Stuff and new stuff
Three new titles to inspireóand to stimulate action
Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens: The Handbook for Outdoor Learning
Written by David Sobel. Redleaf Press, 2015 ($39.95)
Among the forms and philosophical structures of early childhood education, one stands out for most of us—the nature preschool in which the outdoors is the classroom. In these programs, many inspired by Richard Louv’s 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, children from California to Maine spend up to eight hours a day—including meals and rest time—in nature. Some urban programs use nearby parks, while programs in more rural areas enjoy forest groves. Most have no indoor space except for emergency shelters and use the natural world as curriculum, environment, and material for year-round comprehensive early education.
In Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens, environmental guru David Sobel, with contributions from several experienced early childhood educators, offers an accessible and inspiring guide to successful nature-learning experiences for young children. The handbook includes the background history of European nature preschools along with proven curriculum ideas and the how-to’s (including planning, budgeting, and pitfalls to avoid) of building a successful program.
Sobel’s work is predicated on the realization that in America social and political forces (including high stakes academic testing, technology and screen time, and fear of accidents and litigation) have indoor-ified early childhood. He hopes that programs work to balance the indoor forces with language-rich, hands-on, STEM-imbued, and open-ended outdoor experiences.
The book is rich with stories and photographs of successful outdoor programs, examines the organizing principles of an outdoor curriculum, and illustrates best practices for engaging children.
Ultimately, Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens provides the mentorship and guidance early care and education teachers need to embrace and incorporate solid nature-based education in the experiences they offer every day.
The Comfort of Little Things: An Educatorís Guide to Second Chances
Written by Holly Elissa Bruno. Redleaf Press, 2015 ($24.95)
Every day is an opportunity for a second chance,” writes Holly Elisa Bruno with calming reassurance in The Comfort of Little Things. Her stories, grounded in research, familiar scenarios, and practiced reflection, help readers:
gain perspective and work through crises,
practice letting go with dignity,
learn to apologize for missteps—with authenticity and honor,
accept being vulnerable, and
build trust in themselves and others.
Bruno holds that vulnerability, perspective, and forgiveness take practice and that each is equally important to an adult’s and a child’s emotional well-being.
Most poignant for early childhood educators is Part 2 of the book in which she offers strategies for facing up to the bullies of fear and mistakes. As an exercise, she asks teachers to identify three behaviors that push their buttons (whining, negativity, entitlement, and resistance to change, for example) and to consider three ways to prevent these behaviors from becoming bullies. She advocates naming the issue, identifying why it’s a trigger, and building a repertoire of responses (sing a restorative song, breathe intentionally, roll your shoulders, and repeat to yourself, “It’s not about me,” for instance).
Similarly, Bruno guides readers through the maze of identifying and owning mistakes—and making authentic and sincere apologies. Her guidance includes making apologies from the heart, as soon as possible after the mistake is made, and with a change of behavior that reflects a determination that the mistake will not occur again.
The Comfort of Little Things is written for both program administrators so they can learn that customer service applies to themselves as well as to others, and for teachers whose ability to acknowledge mistakes and seek forgiveness is a powerful tool in the emotional and social growth of children who model adult behaviors. Her message: We all deserve a second chance.
Rituals and Traditions: Fostering a Sense of Community in Preschool
Written by Jacky Howell and Kimberly Reinhard.National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2015 ($18)
Early childhood teachers know that consistency and routine are bedrocks to meaningful classroom experiences: children need the security and comfort that come with predictability in a day’s rhythms, practices, interactions, and activities.
Routines are inherently repetitive. The ability to predict and prepare for what comes next is powerful for children who are learning to self-regulate their emotional and physical selves.
Ritual builds on routine—it extends a child’s understanding of what to do while connecting all the children who are part of the ritual. It helps children move from how it’s done to how we do it. Over time, rituals can become traditions—how we do it today is how it happened in the past and how it will happen in the future.
Authors Howell and Reinhard offer ideas for transforming routine early care and education experiences (eating, resting, and gathering, for example) into those that build the social relationships essential to a caring, learning community. They use the key elements of family ritual—intentionality, individualization, and technique—to describe ways in which teachers can transform daily events into activities that promote positive self-regulation and self-regard in children.
For example, as part of an end-of-day ritual, the authors suggest taking digital photos of children throughout the day and loading the images into a digital picture frame. When children look at the montage, they are reminded of events to share with family members on the way home. The images also give family members a concrete way to stay in touch with the child’s learning activities and growth.
Daily rituals can build into weekly and monthly events like Magical Mondays, Chapter Book Wednesdays, Pajama Day, or a welcome song to invite a new child or even a classroom pet into the group. Annual events like a child’s Walk Around the Sun birthday recognition or a program-wide family game day to celebrate the Week of the Young Child are examples of common traditions.
Rituals and traditions have the power to connect children, families, and teachers; to build a sense of belonging among all community members; and to foster a positive social and emotional learning environment.