Time for new ideas

Helen Penn finds three new early years titles practical but uncritical

TEACHING LANGUAGE AND LITERACY IN THE EARLY YEARS. By Diane Godwin and Margaret Perkins. David Fulton. Pounds 13.99.


A GUIDE TO EARLY YEARS PRACTICE. By Sandra Smidt. Routledge. Pounds 11. 99.

If you need advice and inspiration about what to teach young children, there are many books available. So what distinctive contribution do these books make in an already over-provided market?

All three claim to address the needs, not just of teachers working directly in schools, but of all those educating and caring for young children. The guidance they offer is partly in response to the Desirable Outcomes for Children's Learning on Entering Compulsory Education document on which Office for Standards in Education inspections are based, and partly to the requirements of key stage 1.

Teaching Language and Literacy in the Early Years presents a wide repertoire of activities. It discusses materials and plan-ning needed, and the documentation and evaluation of each project. Apart from a weak final chapter on the concept of play, the book is a useful guide new teachers might welcome.

The Curriculum Development Handbook's introduction sets out the principles it considers any learning environment should adopt. Articles cover language and literacy, mathematics, science, physical development, design and technology and the humanities. Another two pieces deal with what is called "cross-curricular learning". The articles mostly offer good general accounts of their topic, and are clear and well grounded. But one or two are no more than dull accounts of vague themes.

A Guide to Early Years Practice, more than the other two books, is aimed at non-teachers, and reflects the author's experiences of teaching on an early years degree course. It has a slightly didactic tone, and assumes a lower level of basic knowledge from the reader. But it is relatively wide-ranging and considers some of the broader issues affecting delivery of the curriculum. One chapter, for example, attempts to analyse the meaning of partnership with parents and how it can be pursued in various settings.

All three books would be useful additions to a college or school library.They provide practical introductions to required subjects, but they are hardly inspirational. Compared with the creative work of Malaguzzi in the Reggio Emilia nurseries, or the accounts of pedagogic training in Denmark, or even the work of the previous generation of English educators such as Henry Pluckrose, these books are mostly uncritical accounts of how and what young children should learn. Nor do they discuss the effects of different types of early-years provision and the many changes of setting most young children encounter; they assume children can learn equally well in any location as long as curricular requirements are met. Unfortunately this technocratic approach is what our education system now requires - little advantage is to be gained from critical analysis or innovation.

Helen Penn is senior research fellow at the Institute of Education, London University

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