9th June 2000 at 01:00
DRAMA AND TRADITIONAL STORY FOR THE EARLY YEARS. By Nigel Toye and Francis Prendiville. RoutledgeFalmer pound;14.99.

This book sets out to introduce ways of using structured drama work with early years children.

The integration of this work with the explicit demands of the curriculum and desired outcomes - particularly with regard to literacy and spiritual, moral, social and cultural education - is set out with confident precision and attention to the needs of teachers who will have to justify using these approaches in their planning and assessment.

Having used similar drama techniques with young children when asked to do so by a researcher, I can answer for young children's genuine enjoyment of the kind of mutual participation and open-ended approach that is recommended in this book.

The authors rightly acknowledge their debt to Dorothy Heathcote, although they adapt her approach. The writers also carefully describe the ways teachers could use a wide variety of traditional stories for drama work and give many examples. Their detailed instructions should reassure any teacher taking the first steps into such work.

Unfortunatel, the authors have persuaded themselves so convincingly of the merits of their approach that one senses a lack of respect, or acknowledgement of the critical importance and worth, of children's own self-directed play in comparison to what they themselves have to offer. They clearly see drama work as superior rather than complementary to play. Their humourless observations about very young children's play raise considerable doubts about their real understanding of this age group.

They are clearly perplexed, if not irritated, by the tendency of some ungrateful nursery-age boys simply to rush around their teacher's carefully constructed castle, instead of involving themselves in "play related to its form". The physical needs of pupils are not examined, nor what the construct of a "castle" might mean to three and four-year-olds, especially a downsized cardboard version of one.

Teachers might find the authors' admonitions a touch patronising, although I treasure their advice that "it is misleading and counter productive to bark as a dog".

Annabelle Dixon is a research associate at the school of education, Cambridge university

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