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[TX] Creative activities in the early years

by Stella Skinner

Reviewed by Jean Evans, early years consultant

The stunning visual image of a child absorbed in messy paint explorations on the cover of this inspirational book sends a clear message about the author's belief in the importance of providing children with opportunities to initiate their own investigations into their creativity.

This book is easy to read, refreshing and exciting, and I would recommend it to all those working with young children. It is also useful for students, clearly articulating the reasons for providing well-organised child-initiated creative opportunities rather than adult-directed activities.

The child-initiated approach runs throughout the book, underpinned with sound advice on making the most of the existing environment, including music, lighting, space and resources, so that children are inspired to explore and experiment freely and confidently express their creative ideas. Photographs of children engaged in activities, with and without adult support, provide evidence of the success of good organisation.

The book abounds with practical suggestions for themed activities in art, dance and music. It provides detailed information on how to follow each theme through logical stages from introduction, through development of ideas, to recalling actions. There are ideas to link these aspects of creativity together, as children often move from one media to another in their explorations.

- Nurture Groups in school and at home: Connecting with children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties

By Paul Cooper and Yonca Tinaz

(Jessica Kingsley, £15.99, 781843105282, 020 7833 2307)

Reviewed by Rosalyn Spencer, former Nurture Group teacher

This is a well-written book based on anecdotal evidence and sound research into Nurture Groups and nurturing practices.

The underlying message is that problems in behaviour stem from the relationships between children, carers and school, rather than from within the individual child. Using a framework developed by Olsen and Cooper, it looks at patterns of interaction between children and adults that can create and sustain behaviour problems in children. It also looks at ways these patterns of interaction might be altered resulting in improved behaviour.

There is an excellent chapter describing ways in which parents and carers can help their child's development and meet their individual needs through early childhood, middle childhood and adolescence.

- Beyond quality in early childhood education and care: Languages of evaluation (second edition)

By Gunilla Dahlberg, Peter Moss and Alan Pence

(Routledge, £22.50, 01264 343071, 978415418492)

Reviewed by Laura Williams, Foundation Stage teacher, Hemel Hempstead

This book confronts many of the basic theories of mainstream early childhood policy and practice. It uses examples from different countries, predominantly Reggio Emilia in Italy.

The first few chapters criticise influential strands in the discipline of child development and give new ideas from the Italian school reform. It explains how people should view children in postmodernistic terms - that children come into early childhood 'rich' and it is not an adult's job to feed knowledge and skills to a child, but rather to support them, by asking questions, listening and talking to them.

The book argues that there is an urgent need to get beyond quality and rethink not just the practices but also our evaluation of such practices. This is very topical, with the development of children's centres and extended services.

A major question addressed in the book is one that is puzzling many LEAs - how do we assess quality of provision? Quality may mean different things in different cultures and we need a standardised approach that will work for all projects.

All in all, a good, but sometimes confusing read.


- Listening to children in their early years

By Dr Hannah Mortimer with Sure Start Stockton-on-Tees (Qed, £6, 01785 620364)

Reviewed by Jacqui Cousins, early years consultant

This is one of the most helpful and concise books on listening to young children which I have read in recent years. It includes many practical activities and interesting case studies.

The reader is guided to a deeper understanding of why listening to young children is so crucial for their healthy and holistic development. In the words of the author, 'Listening is used in its widest sense and involves tuning in to children, seeing the world from their own points of view, offering them choices, consulting them in matters that are important to their lives and adjusting what we do in light of their responses.'

She emphasises how crucial the adult role is if listening to children in their early years is to become habitual. To that end, there are clear chapters on the four main processes involved. These are:

- Communicating effectively

- Encouraging participation

- Tuning in

- Offering choices.

Each chapter provides practical examples and summaries.

This book will be a valuable resource for anybody interested in finding out more about how to listen effectively to children in their early years. I hope its 'small is beautiful' format will make it one which everybody can afford to buy.

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