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Stuff and new stuff
Teacher resources that can make a difference


Nature-based Learning for Young Children: Anytime, Anywhere, on Any Budget
Written by Julie Powers and Sheila Williams Ridge. Redleaf Press, 2018. ($34.95)


Teachers know how much the environment—indoors and outside—impacts children across domains. The space in which children grow and learn influences social engagement, physical initiative and tenacity, emotional self-regulation and range, and cognitive curiosity and discovery. A stale and static environment is reflected in children’s boredom and lack of curiosity; a chaotic, messy space invites children to disregard materials and processes—to ignore the classroom’s routines, procedures, rules, and ways of doing.

Powers and Ridge focus on the natural environment, offering strategies designed to engage children in the natural world and guiding teachers in planning and creating an environment that is unique, interesting, and engaging. Divided into 15 chapters (with separate appendices and references), the book opens with insights on building connections with the natural world. The authors introduce place-based education—from playground puddles to coastal weather changes—that is developmentally sound, respectful of licensing standards, and geared to the hands-on, experiential needs of young children. Each chapter guides teachers as they dip their toes, wade, or dive into nature and all it offers. Similarly, chapters offer resource suggestions: books for adults and children, free and collectable materials, and guidance on how to get the most from a limited budget.

Chapter 5, “It’s raining, it’s pouring,” for example, introduces (and debunks) familiar weather myths like, “Children will get sick if they are out in the rain.” The chapter snapshots developmentally appropriate concepts and warns against trying to teach abstract principles with trick tools—cotton balls or shaving cream to explain snow to children who live in temperate climates, for example. Instead, Powers and Ridge suggest exploring your actual ecosystem—weather will influence activities and engagement in deserts, the mountains, and big cities. The authors offer guidance on health and safety issues, cultural differences, and even children’s behavioral changes.

Chapters on sand and mud, insects, birds, habitats, and mammals include specific activity suggestions within the standard chapter structure. Recipes, materials, suggested children’s books, and Internet resources strengthen the book and make it a worthy addition to a preschool program library.

This book is a treasure—to use, to share, and to use again.


Creative Investigations in Early Engineering and Technology
Written by Angela Eckhoff, PhD. Gryphon House, 2018. ($16.95)


Science, technology, engineering, and technology (STEM) education is hot. Unfortunately, most early childhood education resources focus on the science and math aspects of STEM and ignore engineering and technology, even the digital technology so many young children use. Creative Investigations in Early Engineering and Technology uses classroom vignettes to inspire and encourage teachers to build their background knowledge of engineering and technology content and to share those concepts in developmentally appropriate, hands-on experiences for young children.

Author Angela Eckhoff completes her series of Creative Investigations STEM books with this one. It is intended for educators of children between the ages of 4 and 8 years and is the companion to Creative Investigations in Early Math. It includes curriculum guidance to help teachers focus on creative, inquiry-based experiences that support children’s background knowledge and document their content understanding with authentic work samples and artifacts.

An early chapter explores engineering design and physical force, motion, and movement. Background information (with definitions, examples, and core concepts) for teachers opens the chapter. Curriculum planning ideas and suggested questions for inquiry (“Do you think it will move fast or slow?”) set the stage for several activities that help children understand how and why things move.

Eckhoff encourages tinkering—manipulating objects to discover attributes, behaviors, and functions. In early childhood classrooms this might be called play. It is, in STEM, the framework for learning, understanding, and using both technology (using tools, being inventive, identifying problems, and making things work) and engineering (solving problems, manipulating materials, designing, creating, and building things that work) in everyday life.


Open-ended Art for Young Children
Written by Tracy Galuski, PhD, and Mary Ellen Bardsley, PhD. Redleaf Press, 2018. ($29.95)


Classroom library bookshelves bend under the weight of art project books—too many that focus on end products and only some that advocate for child-directed and teacher-supported open-ended art experiences. This new offering by Galuski and Bardsley is unique in explaining why the early care and education field advocates for open-ended art and how the field is evolving in how it thinks about young children’s art investigations, representations, and materials.

The book is divided into three sections:
an overview of planning art curriculum and identifying learning outcomes within a developmentally appropriate framework;
a review of development for children from birth to age 8 and examples of art activities for each age group;
an appraisal of tools, materials, and techniques that build basic skills and challenge children to develop new ones.

Classroom vignettes describe challenges, research-based solutions, and practical examples for helping children achieve optimal success, not in manufacturing pretty products but in feeling satisfaction in exploring and mastering art processes.

Especially valuable are chapters dedicated to art in infant classrooms, messy art with toddlers, collaborating with families about art and outcomes, considerations of sensory activities and children with developmental delays or disabilities, and stretching budget dollars. Chapter 10, for example, offers concrete and low-cost suggestions on finding, introducing, and using new art media—from collage materials and making 3-D art to new strategies for modeling dough and clay. The appendix offers a list of recommended children’s books about creating art, picture books about art appreciation, and online resources.

Experienced teachers will be invigorated (and maybe challenged) to see art explorations in a new way. Less seasoned teachers will appreciate a sound, research-based tool for understanding art, why it’s an essential developmental tool, and how to make art activities relate to curriculum without expecting identical outcomes.