Stuff and new stuff
Four useful tools for professional development
A Little Drama: Playful Activities for Young Children
Written by Lavinia Roberts. Redleaf Press, 2018. ($24.95)
How does a teacher move from equipping a basic dramatic play center to introducing drama as a regular classroom feature? The first step might be in choosing Lavinia Roberts and her new book as a guide.
Roberts is an experienced early childhood educator, playwright, and dramatist who shares her passion through appropriate pedagogy that ensures child success. Opening chapters in A Little Drama cover the basics from exploring why drama (and not just the dramatic play center) is important, ways to introduce and incorporate drama, and classroom management tips that keep everyone on track. She offers comprehensive lists of potential drama themes, recommended supplies and props, and routines and rituals that provide safety, comfort, and structure.
Part two of the book focuses on the basics of building a routine drama activity. She covers acting essentials like breathing exercises and techniques, vocal warm-ups, and physical energizing and limbering activities: Actors need to project, speak clearly, and move convincingly and authentically.
In traditional drama education fashion, she offers cool-down activities, reflection tools, and closing rituals to help young children transition to the next classroom activity.
Part three gives teachers tips on incorporating music, art, and literature into the drama activity. Again, in a developmentally appropriate approach, Roberts recognizes sources for inspiration and invitations to engage.
The book’s last section pulls it all together with ideas and guidance on devising a play (a collaborative, improvised performance), building scenery, creating characters, narrating a script, staging (who does what, when, and where), documenting performances, and reflecting on outcomes.
Ever respectful of children, Roberts guides inexperienced early childhood teachers into the unfamiliar, but rewarding, territory of classroom drama, building skills across developmental domains, engendering imagination and creativity, and supporting children as they learn self-regulation, empathy, respect, and collaboration in a community of young learners.
From Biting to Hugging: Understanding Social Development in Infants and Toddlers
Written by Donna Wittmer PhD and Deanna Clauson. Gryphon House, 2018. ($24.95)
In this book, which is both an accessible child development textbook and classroom tool, Wittmer and Clauson offer an in-depth look at young children’s emerging social competence. Starting from the tenent that infants and toddlers are social beings, the book translates essential theory into the effective and supportive practices babies need from the adults in their lives.
In contemporary society, most infants and toddlers spend time in out-of-home care and in the company of a peer group that doesn’t typically exist in a family. Babies are challenged to negotiate a world in which they must share the spotlight—the space, materials, routines, and the attention of adults—with other children.
The book recognizes three distinct (though often overlapping) developmental periods: birth to 12 months, 12 to 24 months, and 24 to 36 months. It offers concrete and specific guidance for supporting emerging competence at each period. Blanketing all periods is the understanding that safe, consistent, protected, and authentic relationships with adults is key to positive, prosocial outcomes.
Charts, tables, vignettes, and references support the strategies that are so clearly described—and are valuable prompts for adult professional development. Particularly useful is the book’s consideration of individual and group differences—the ways in which temperament, gender, and culture impact the goodness of fit so essential to adult-child interactions and the dance of reciprocity. Two chapters focus on peer conflict—and developmentally appropriate strategies for encouraging resolution and a return to social harmony.
A regret: The book’s title seems to red-flag biting as a developmental given. Social interactions and a specific child’s social competence are manifest in so many ways. In appropriately supportive, engaging, and responsive classrooms, biting is one feature, like a child’s first expression of “mine,” trading a red for a green truck, choosing to sit near a special friend, or communicating the need for a diaper change.
There is no universal continuum from biting to hugging: both are temporary manifestations of specific and singular emotional states that are reflected in a social interaction. Too much emphasis on either is disrespectful of children’s evolving sense of place in community and the self-regulation that leads to personal empathy and social harmony.
Two online data tools
From Annie E. Casey Foundation and the National Institute for Early Education Research.
Up-to-date online tools are a boon for educators who are called on to share data about best practices, the cost of care, teacher qualifications, and state initiatives. Two tools are worthy of bookmarks, The Kids Count Data Book and the National Institute for Early Education Research website.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation annually publishes the The Kids Count Data Book, at https://datacenter.kidscount.org/. The comprehensive report offers easy-to-find data on children and their families.
Users can access data by topic (including demographics, economic well-being, education, community characteristics, health, and safety outcomes) and by child or family characteristic (including race and ethnicity, age, and birth characteristics). A highlight of the data book is the searchable national or state-specific information (including state rankings by family and child economic well-being, education, health, and community).
Frequently early care and education programs relegate data analysis to others. But consider the benefits of knowing community need for program development (for example, your consideration of offering a dual-language immersion program) or answering a parent’s question about single-parent families with authority and accuracy.
In addition to The Kids Count Data Book, the Casey Foundation regularly publishes research and policy reports that examine child outcomes (and barriers to success), the impact of economic poverty, and tools for communities to address the challenges of child welfare systems, including foster care and family reunification.
You can sign up to be added to the Kids Count mailing list by providing an email address in the form provided.
The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) is a national initiative that offers research-based advice and technical assistance to advance quality early care and education programs. Based at Rutgers University in New Jersey, NIEER compiles both research and international, federal, state, and local papers and reports that focus on preschool education.
NIEER publishes an annual State of Preschool Yearbook that tracks the funding, access, and policies of state-funded preschool programs. The yearbook’s aim is to improve public understanding and expand availability of high-quality education for young children. Users can search yearbooks back to 2003 to compare enrollment data, public-private investments, and quality inconsistencies and improvements.
For early care and education practitioners who also teach in college and university teacher prep and child development programs, the NIEER Weekly highlights stories and studies. (Recent articles, for example, focus on Latino children, the effects of Pre-K, and an analysis of how programs might increase vegetable consumption.) Users can download and share NIEER staff presentations, webinars, and videos as well as journal articles and policy analyses. All are useful up-to-date resources for teacher training and professional development.
Go to http://nieer.org/ to sign up for publication updates and the NIEER Weekly.