Sector pays tribute to early years pioneer Vivian Gussin Paley

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The early years sector is mourning the loss of renowned educator and author Vivian Gussin Paley, who has passed away at the age of 90.

A former kindergarten teacher, Vivian Gussin Paley’s approach to storytelling and story acting techniques to foster children’s creative play, inspired the Helicopter stories approach.

A patron of the charity Make BelieveArts, Ms Paley authored 13 books and received numerous awards for her work in promoting the importance of listening to children’s stories. In 1987, she received the Erikson Institute Award for Service to Children and was named as an Outstanding Educator by the National Council of Teachers of English in 2004.

Ms Paley was born and brought up in Chicago. After marrying, she lived for 12 years in New Orleans, where she trained and worked as a kindergarten teacher, and 12 years in New York, where she again worked as a teacher. But it was only after returning to her home town and taking up a position at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools that she started writing about her observations. Her first book was published when she was 50.

Her husband, Irving Paley, whom she married in 1948, died shortly after her own death. She is survived by a son, David, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her other son, Robert, died in 2017.


Photo courtesy of MakeBelieve Arts


In a post on MakeBelieve Arts’s website, the charity’s artistic director Trisha Lee says, ‘To my dear friend Vivian, today the world feels emptier without you. You will not be forgotten.

‘When I first met Vivian in 1999, I was immediately struck by how non-judgemental she was. How much she cared for the voices of the children she worked with. How she listened deeper and harder than anyone I had ever met.

‘When I last visited Vivian, two months ago, she asked me, With all the changes that are happening in the world, with all the advances in technology, have things got any better for the children?” It was a hard question to answer, and it summed up to me the importance Vivian still placed on making the world a better place for the youngest among us, even though she knew she was dying.

‘It was hard to respond.

‘But there was a positive, one that I was able to share with Vivian, one that I believe with all my heart.

‘So, I told her. There are still hundreds and thousands of us who work in the early years, who believe in the value of play, and that Vivian’s work and the work of others like her, gives us the power to fight what we know is wrong. I told her that for the children who regularly have access to storytelling and story acting, or Helicopter Stories, I believe things do change for the better. For Vivian’s approach means these children are valued, listened to, and nurtured and as a result their stories and their confidence grow.’

Writing on Twitter, Michael Rosen, also a patron of MakeBelieve Arts, said, ‘This is a very sad day. VGP [sic] created a wonderful form of anthropological classroom observation of kindergarten children. She is one of the great thinkers and researchers of our time. Long live Vivian Gussin Paley. Please read her work.'

Others in the early years sector took to social media to pay tribute to Ms Paley.

Early years consultant Kym Scott tweeted, ‘So sad to hear of the death of Vivian Gussin Paley, her work influenced many of us and her books remain absolute must reads for those working with young children. Thanks you for sharing so much with us Vivian, you were the ultimate reflective teacher.’

Professor Iram Siraj tweeted, ‘A very special kind of teacher. Sad to hear about the death of the wonderful Vivian Gussin Paley RIP.’

Vivian Gussin Paley, born 25 January 1929, died 26 July 2019

© MA Education 2019. Published by MA Education Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, Herne Hill, London SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 04002826. MA Education is part of the Mark Allen Group. – All Rights Reserved