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Millie Almy, The Grandame of Early Childhood Education, Dies at 86

  Millie Almy

Millie Almy


Known in her field as the "Grandame" of Early Childhood Education, Millie Almy passed away quietly in Berkeley, California, on August 15. She was 86. She had no immediate survivors.

Almy, a Professor Emerita at the University of California at Berkeley and a long-time faculty member at Teachers College, was widely known and respected for her role in studying the mental, emotional and social development of young children. Her research from the 1950s and 1960s looked at how young children understood complex subjects such as science, math and literature.

At a Conference on the Education of Teachers in Science at which she was keynote speaker, she stressed that in a "push-button" world, "adults must be continuously alert to ways of providing simple, direct experiences out of which youngsters can build scientific concepts of order and relationship." These concepts, she said, would strengthen at each stage of development and add to the individual's appreciation of the complexity of the modern world.

Almy's research and writing also stressed direct experience, manipulation and visualization as an important stage necessary for children to master abstract thinking. "The reason math and science and literature have seemed in the past to be beyond the young child's mental grasp is that they have traditionally been presented in formal, verbal concepts-symbolic terms which the child is not prepared to handle until he has first got the feel of a subject through direct experience with real objects." Early childhood, she said, is an ideal time of life for children to begin to learn methods of science.

As one of the first American scholars to build on and disseminate Piagetian theory in the 1960s, she wrote that intelligence was not a quality fixed at birth, but was one that emerges as it is nurtured. With each stage of development comes the possibility of learning and acquiring new abilities that need to be sufficiently exercised before moving on to the demands of the next stage of development.

In order to create nurturing educational relationships, Almy stressed the importance of
respect for students by their teachers. An ideal educational environment would include children being treated with respectful consideration "as people," not being given more information than they can handle, not exposing a child to public scorn or ridicule, and including parents as allies. She also believed in the importance of teachers becoming active in the community in which they teach.

In the last two decades of her work, Almy became an outspoken advocate for the value and transformative power of children's play for their cognitive social and emotional development. Even after her retirement, Almy mentored many students in early childhood education and child development.

Almy attended Vassar College, where she received her A.B. degree in Child Study in 1936, and Teachers College where she received an M.A. in Early Childhood Education and Child Development in 1945 and a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Teaching in 1948. She was head of the Department of Child Development and Family Life at the University of Cincinnati, where she also was a lecturer in child development in the Department of Psychiatry. She served one year as a visiting professor at the University of Illinois before joining the Teachers College faculty in 1952.

While at Teachers College she was editor of a series of books on Early Childhood Education at TC Press. In 1971, she went to UC Berkeley where she was a professor in the Division Educational Psychology until her retirement in 1980, after which she was a Fulbright Fellow at Macquarie University in New South Wales, Australia, and a visiting professor at Mills College in Oakland. She was honored as a Distinguished Alumna by Teachers College in 1980 and by Vassar in the early 1990s.

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