Making sense of time and place

2nd February 1996 at 00:00
Value judgements are central to history and geography, writes Hilary Cooper

Teaching Early Years History. By Liz Wood and Cathie Holden. Teaching Early Years Geography. By Fran Martin. Chris Kington Pounds 9.95 each.

These books, which enhance the fragile status of history and geography in the early years curriculum, are rare and welcome. They are sufficiently brief, (fewer than 50 pages), clear and practical to encourage busy teachers to use them.

Those who do so will be rewarded with a clear understanding of the rationale for teaching these subjects, and a conviction that they make an appropriate and indeed essential contribution to children's early education. They will gain confidence in the planning and assessment of learning in these areas through activities central to the key stage 1 curriculum, based on story, play and pictures. This will be informed by up-to-date research.

The books share many qualities. They recognise that value-laden issues are central to history and geography and show how young children's understanding can be both challenged and developed in these contexts. In each book there is a careful consideration of the impact of gender differences on children's learning and of how these may be addressed. Differences between a boy's and a girl's mental maps, for example, are compared before and after input from the teacher.

Teaching Early Years History shows how teachers might help pupils to understand what women in the past achieved and the constraints on women's achievements, which children may still be aware of in their own family lives. Both books consider sensitive ways, based on experience and research findings, in which to educate children for a multi-ethnic and multicultural society, and to introduce such concepts as equity and social justice.

Some research, for example, has shown that children respond least positively to images very different from their own experience.

In each book a section on information technology analyses why this area has been difficult to develop in many schools and suggests, with the help of useful lists of resources, how these problems may be overcome in the context of early years history and geography.

Both books have pages of photocopiable material. Some of this shows how to structure activities (for example, collecting data from a shop survey), some are intended for in-service activities, some are formats for assessing and recording children's progress. (I wonder how the author might have paraphrased the history key elements - for example "show awareness that the past is represented in different ways" so that parents, let alone six-year -olds, might understand what this means.) Although they have a similar structure, there are diffences between the two books. Teaching Early Years Geography is bursting with examples of approaches to planning at all levels from key stage plans to individual activities: webs, matrices and cubes. This is its strength and I shall certainly be using some of these in sessions with students.

What makes Teaching Early Years History so readable and fascinating, and should inspire any teacher to try out the suggested activities, is the interweaving of examples of children's work, their discussions, their drawings, their writing, their time-lines. Who could resist Charlie's drawing of two oblivious sheep, smiling contendedly on their way to market, then fail to be impressed by the knowledge, conjecture and questions evident in his description of his picture?

Hilary Cooper is director of professional studies in Lancaster University's department of teaching and education studies. A second edition of her book, The Teaching of History in Primary Schools - Implementing the Revised National Curriculum (David Fulton) has recently been published

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