Stuff and new stuff
Important resources for teachers and administrators
For Our Babies: Ending the Invisible Neglect of America’s Infants
Written by J. Ronald Lally. WestEd and Teachers College Press, 2013. ($22.50)
Learning From the Bumps in the Road: Insights From Early Childhood Leaders
Written by Holly Elissa Bruno, Janet Gonzalez-Mena, Luis Antonio Hernandez, and Debra Ren-Etta Sullivan. Redleaf Press, 2013. ($29.95)
Many people embrace the end of the year as an opportunity for reflection, evaluation, and renewed commitment. For people who work with young children, this annual review typically includes reliving conversations with unhappy parents, questioning failures in program policy and classroom rules, and reviewing the tactics and techniques that fall short of fully supporting the optimal growth and development of children.
This year, in addition to this yearly review, consider including a pep talk from a group of early care and education leaders who have walked the walk and a call to action on behalf of America’s vulnerable infants.
For as much as teachers are perceived as depending on the apparent ease of a capsule curriculum with day-to-day guides and plans, in truth, early care and education is difficult and complicated. When we commit to supporting the needs of individual children and the needs of children in groups, when we agree to respect diversity in all its forms, and when we pledge to reflect sound child development theory as we plan and execute activities, we understand that we’re undertaking a complex construction, while accepting a challenge that we believe will impact society’s future.
In Learning From the Bumps in the Road, experienced educators with rich early childhood histories share personal stories—successes and failures, insights and insecurities—about their efforts to build learning communities for children and authentic, supportive environments for families. Readers are invited into conversations about interpersonal relationships, cultural differences, technology, assessments, and authenticity.
Early in the book, the writers explore the concept of niceness. Early education professionals recognize the pressure to be nice—and to avoid rocking the boat. Eighty percent of us are conflict-avoidant, and more than half are adversely impacted by negativity, gossip, and backbiting. We’re expected to be compliant and agreeable, even in the face of error or mistreatment. The authors prod us to consider dancing with conflict—overcoming fear and reluctance, affirming civility, and reinforcing our commitment to act on behalf of children.
Later in the text, the authors remind us of the value of humor, lightheartedness, laughter, and play. Too often, we’re told, we stridently defend children’s right to play, forgetting that it’s also essential to the well-being of adults, especially early care and education professionals. Play enables us to be engaged, attentive to the immediate task, and free to explore, discover, and share joy.
With the ability to play comes the gift of perspective. It gives the opportunity to step back, take a breath, and question the importance of an issue. It lets us shake off the negativity of “I’ll never get this done” and opens the possibility of “One day at a time.” We’re free to examine what pushes our buttons (someone who devalues our work), how it feels (a tight gut; increased stress and self-doubt), and how we bounce back (seeking reassurance from a trusted friend; calling on a sense of humor; refocusing on the goal). The writers remind us that our work should be fun and creative—filled with discovery and awe. We are urged to daydream, pretend, act as if, and imagine—play—even as we embark on the serious business of early childhood education.
Taking a different tack, For Our Babies, reaches the same conclusions about the vital role of early care and education professionals. Lally’s book makes a more scholarly evaluation of why support of babies and their families is essential. He offers a succinct review of social changes over the past half century coupled with the brain research that forced a reevaluation of what babies need.
Each stage of a child’s development requires attentive, individualized responses from parents, teachers, and caregivers. Lally uses developmental sequence and milestones to reinforce consideration of babies’ unique needs, from nutrition to attachment to identity formation, and how current family policy minimizes these essentials.
In the last section of the book, Lally makes a case for policy and economic investments in U.S. babies. He includes charts, lists, and graphs to substantiate his recommendations, including comparisons of paid-leave policies in other countries, information on certification, credentialing, and training requirements, and risk factors to be addressed before and during pregnancy. A comprehensive reading list includes major studies on the impact of early investments in children.
Coupled, the two books affirm the philosophical underpinnings of the early care and education profession and urge everyone who cares about children—and the future—to invest time, attention, energy, and money in optimum outcomes for children and their families.
Resolve to begin the new year with reflection, discovery, and a renewed commitment about best practices for you and the children you lead.