Nature, Nurture and the Space Between

Lessons from Froebel for the Early Years


  • Lynn McNair University of Edinburgh (UK)
  • Sophie Flemig University of Edinburgh (UK)


Froebel, Early Childhood Education, Environmental Influences, Child Development, Scotland, Educational Reform


In this article, we engage with a question that has occupied the professional, policy, and popular discourse on education and socialization: are a child’s development potential and outcomes contingent on innate abilities (“nature”) or environment (“nurture”) (Plomin, DeFries, & Fulker, 1988; Stiles, 2011; Tabery, 2014; Marley-Payne, 2021)? We explore what a Froebelian perspective can add to this question and how it can be translated into an early years context, focusing on its relevance for policy-making, supporting practitioners, and children’s rights. There is ample neuroscientific evidence (e.g., Miller and Jones, 2014) that it never was a clear-cut dichotomy; both forces interact, with the role of the adult as a key moderating variable between the two. For educators, the question thus becomes what these insights mean for our role in supporting child wellbeing and development. We consider the question through a Froebelian lens, starting with an analysis of Froebel’s own writings and the assemblages of his pedagogy to show the relevance of his approach in supporting practitioners in their role as mediators of the nature/nurture balance. The theoretical discussion is contextualized in contemporary Scottish Early Years policy and practice, highlighting untapped potential in an environment receptive to Froebelian ideals. We offer three propositions for how the engagement with Froebel’s vision can guide those working in the Early Years, and how we frame their interaction with children’s ecosystem. In conclusion, we argue for a more nuanced engagement with the nature/nurture debate, in particular in Early Years policy: rather than focusing on a false dichotomy of nature versus nurture, the article calls for a Froebelian reframing of our perspective on the Early Years.