Stuff and new stuff
Soon-to-be classics for children... and two new resources for teachers
Old Mikamba Had a Farm
Written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora. Penguin Young Readers Group, 2013. ($16.99 hard cover)
In her distinctive style, Rachel Isadora has again recreated a traditional tale. This time, the familiar Old MacDonald introduces children to a menagerie of African animals and their sounds. Forget the cow, pig, and goat. Instead, think giraffe, zebra, and elephant. Join Old Mikamba’s song as lions roar, rhinos bellow, warthogs snort, and ostriches chirp.
Vibrant color and collage-style artwork make this version of the old classic anything but boring. And be prepared for rollicking fun as children join in singing E-I-E-I-O with bleats, hisses, squawks, and growls.
Please Bring Balloons
Written and illustrated by Lindsay Ward. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2013. ($16.99 hard cover)
Emma had never heard of carousel animals writing notes, but when she finds one tucked under the polar bear’s saddle, she’s ready to play along. The note is simple, “Please bring balloons,” and Emma complies. She ties on so many balloons that the bear lifts off the ground and the two float away—across the sky, toward the North Star, and eventually land on an iceberg. They trudge, tromp, slog, and creep through ice and snow until they arrive at …. (It’s a surprise.)
Because all adventures must end, the two make their way back to the carousel where Emma muses, “Even if it wasn’t real, it was the best adventure I’ve ever had.”
And then she finds another note. “Please bring bicycle, Love P.B.”
Ward’s text communicates tingling adventure and satisfying resolution for both children and adult readers. As splendidly, her cut-paper, pencil, and watercolor illustrations offer a visual feast on every page—many too subtle for young children but all guaranteed to make adult readers happy to share the book again and again.
Growing, Growing Strong: A Whole Health Curriculum for Young Children (5 volumes)
Written by Connie Jo Smith, Charlotte Hendricks, and Becky Bennett. Redleaf Press, 2013. ($14.95 per volume, paperback)
Redleaf Press has divided its health and safety curriculum, originally published in a single volume, into five books, each focusing on a topic related to children’s health and wellness. The series covers Body Care, Fitness and Nutrition, Safety, Social and Emotional Well-Being, and Community and Environment. Each book contains hands-on activities for children age 3 to kindergarten that promote the development of lifelong health habits. Each book has the same structure: topical overview, suggested learning materials, objectives and vocabulary, evaluation tools, and information to share with families.
Volume 3, for example, looks at issues related to child and community safety standards. Subjects include street safety, car safety seats and belts, rules for emergency action, food safety, along with more sensitive subjects such as weapons and drugs. Each section has specific learning objectives, ideas for modifying the classroom and outdoor environments to support learning, and questions that help teachers know if the children have internalized the learning.
The activity on riding toys, for example, invites close scrutiny of a variety of bicycles (racing, mountain, stationary, tandem, and unicycle, for instance) as well as a bike’s components (handlebars, seats, pedals, tires, axles, wheels, reflectors, horns, and flags). The activity encourages charting, counting, conversation, bicycle repair, books, music, and even a field trip.
The books are written in a simple, straightforward style; formats are consistent to facilitate user ease; and activities are coded to correlate to traditional learning centers and interest area materials. Teachers will find all five books useful as they work to integrate health and safety into the day-to-day activities of a preschool classroom.
Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, 2nd Ed.
Written by Annette Lareau. University of California Press, 2011. ($29.95 paperback)
Annette Lareau, professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania acknowledges that “Americans generally believe that the responsibility for their accomplishments rests on their individual efforts.” But her research shows that a person’s success may have more to do with social class.
In Unequal Childhoods, Lareau defines middle-class children as “those who live in households in which at least one parent is employed in a position that either entails substantial managerial authority or that centrally draws upon highly complex, educationally certified (i.e., college-level) skills.” Working class children are “those who live in households in which neither parent is employed in a middle-class position and at least one parent is employed in a position with little or no managerial authority and that does not draw on highly complex, educationally certified skills. This category includes lower-income white collar workers.” Poor children are “those who live in households in which parents receive public assistance and do not participate in the labor force on a regular, continuous basis.” Throughout the book, Lareau lumps the latter two categories—working class and poor—children together.
“There is no question that we live in a society characterized by considerable gaps in resources, or, put differently, by substantial inequality.” Because of social and economic factors such as education, job, home ownership, and neighborhood environment, families develop a “cultural logic of child rearing” reflective of their class.
According to this logic, middle-class child rearing tends to be “concerted cultivation”—that is, parents arrange activities for their children to develop their talents and abilities in a concerted fashion. By contrast, working-class parents and poor parents, pressed to provide basic needs such as food and shelter, tend to adopt a “natural growth” approach.
Lareau contrasts the two approaches in a table that, for example, describes middle-class parents as orchestrating multiple child leisure activities while working-class and poor families endorse a child’s loosely structured, “hang out” activities, particularly with kin.
Lareau arrived at these findings through a multidimensional study of middle-class, working-class, and poor families, white and black, during the 1990s. The sample consisted of 88 third graders (31 in a Midwestern town and 40 in an urban Northeastern city). The research team interviewed parents and teachers and observed classroom interactions. Twelve families were selected for a more intensive phase of interviews. Lareau reported her data and analysis in the first edition of Unequal Childhoods, published in 2003.
A decade after the original study, Lareau followed up with the 12 families from the study’s intensive phase, whose children were then 19 to 21 years old. She added three chapters of follow-up findings in this second edition, published in 2011.
Had the differences in social class and child rearing persisted? Yes, says Lareau. Working-class and poor families were less able to maneuver through an increasingly complex school system, depending instead on educators to guide their children. Indeed, for many, going to college was never a goal. When children dropped out or graduated, their parents considered them grown and turned to their own social and labor networks for jobs, such as cleaning houses and waiting tables.
Middle-class families continued the pattern of concerted cultivation: gathering information about colleges, enrolling children in summer classes, intervening with teachers and coaches to overcome obstacles, and arranging internships through friends and business associates.
“Middle-class families’ cultural practices, including their approach to child rearing, are closely aligned with the standards and expectations—the rules of the game—of key institutions in society,” Lareau says. “Despite their love for their children, it is harder for working-class and poor families, whose cultural practices and approaches to child rearing are not fully in sync with the institutional standards of schools, to comply with these standards.”
While concerted cultivation gives children an edge, Lareau recognizes that it can go too far. In some cases, middle-class parents overschedule children’s activities, leaving children exhausted and joyless. What’s more, teachers complain about parents’ demands for special treatment as well as students’ growing sense of entitlement.
Lareau also recognizes that many children of working-class and poor families can, and do, break out of predestined paths, but current economic realities—decline in well-paying jobs and increasing college costs, for example—are making it harder.
The takeaway for early childhood educators is the powerful impact of social class on child rearing and child outcomes, which suggests less judgment and more compassion for parents. It also implies a rededication to educational practices of talking with children to increase language and cognitive skills, teaching them to solve problems through negotiation rather than physical force, encouraging their talents and interests, and going on field trips to local museums and colleges.