Professional Books: For your shelf - Some food for thought in yourprofessional career

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DIVERSITY AND DIFFERENCE IN EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION: ISSUES FOR THEORY AND PRACTICE

By Kerry H Robinson and Criss Jones-Diaz

(OUP, £18.99, 01628 502500)

Reviewed by Laura Williams, Foundation Stage teacher

This book, using case studies and interviewing educators, parents and children, follows areas of diversity such as gender, culture, race and sexuality and how they are approached in schools. The authors say that children are not 'clean slates', but recipients of adults' perceptions and values which can have an effect on how children perceive the world.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter on bilingualism. It talks about the need to have high levels of support for EAL children and how a child's home language should be integrated across all areas of the curriculum. A reluctance to use other languages in English-speaking schools is seen as a threat to diversity.

Gender is a prevalent issue in the early years, as children's play choices often reflect stereotypes, and the book considers where these preconceptions stem, while challenging negative beliefs.

The book is a heavy read, being based on theoretical research - the glossary proved particularly useful!

OUR FOOD, OUR WORLD: A LET'S EAT PHOTOPACK FOR AGES 5-9

Published by Oxfam (£17.50, 01202 712933)

Reviewed by Mary Whiting, nutrition writer

Overall this pack perplexed me. It includes 32 A4 colour photocards picturing the life of a child from France, Mexico, Thailand, India and Africa, a CD-Rom (including a 'food journey' of a banana and photos of Durban), an A1 poster of the world and a teacher's book. Despite the stated age range, it's more suitable for mid-juniors or older children.

The photographs are good, but the related questions are 'closed' ('Does anyone find and eat wild-growing food?') and often make no reference to what's happening in the picture. Odd to say that a French school lunch had 'fish and chips' when menus in French schools usually read like restaurant menus! And I did wonder why four of the children are shown living in fairly affluent, comfortable homes and towns, but we see the African child's shanty-town family eating a meal sitting on the ground.

The ideas in the teacher's book seemed vague - for example, it suggests making a Thai market stall but doesn't say how. Some activities involve only one child at a time being active.

A narrower age range, precisely-described activities and a more classroom-aware approach could have made this package more useful.

THE POWER OF PLAY: HOW SPONTANEOUS, IMAGINATIVE ACTIVITIES LEAD TO HEALTHIER, HAPPIER CHILDREN

By Dr David Elkind

(Perseus Books, £14.99, 020 7353 7771)

Reviewed by Tim Gill, play consultant

This wide-ranging book, written for parents, makes the case for play as a fundamental human learning process. Its author, an eminent US child psychologist, brings together academic research, educational theory, professional and personal anecdotes and a dash of social commentary.

We have seen such books before, but the twist is Elkind's underlying theory: that human life involves a dynamic interaction between the 'inborn drives' of love, work and play.

After dismissing educational toys and warning about parental angst, he explores the social, intellectual and creative dimensions of play. The book closes with a brief look at education, endorsing child-centred practice and offering ideas for 'beating the system'.

The style is readable, the tone positive, the author's convictions admirable: for example, few would dispute the value of 'lighthearted parenting' (a lovely phrase).

Yet it is not hard-hitting or rigorous enough to win over those who doubt the thesis. This reader, his views intact, resolved to add a little more humour into his parenting, but struggled to gain much insight from the theorising.

Borrowing from Freud and Piaget, he argues that 'play, love and work complement, not oppose each other during each major phase of growth. Further, when play, love and work are all involved, learning and development are the most effective.'

OUR RECOMMENDED CHOICE

Environments for outdoor play: a practical guide to making space for children

By Theresa Casey (Paul Chapman, £18.99, 020 7324 8500)

Reviewed by Jan White, consultant for outdoor provision in the early years

Suitable services for children must offer good access to outdoor environments where play supports health, well-being and happiness. We need to examine 'play' to create the best outdoor environments.

While taking the reader through each stage of the design process, this book prompts us to think through the features and qualities of successful environments that achieve the best outcomes in terms of play and are truly inclusive for all children. As the author says, 'the key to this is really an attitude or an atmosphere as much as design, recognising that if it is a place for play, then play is what has to happen, and play isn't a series of specific activities but a messy, unfolding, changeable experiment.'

I like the attention to individuality, children's perspectives and community. The author brings a strong playwork perspective to considering outdoor spaces, which early years practitioners considering the design of new or refurbished areas should find valuable. It's crucial to free up our thinking about playful spaces, and this book brings a refreshing focus on working from children's motivations for play, using playful values (such as choice, spontaneity, freedom and meaning-making) to drive thinking, being careful not to over-design, and the organic growth of a space into a place through the play that occurs.

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