Early years

7th April 2000 at 01:00
SPECIAL NEEDS IN THE EARLY YEARS. By Sheila Wolfendale. Routledge pound;14.99

It's for working and you have your lunch there," was the response of one five-year-old, when asked what school is for. The research that led to this revelation is quoted in Sheila Wolfendale's tightly packed collection, which is subtitled "snapshots of practice".

It is a book with an extraordinarily rich set of contributions from a wide range of contributors: teachers, a parent, a nurse, researchers, lecturers, advisers and others. The metaphor behind the book is, in Wolfendale's words, "the concept of cog wheels - move one and all the others move. The cog wheel represents the developmental nature of childhood within its social and cultural context."

There are some fascinating and informative chapters here, such as the one on integrating a child with Down's syndrome into an under-fives education centre.

There is some rich description of the problems which were encountered as this was done and how these problems were overcome. Another chapter explores how parents of youn deaf children developed their own support group.

One of the most interesting contributions describes parental involvement in a pre-school project for children with communication difficulties. It outlines in some detail the ideas which were shared with parents, such as turn-taking and how not to silence and alienate children by well-meaning attempts to join in their play.

Dotted with short but vivid case studies, it provides an excellent blend of practical help and theoretical information.

The more purely theoretical chapters - on, for example, the notions of normality and behaviour disturbance - are more general and possibly less interesting for readers seeking advice on children in the early years.

By focusing specifically on the difficulties which very young children can experience, this volume provides both a sourcebook and a source of inspiration and confidence for those trying to promote better services and support for these children and their families.

Gary Thomas is professor of education at Oxford Brookes University

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