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Stuff and new stuff
New books for curriculum development


Letís All Play: A Group Learning (Un)Curriculum
Written by Jeff A. Johnson and Denita Dinger. Redleaf Press, 2015. ($17.95)


With many years of classroom experience, Johnson and Dinger are ready to shake up the standard curriculum. Their focus is on social skills—self-regulation, deliberate interactions, and productive problem solving—and how socialization impacts children’s development across the domains.

Let’s All Play guides teachers away from overly structured, adult-directed activities into a world of exploration and discovery, the playful strategies that reflect how children actually build skills and learn. The activities, all hands-on, inexpensive, and easy to reproduce, ask teachers to trust children as learners. The authors encourage teachers to step back and allow children to lead their own play with materials that support learning. Staying out of the limelight, being organized, focusing on the experiences, and observing and documenting, they say, is key to supporting child-led play. Notable is their suggestion to allow children to experience boredom— avoiding overscheduling and time-limited activities. Children who are bored, but with access to engaging materials, will begin to think outside the box, invent something new, and express the creativity not offered in typical activity plans.

In the Cup Blocks activity, for example, teachers simply add a variety of shatter-resistant plastic cups to the block area, step back, and observe. Given ample materials—lots of cups and lots of blocks—the children will expand their block play to include new discoveries of weight, dimension, balance, sound, color, and representation. Let the children discover that they can fill the cups with mud or sand to make bricks or water for outdoor crash-and-splash learning. They can label the cups with letters, words, and symbols and sort the cups by size and color, stack them, or count them.

Some activities—Hero Play, Rough and Tumble Play, and Slingshots—are guaranteed to make teachers (and administrators) a bit nervous. Others—Sock Sandbags, Pump Play, and Sticky Side Out—are spiced-up standards. Taken as a whole, however, the collection offers children an opportunity to learn on their own as they play, exploring cooperatively their individual and group skills and interests.


Leading Anti-Bias Early Childhood Programs: A Guide for Change
Written by Louise Derman-Sparks, Debbie LeeKeenan, and John Nimmo. Teachers College Press and NAEYC, 2015. ($26.96)


The basics of the anti-bias curriculum were set almost 25 years ago. The explorations of identity and attitude development emerged from workshops, conference sessions, and eventually in the groundbreaking publication Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children in 1989. The vision, from the beginning, was that educators have the ability to help build a world in which all children and their families can be contributing members of society—successful in their tasks because they are confident of their worth.

Over time, the framework of anti-bias learning has touched many teachers and the children in their classrooms. Clearly, however, there is still work to be done—extinguishing stereotypes, assumptions, and expectations that limit full human potential.

In this new volume, leaders in the anti-bias journey offer a review of the conceptual framework, with a focus on changing adult attitudes as a prelude to curriculum explorations with children. They highlight best practices, offer resources, and give tips on working with families in anti-bias partnerships. One important chapter helps teachers manage and negotiate disequilibrium and conflict, recognizing that change is hard and opposition to change is sometimes fierce.

For educators eager to help both children and adult learners grapple with bias, this book is essential. The unwavering message is one of universal respect, tenacity, and efficacy in the learning process.


Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children
Written by Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky
photography by Jenna Daly. Redleaf Press, 2015. ($29.95)


Hearty congratulations to Redleaf Press in their support of the early childhood wisdom of Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky coupled with the inspiring photography of Jenna Daly. Loose parts—common materials that offer sensory input and creative satisfaction—become objects of inspiration in Loose Parts. The success of the book is due, in no small part, to the simple and instructive photographs that tell stories of children and their explorations of environments.

Experienced teachers know the value of open-ended materials: There are no directions, no right or wrong, and no single, inevitable result of their use in play. A scarf, for example, can be a baby doll blanket, a veil, or a butterfly wing. Loose parts are small and mobile. Moving a basket of tree nuts from the nature center to the dramatic play area for an imaginary meal or the math center for a sorting and counting activity describes the flexibility of a found object. Most of all, loose parts are enticing. Who can resist running fingers through a bowl of marbles, paper clips, plastic chips, felt balls, buttons, or beads? Left to explore, children will build play—and meaningful learning experiences—with these open-ended materials.

Chapters in Loose Parts help readers focus on sensory experiences (color, texture, and sound), creativity (art, design, and symbolic play), action (movement, transportation, and connections), and inquiry (construction, investigation, and correlation). Each chapter is heavily illustrated with color photographs of materials, both in action and as inspiration for new ways to use materials that we see every day.

Teachers commonly pay too little attention to aesthetics in their classrooms. It there’s a volume that encourages a new look at the environment and its worth in children’s educational development, this is it.