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Wise Words. How Susan Isaacs Changed Parenting

In Bookshelf Child Development


"Harassed" writes: "Your answers to correspondents are exceedingly clear, and when I read them I say, ‘That is just the answer I should think of’, though I believe I should have great difficulty when it came actually to putting it into words! However, I cannot answer my own problems, so will you please help me?" (20 August 1930)

This much-needed collection brings together the columns of parenting adviser Ursula Wise, "agony aunt" for The Nursery World between 1929 and 1936, and pseudonym for the eminent educationalist and pioneering psychoanalyst Susan Isaacs.


This book is a fascinating read which will captivate early years specialists, parents and social historians alike. It is easy to read with accessible commentaries provided throughout.  

Susan Isaacs was a British psychologist and educationalist whose work spanned the first half of the twentieth century. For those not familiar with her work, this article will give you a better understanding of her career and her contribution to the early years teaching that we recognise today.

Between 1929 and 1936 Isaacs was writing a regular column for Nursery World Magazine giving parenting advice in response to questions raised by readers. This ‘agony aunt’ style feature was extremely popular and demonstrated Isaac’s progressive view of early child development. When Isaacs started the column she kept her professional credentials secret, revealing them only half way through her tenure with the magazine. She wrote under the pseudonym Ursula Wise. Reading the letters from readers and Isaacs’ responses it seems that the issues faced by parents have not changed in almost a century. Isaacs' guidance seems similarly contemporary. Working at the same time as Piaget, Isaacs disagreed with the structured approach to child development he advocated. Instead, Isaacs preferred a more holistic view of development, understanding that the child’s sense of self and well-being were crucial to their healthy development – more so than the ‘achievement’ of rigid structural milestones.

The book, Wise Words: How Susan Isaacs Changed Parenting, introduces Isaacs to us explaining clearly her background and her eminence. It is worth noting that the play based learning approach that she proposed is even now considered to be ‘best-practice’ in early years. Thus it is shown that Isaacs’ thinking has stood the test of time being as relevant now as it was 80 years ago. For parents the issues are the same and the sound advice given by Isaacs all that time ago remains pertinent.

Edited by Rebecca

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