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Pen Green Centre

Pen Green Teaching School

Emotional Roots of Learning

The Emotional Roots of Learning


3 Study Days (over a 6 week period)


Emotional development has a significant impact on learning.  Listening and responding to children’s emotional communication promotes their learning and overall development.  



  • To understand how learning from experience in the early years has its roots in emotional development.
  • To develop participants’ capacity for observing emotional communication and enhance their emotional listening skills.
  • To share key psychodynamic concepts for understanding children’s emotional communication, including projection, containment and symbolism.
  • To recognise the importance of the role of the adult in interaction with children for emotional containment and cognitive development.


Learning Objectives: 

  • To gain awareness of children’s emotional states of mind from observation and attention to their activity, experience and behaviour.
  • To observe and recognise feelings that are symbolised in a child’s play, and understand how symbolism enriches schemas, learning and development.
  • To identify emotional factors that promote or impede children’s learning and development.
  • To learn key theoretical concepts in relation to emotional development from the work of Susan Isaacs, W.R Bion and Patrick Easen and Janet Shaw.




In partnership, we will explore the emotional roots of learning; the impact of emotional experience on a child’s emerging cognitive competence.  Objectives for the course will be met through participants learning from their own, and others, experience of observing a child in an early years setting, through the introduction of psychodynamic concepts to illuminate observations and the use of video, literature and presentation.


On the first day of the training we will introduce the observational context and invite discussion among participants of their experiences of observation. We will introduce the particular model of observation developed at the Tavistock Clinic for observing infants and young children.  This model is designed to focus upon the emotional content of a baby or young child’s behaviour and their emerging attachments and personality development.  It enables the study of the nuances of emotional development and has been useful in the training of a wide range of professionals from different backgrounds.


Time on the first day will be given to thinking with participants about how to set up their observations, including where to observe, the challenge of adapting to a new method of observation, gaining permission from early years settings and parents for the observation, considering the emotional impact of the observation on the observer, separating observation from interpretation, avoiding distractions, and the writing up of the observation after it has taken place.


Video material and written observations of babies and young children will be introduced on the first day to explore the emotional aspects of early relationships, followed by discussion of these vignettes in small groups. Psychodynamic concepts will be introduced in the context of understanding the video and observational material, which will include examples of early emotional experience being communicated from baby or young child to carer. 


Additionally, we will consider material from neuroscience and discuss some of the factors which promote or impede the development of the neural pathways, and the way in which the architecture of the brain is formed in response to experience. 


Days two and three of the training will use the observational material generated by the participants’ own observations for discussion.  Two groups of six participants will ensure that each member will have an opportunity to present his or her observation over the second and third days of the course.


A paper will be provided for reading between day one and two which will introduce a psychodynamic model of thinking about personality development in the early years. Time will be set aside on day two to discuss the paper in small groups.


A plenary session will conclude the programme on day three.  Key learning arising from the small groups will be identified and discussed.  It is anticipated that the course will generate ideas for a Working Paper on the emotional roots of learning.

The University of the Integrated Early Years Workforce. Supporting professionals to develop high quality practice and best outcomes for all children.