naumburg. Teachers College Record LX, 202-203; Hinitz, Blythe Farb (2004). Margaret Naumburg. In Susan Ware, ed., and Stacy Braukman, asst. ed., Notable American women: A biographical dictionary: Completing the twentieth century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp. 462-464; Hinitz, Blythe Farb (2002). Margaret Naumburg and Walden School. In Alan R. Sadovnik and Susan Semel, eds., Founding mothers and others: Women educational leaders during the progressive era. New York: Palgrave, pp. 37-59; Hutchins, Amey A. (December 2000). Biography. In Register to the Margaret Naumburg Papers, Special Collections, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania; Lascarides, V. Celia, and Blythe Farb Hinitz (2000). A history of early childhood education. New York: Routledge/Falmer Publishing; Naumburg, Margaret (1928). Naumburg, A Challenge to John Dewey. The Survey Graphic 60(September 15), 598-600; Naumburg, Margaret. (1928). The child and the world: Dialogues in modern education. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company; Naumburg, Margaret (June 25, 1930). The Crux of Progressive Education. TMs pp. 1-6. Naumburg Papers, Box 15 Folder 835 [published in The New Republic 63,145]; Naumburg, Margaret (1913). Maria Montessori: Friend of children. The Outlook 105 (December 13), 796-799; Naumburg, Margaret. The Walden School. In Guy Montrose Whipple, ed., Twenty-Sixth yearbook of the society for the study of education: Part I: The foundations and technique of curriculum-construction. Bloomington, IL: Public School Publishing Company, pp. 333-334; Rosenfeld, Paul (1924). Port of New York. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc.; reprint 1961, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. Rubin, Judith (1983). DAYENU: A tribute to Margaret Naumburg. Art Therapy 1(1 October), 4.

Blythe Hinitz