Child development

7th July 2007 at 01:00

THINKING SKILLS AND EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION. By Patrick J M Costello. David Fulton pound;14. YOUNG CHILDREN'S PERSONAL, SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT. By Marion Dowling. Sage Publications pound;14.99. SUPPORTING IDENTITY, DIVERSITY AND LANGUAGE IN THE EARLY YEARS. By Iram Siraj-Blatchford and Priscilla Clarke. Open University Press pound;12.99. LOOKING AT EARLY YEARS EDUCATION AND CARE. Edited by Rose Drury, Linda Miller and Robin Campbell. David Fulton pound;14.

The burgeoning interest in the theory and practice of early childhood services is reflected in a sharp increase in the volume of publications in the field. Gone are the days when two or three texts related to early years were squeezed on to library and bookshop shelves at the end of the primary section. We can afford to be selective.

In Thinking Skills and Early Childhood, Patrick Costello argues that five to seven-year-olds should be taught the skills of critical thinking, reasoning and arguing. There are chapters on the principles of teaching thinking skills, citizenship, philosophy and social and moral education to young children. Subsequent chapters contain extracts from dialogues with five to eight-year-olds on issues such as rules, fairness, identity and racism; stories used to elicit children's ideas about morality; and exercises in improving the quality of children's argument.

This is heady, but persuasive, stuff. Unfashionably, Costello argues that we must educate teachers themselves in critical thinking skills and that "the role of reasoned enquiry" rather than "acquisition of subject knowledge" should be central to primary initial teacher training programmes.

Young Children's Personal, Social and Emotional Development exudes a deep understanding of very young children. It fills the gap for early years practitioners in the core foundation stage area of personal, social and emotional development.

Dowling argues that these are essential prerequisites for all other learning in the early years and that their development must be supported by adult intervention based on observation and analysis of children's behaviour.

Chapters focus on confidence, friendships, independence, emotonal well-being, dispositions for learning, moral and spiritual development, respect for the environment and working with families. The book contains pragmatic advice on how to promote personal, social and emotional development.

My only quibble is that the last chapter, on using books and stories, seems a bolt-on.

Iram Siraj-Blatchford and Priscilla Clarke have co-written Supporting Identity, Diversity and Language in the Early Years. The authors' complementary but distinct styles are evident.

Like Dowling, they have addressed a "gap" in the training of early years practitioners. They argue that all children should learn for cultural diversity. They address the complexity of identity formation, language acquisition and diversity, first and second curriculum and parents as partners.

The book is practice oriented. There is a useful self-evaluation scale on diversity, planning for individual needs, multi-cultural education, gender and equity awareness.

The authors of the 19 short chapters of Looking at Early Years Education and Care are all associated with the University of Hertfordshire early childhood education and care certificate course. The book is designed as a reader for students on courses with a multi-disciplinary framework.

There are four sections - key issues, working together, languageliteracy and other aspects of the curriculum. The themes are dominated by education (and health less obviously), and, as with all multiple-author collections, quality is varied. Given the three co-editors' sound expertise in language and literacy, the text is biased towards this aspect of young children's development.

This is a useful text for the foundation levels of degree programmes and in-service for the emergent multi-disciplinary childcare workforce.

A plethora of texts is good news for the professional development of "educarers", although perhaps the early years educational community needs to open up more to the knowledge base of colleagues in health, social services and daycare as we construct a new professional identity.

Angela Anning is professor of early childhood education at the University of Leeds

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