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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Cavanagh

Upside down, Inside Out, and Round and Round

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

At the time I found out that I was going to be working on the Inside Out project, Diana Ross was in the headlines following her performances at the Platinum Jubilee and then the legends’ slot on the pyramid stage at Glastonbury. Her song 'Upside Down' became an ear worm every time I thought about the project - ‘Upside down, boy you turn me inside out and round and round………’

Yes it was going round and round my head – and still is!

But seeing her on stage, enjoying what she does and loving the connection with the crowd – increasing her reach to a wider, newer audience – reminded me of how things do go round and round. Her return this year made me think of how Froebel (1782 – 1852), his thinking and his philosophy, has also had a resurgence in the past few years.

The Inside Out project is going to be looking at some of Magic Acorns’ projects, and wordless soundplay in particular, through a Froebelian lens. So my initial task has been to do some reading around the man and his philosophy.

There have been organisations in England, promoting Froebel’s principles, since 1874, but over time these principles become subject to interpretation which may or may not be aligned to the founder’s original philosophy. To focus on his principles without looking at the practice is completely missing the point of his philosophy – the main focus of which is that everything is linked and interconnected.

To this end, the Froebel Trust , in its present guise, was established 10 years ago, looking to connect his principles and practice. It is a registered grant making charity and seeks to ensure that the ‘Froebelian framework of principled education and care is recognised, understood, valued and practised across the early childhood sector for the benefit of young children in the UK and internationally.’ Connecting Froebel’s principles with the practice of these principles is at the core of the Froebel Trust’s work. It is a great resource.

From the small amount of reading I’ve done so far, it seems he was a man ahead of his time, a radical, yet a deeply religious and spiritual man, not interested in accepting the status quo in terms of education. He believed that children should be at the centre of their learning, focusing on what they can do rather than what they can’t do, and that the process was more important than the outcome. He wanted children to have a sense of who they are and what their place is in the world. He wanted to give children the opportunity to connect their inner worlds with the world around them and let the outer world into the inner world – inside out, round and round. He believed play was the way to unleash the inner child. As he said ‘ Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in the children’s soul’(Froebel, 1912, pg 50). Inside Out. He wanted to see beyond what was there and to understand how all things are connected – nature, family, childhood, adulthood, science, music, the universe - and it was trying to understand these connections that fascinated him.

He founded the first ‘Kindergarten’ in 1839 and saw them as the ‘free republic of childhood’ (Weston, 1998 pg 17). The fact that there was a government decree in 1851 to shut down the 50+kindergartens that were operating across Germany, is testament to the radical nature of Froebel’s philosophy. Although he was a deeply religious man - you might say he was a modern day evangelist, spreading his belief through his actions - his schools were thought to be anti-religious as well as anti-establishment. How could a pro religion, pro establishment promote a desire for free thought?

On one level, Froebel’s principles seem so relevant in today’s world, thinking about the child at the centre of their learning, being curious in an environment that stimulates that curiosity, and one which acknowledges what the child comes with, that they are capable and competent - the holistic approach. On another level, his principles encourage a deeper look at the everyday, an almost spiritual way, of looking beyond, the notion that mind and matter are connected and each feeds the other, not as separate entities but as one connected whole.

I am looking forward to finding out more about the man and his philosophy so I can then look at the work of Magic Acorns through a well informed lens and as I get deeper into the project I’m hoping that it will not just be about inside out, but also upside down and round and round as well as topsy turvy, back to front, higgledy piggledy – looking at how Magic Acorns are turning things on their head, and looking beyond, in an attempt to find alternative pedagogies.


Froebel, F., 1912. Froebel's chief writings on education. Edward Arnold.

Weston, P., 1998. Friedrich Froebel: His Life, Times and Significance. University of Roehampton.


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