Books & Reviews

You’ll have noticed that Book Reviews no longer appear on the pages of the TACTYC Early Years Journal. We will, therefore, now be putting Book Reviews for open access on this page.  Check it out to see what’s new!


Fliss Bull, PhD student and Early Years Teacher, reviews Abigail Hackett More Than Human Literacies in Early Childhood. Published by Bloomsbury Academic, 2021, 256pp. ISBN 9781350144729

In her book More-Than-Human Literacies in Early Childhood, Hackett outlines her wish to create ‘resonance’ rather than ‘surprise’. This is not a book that seeks to expose or demystify the realities of literacy practices in early childhood. Rather, it chimes with the lived experiences of those involved in the care and education of young children and allow us to tune into different frequencies, “…the smells, sounds, scattered toys, sticky fingers, anxieties, hopes and frustrations of everyday life of families in communities”. Too often these are rendered inaudible by dominant, totalising discourses that seek to create a measurable, typical, universal child. The nuance of this methodological position is tightly interwoven with the new materialist/post-humanist lens through which she works; a desire to avoid what Tsing (2015) describes as stories of ‘promise and ruin’ that either focus on the endlessly deferred utopia promised by the raising standards agenda or are grounded in its corollary of failure, crisis and despair. Instead, Hackett’s work seeks to explore the generative potential of exploring the ‘unruly edges’ (Tsing 2017) of life within families and communities, of “…connection, place, compromise, trauma and carrying on”.

Hackett contributes a bold and conceptually rich rupturing of the dominant discourses of early childhood literacy, which are often presented as neutral and apolitical. Using Stewart’s (2007) concept of ‘ordinary affects’ and Millei and Kallio’s (2018) ‘mundane politics’ she discusses the ways that ‘universalizing lines of child development’ construct a figuration of the child as;

individual, bounded, abstracted from their communities, separated from the more-than-human, free of emotion, performing various competencies such as stacking blocks or crawling, in their preoccupation with moving competently through their milestones.”

Drawing on Blum’s (2016) work on WEIRD (western, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic) parenting along with MacLure’s (2016) ‘pedagogy of order words’, Hackett deftly troubles the political neutrality of the notion that more language, earlier on in life is better. She highlights the ways these beliefs are grounded within politics of human exceptionalism, mastery and colonialism that not only decomplexify and silence other ways of knowing, being and doing but also reify a ‘deficit discourse’. This posits all children as “leaky, illiterate, uncontrollable” beings that are less-than-human until socialised and given language by adults. Hackett cites the work of Gillies (2007) and Dyson (2015) to demonstrate how such ‘deficit’ or ‘language gap’ discourses often reinforce the very exclusion and marginalisation they claim to tackle. Instead she argues powerfully for

an insistence on the value of literacy and language practices that operate beyond human intentionality, beyond reason and rationality, that are specific to place and community, and unfold according to unpredictable and powerful affective forces.”

Hackett embodies this concern with ‘ordinary affects’ (Stewart 2007) and ‘body/place knowing’ throughout the book via vignettes, photographs and descriptions that attempt to capture the ‘intensities of the ordinary’ (Stewart 2007) whilst also valuing the ‘irreconcilable’ (Tuck 2010) and necessarily incomplete nature of such retellings. These offer the reader a tantalising and often affective glimpse into the early childhood spaces in which her research took place, an “invitation to join the conversation” and be “implicated and absorbed in the moment”.

Methodologically, Hackett has much to offer to the posthuman researcher in terms of considering issues of ontology, epistemology and ethics and, indeed, the way these concerns become entangled and imbricated within post-qualitative research. She presents ‘shifts and dilemmas’ which are difficult, if not impossible, to resolve, reflecting that, “there are no positions of unquestionable virtue for a researcher. I cannot keep myself pure of the messy, implicated, power-infused and world-making-story-telling nature of research by following a certain number of key principles or processes.” Hackett discusses methodologies of ‘Being there’, ‘Time and Hanging Out’ and ‘Place’ both in terms of the challenges they present with regards to claims for knowledge production and also the generative possibilities of immersing oneself in, “the intensities, flows, rhythms, affects and forces of children’s entanglements with space, place and materiality”.

For early years professionals there is much food for thought in terms both of troubling hegemonic narratives of progress and presenting a ‘messy and complicated process of both gain and loss’. The book also expands our understanding of literacy from existing purely within the realm of the cognitive, bounded and individual child towards a ‘more-than-human’ understanding of literacy practices as a ‘collective assemblage of enunciation’ (Deleuze and Guattari 2019) with agency distributed between human and non-human participants. Hackett argues the urgency of this shift both in terms of addressing the damage done by the ‘dehumanization’ of education and also the ‘far-reaching consequences’ of language and literacy practices in terms of “…promoting a separation between the child and the world”. She draws out the implications of this in terms of educating children for a globally uncertain and environmentally unsustainable future.

A possible critique of this book might be that it sits a long way away from the current policy environment with its preoccupation with more and faster, where literacy is synonymous with pre-packaged synthetic phonics programmes, seeming to operate in an entirely alternative universe from Hackett’s ‘wild’ and ‘Not-yet’ literacies. Hackett does not venture a neatly packaged alternative that can be adopted, nor does she provide a manual or guide for educational professionals and researchers to resist dominant discourses. What her book does do, is to rupture and unsettle, less as a heroic act of violent overthrow, but more as one which seeks to acknowledge the potential and necessity of keeping the notion of ‘literacies-yet-to-come’. As Hackett notes in her concluding chapter:

Working with community ways of knowing requires not only being prepared for community knowledges to disrupt or dissolve other theories and ways of making sense of the world (even the ones the researcher herself is heavily invested in), it also involves being prepared to finish without all the answers”.


Jane Whinnett of the Froebel Trust reviews Amy Palmer & Jane Read (eds) British Froebelian women from the mid- nineteenth to the twenty-first century: a community of progressive educators. Abingdon & New York: Routledge, 2021, 197 pp.  ISBN No: 978-0-815-39335-1

Kevin J Brehony identified that the Froebel movement was composed overwhelmingly of women and the editors of this new book, Amy Palmer and Jane Read, pay tribute to his work as their inspiration. This volume of edited chapters traces the contributions of nine women, in chronological order, who were Froebel trained and whose lives document the diversity of lived experiences post training. The book can be dipped into revealing serendipitous encounters with women the reader will not have heard of as well as ones that are well known to educators today. Alternatively, reading the book as a continuous whole reveals the connections between their lives and a Froebelian lineage from 1862 to the present day. Together the chapters give a comprehensive history of the Froebel movement in Britain.

This book will be of interest to a wide range of readers- educators, students studying early learning and childcare or education or the history of education, feminism, women’s studies or the general reader who enjoys a good biography. Chapter five on Enid Blyton provides a new angle for existing biographers and students of children’s literature.

The authors of the chapters have researched their subjects using a variety of sources from published work in journals and books by or about the women to minutes, children’s novels, television programmes and audio interviews. Some authors had personal connections to their subject. In most cases a photograph accompanies the chapter, allowing the reader to ponder and wonder about that woman’s life. The exception is the class photograph that contains, but cannot identify, Jeanie Slight. Scanning the faces looking for clues is like searching for family resemblances in personal old photos. The documented life could belong to any one of the young women and is a reminder that it is impossible to predict, when training, the beginning of an extraordinary career.

To create a coherent structure for each chapter and to develop understanding of how a Froebelian approach developed, three themes are key. These are: the theme of community, revision of Froebelian pedagogy and dissemination of the educational ideas of the subject or the passing on of ideas to future generations. There are lessons to learn from each woman both in how they approached and undertook their work and how they progressed and challenged both Froebelian orthodoxies and policy contexts of the day. Their personal commitment to their careers is admirable and sustained. Many continued to work well into the accepted age for retirement.

In our current climate of accountability, there are often ‘so what’ reposts. What difference did they make? Esther Lawrence (chapter 1) and Molly Brierly (chapter 5) led Froebelian colleges. Chris Athey (Chapter 8) and Tina Bruce (chapter 9) lectured at Froebel college and Grace Owen (chapter 3) and Jeanie Slight (chapter 4) at mainstream colleges. All contributed to the training of educators. All of these women had previously been teachers themselves, gaining valuable insight into the role of educators and the lives of children and their families.

Each of the women celebrated in this book contributed to the development of Froebelian pedagogy while remaining true to Froebel’s principles. Elinor Goldschmied’s (Chapter 7) work on treasure baskets and key person approach highlighted the link between thinking and emotion resulting in major changes in practice for babies and children under three. Clara Grant’s (chapter 2) farthing bundles’ is an excellent example of women who remained at the heart of their community doing what they could with the resources available. Lawrence, Brierly and Athey researched the new discourses of education in their time making relevant links to practice. Lawrence examined psychoanalysis and Montessori’s pedagogy; Brierly integrated Piagetian ideas with Froebelian principles and Athey developed and disseminated a deeper understanding of schema based on observation of children’s play, parental involvement and developing learning opportunities based on interests. Children exploring their own interests in adventurous play was a recurring theme in Blyton’s stories. Owen was a founding member of the Nursery School Association, currently Early Education, a charity that continues to campaign for quality education for the youngest children. Tina Bruce’s work is celebrated in the final chapter. As a current Froebelian and an agent for change, her work on play is seminal, studied by students at all stages of their careers. She challenges both policymakers and the current generation of Froebelians and promotes a decolonised approach to early childhood practice.

Palmer and Read confirm ‘ that individual women and women working together were able to have a positive impact on children’s lives and educational opportunities’ – a laudable achievement in any Froebelian generation. Be inspired!


Rory McDowall Clark reviews Naomi McLeod and Patricia Giardiello (eds)  Empowering Early Childhood Educators: International Pedagogies as Provocation. Abingdon: Routledge, 2019, 245pp., ISBN: 978-1-138-30967-8

In the current climate this book’s timely challenge to an outcome-driven curriculum will be welcomed by all concerned by the pressures of top-down approaches to ECE that focus on data and accountability at the expense of children’s experiences. Whilst McLeod and Giardiello furnish a clear-sighted critique of contemporary policy and its implications, their main concern is to offer a way forward by empowering EC educators through critical self-awareness. By questioning personal beliefs and practices, educators can become more reflective in their pedagogy and therefore better equipped to resist inappropriate pressures from elsewhere.

Embedding reflection within practice (Schön, 1987) is an essential part of critically engaged pedagogy; without it, practitioners are likely to find themselves simply ‘delivering’ a curriculum. But reflection needs a starting point and this book’s stimulating ‘provocations’ – in the form of international case studies – are well-placed to kindle fruitful reflection on practice and provision. Additional ‘points for reflection’ are scattered throughout the text to initiate thinking and support the development of a personal pedagogy. An initial foreword by Peter Moss – for me this is reassurance in itself that we are in safe hands – points out the importance of those ‘encounters with difference’ that make us question our assumptions and so generate new thinking.

There are three parts to the book, plus an afterword that reflects on the key messages and calls for principled and engaged activism to challenge the sort of top-down pressures that distort the curriculum. Part 1 establishes the foundations for what is to follow, setting out to disrupt and challenge thinking about such issues as the purpose of early years education – throughout the authors stress the importance of questioning not only ‘what’ is taught, but also ‘why’ and ‘how’. The first chapter examines various historical, cultural, economic and political pressures on education and views of childhood. Ranging from Aristotle, through philosophers such as Hobbes and Locke, to the EY pioneers, it sets out the circumstances whereby neo-liberalism and marketised approaches have come to dominate ECE. The possibility of alternative, democratic views that position children as competent learners is raised in readiness for international case studies that follow later.

Chapter 2 focuses on becoming conscious of personal values through reflection and reflexivity as an important step towards developing professional identity. The usual suspects – Schön, Brookfield, Dewey, Freire – provide theoretical underpinning and a useful reflexivity framework (McLeod, 2015) offers a range of practical principles to support reflection. Chapter 3 then builds on these dimensions of reflexivity and background context to put forward a model of ECE based on democratic and participatory principles, respecting children as competent agents.

As McLeod and Giardiello acknowledge, Part 2 is ‘the heart of the book’. It contains five international perspectives intended as ‘provocations’ to thinking differently. These are interspersed with case studies from Sweden, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and England so that, for instance, we hear of Montessori practice within both an English and Swedish context. These chapters cover the Montessori method, the Reggio Emilia approach, Te Whãriki, Danish outdoor pedagogy and examination of Finnish ECE, currently the focus of international attention as a result of its high PISA ranking. The editors’ and co-authors’ first hand experience of these countries provide additional credibility and the treatment of varying perspectives is a valuable corrective to uncritical ‘how to’ accounts that seek to replicate practice from elsewhere with little consideration of contextual factors. A thorough exploration of the historical, social and cultural background to each approach makes clear why and how distinctive ways of working have arisen. In keeping with the whole nature of the book, the authors do not fear to challenge certain aspects, such as concerns about commercial exploitation of Reggio and reservations about how this might be seen to be creating a new ‘regime of truth’.

All the chapters in Part 2 resonate together, with influences traced back to Rousseau, Froebel and Pestalozzi, and the influence of Reggio Emilia being strong in Scandinavia, there are inevitable crossovers which help to view things from different angles. Everyone will find their own favourites among these; for me, having visited a variety of settings in Denmark, the chapter on Danish outdoor pedagogy held particular interest –  the short case study, The Wonder of ‘Stick’ revived memories of another ‘Stick’, once an integral part of my family for an entire month! The chapter on Finnish practice was interesting for the opposite reason of knowing comparatively little about Finland beyond the fact that statutory school age is 7; it is depressing to find that growing neo-liberalism threatens the Finnish system in similar ways as pressure for ‘school readiness’ does in the UK (McDowall Clark, 2017).

Part 3 builds on the reflexive approach to look at wider issues such as the growing gap between rich and poor families in many industrialised countries and how international perspectives can help us consider more ethical approaches to issues of poverty, well-being and inclusion. As it is not only impossible, but also completely inappropriate to attempt to transfer global templates, the final chapter returns to the purpose of empowering educators through reflection so they can risk leaving ‘the safe harbours of what is familiar’. The reflexivity framework is offered as a way forward to support educators in evaluating their context and personal pedagogical practice. It is useful to revisit this framework after the provocations of the middle section of the book, however some cross-referencing would have been useful here – a case study discussed in detail in Chapter 10 had already appeared in Chapter 2, confusingly referenced to Schön.

The authors’ commitment to social justice shines through this text and underpins their conviction that ’empowering early childhood educators is a crucial enterprise’. Reflective practice can be difficult for students who have come through an education system where they were taught to look for ‘right answers’, it requires an ‘epistemological shift’ in thinking (Hanson, 2013). This book is ideally placed to support such an epistemological shift and nurture reflective dispositions. Students, lecturers and practitioners will all find inspiration, not only so they can avoid being ‘blown about by the winds of cultural and pedagogic preference’ (Brookfield,1995:265) but to stand tall and actively challenge the downward pressures of inappropriate expectations.


Brookfield, S (1995) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Hanson, K (2013) Supporting the Development of Reflective Dispositions for Professional

Practice. Available at:

McDowall Clark, R (2017) Exploring the Contexts for Early Learning: challenging the school readiness agenda. Abingdon: Routledge.

McLeod, N (2015) Reflecting on Reflection: Improving Teachers’ Readiness to Facilitate Participatory Learning with Young Children. Professional Development in Education, Vol 41 (2): 254-272.

Schön, D (1987) Educating the Reflective Practitioner. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.


Helen Reeve reviews Helen Bilton et al. (2017) Taking the First Steps Outside: under threes learning and developing in the natural environment, Abingdon: Routledge, 156 pp (pbk) ISBN: 978-1-123-91989-1

During the past decade there has been a significant focus on increasing opportunities for outdoor play in the early years, however it can be hard to know where to start when putting this into practice for very young children. ‘Taking the First Steps Outside’ provides theoretical and practical insights on how practitioners can facilitate access to nature and the outdoors, and is thought provoking and relevant whether you are simply looking to tweak current provision and make small changes, or are motivated to embark on a bigger project such as the one detailed in the book.

The project which was undertaken by the authors is clearly laid out with beautiful photographs which draw the reader into the narrative. The vignettes which detail various encounters with the natural world give context to the ideas shared, as well as being fascinating and inspirational. Having set up my own outdoor kindergarten, reading these stories triggered memories of experiences that our children have had, helping me to think about how our environment could be adapted as part of our ongoing process of reflection and adaptation.

Crucially, there is much discussion about obstacles to implementing provision with a primary focus on the outdoor environment; so often outdoor play is abandoned or avoided because it requires a great deal of thought, planning and organisation, and issues which can arise – particularly in the early days – can dampen enthusiasm for the outdoors if they are not properly addressed. A thorough consideration of potential and/or existing barriers is, therefore, essential for long term success, and well facilitated throughout the book.

As part of this various myths about young children are dispelled by the authors; for example that they need to be entertained, cannot engage for any length of time in one activity, and cannot evaluate risk. The latter is a particular focus, and for good reason as risk taking plays an important part in all play, especially that which occurs outdoors due to the huge and varied opportunities for physical exploration and experimentation. From birth, children need independence in managing their motor development; when we step back and refrain from interfering with its natural course they tune in to their own abilities and limits, and this lays the foundations for risk evaluation. What risky play is and how it can be supported is unpicked, as well the need for us to reflect on our own responses and barriers to risk taking.

This positive attitude towards young children runs throughout the book, and as a student of Magda Gerber’s Educaring® approach my heart sang at the authors’ championing of young children as competent individuals, encouragement of readers not to underestimate their capabilities, and reminder of the need for children to experience struggle and failure in order to learn and move forward. The consideration of what it means to be a young child and how learning occurs – and the emphasis placed on the need for adults to have a sound understanding of both of these, particularly cognitive, social and emotional development – is to me is one of the greatest strengths of this book. As a fan of the work of Dan Siegel I was delighted to see his work referenced, as it is impossible to effectively support children if you do not have insight into what is going on in their internal world.

Practical ideas about how to work in partnership with parents are also included and it’s clear that much thought and effort was put into involving them in the project. Considering parents’ attitudes, beliefs and feelings is something we have found to be central to a positive experience for all, and I could not agree more with their finding that “parents feel pressured to offer the best learning opportunities to their children…however, it is often forgotten that the best learning opportunities do not necessarily involve structured or directed activities.” As with the project described within the book, we are a setting which goes against the grain, attempting to do something quite different to mainstream provision, and explaining and justifying this to parents so that we can facilitate their involvement and support is one of our biggest tasks.

The authors’ genuine love of the outdoors and passion for enriching the learning environment by allowing children freedom to explore the natural world is communicated throughout this book, and is what makes this such a fantastic resource. It is, arguably, essential reading for all of us who play a part in supporting the learning and development of the under threes on a daily basis.

Helen Reeve, co-founder and head of training, Nurture Outdoor Kindergarten,


Anita Soni reviews R.McDowall Clark (2017) Exploring the Contexts for Early Learning: Challenging the School Readiness Agenda, Abingdon: Routledge. 136pp (pbk) ISBN: 9781138937833

This book is written for students, practitioners, policy-makers and all those interested in the school readiness agenda. In recent years, there has been much attention paid to the notion of ‘school readiness’ on both the national and international stage, and this book seeks to untangle this very complex idea. It aims to support those working with young children and their families before they go to school, and in the early days of school, to understand the evidence, issues and perspectives underpinning the school readiness debate whilst including guidance for both policy and practice. It is updated and enriches the review commissioned by TACTYC, and undertaken by Bingham and Whitebread in 2012.

The book is organised into six chapters. The first chapter examines policies aligned to school readiness, the discourses of children and childhood these are based on, and begins to consider the implications for all those working in the fields of education and care of young children. The chapter begins with the dominant model, which has its focus firmly placed on a developmental perspective and the idea that children need to be made ready for school. The chapter goes onto discuss alternatives including my preferred model which is a multi-directional ecological model focusing on the fit between children’s individual readiness and the readiness of the school. It also includes valuable information on children’s school starting ages and the type of early education children are offered.

The second chapter examines cognitive processes within child development, discusses the differing ways children learn and considers how children move beyond acquisition to maintenance and subsequently generalise their learning. It draws on cognitive psychology and neuroscience and has a useful section on executive functions. It also looks at the importance of social interaction, language and theory of mind and concludes with short sections on metacognition and self-regulation. Whilst there are a number of complicated concepts within the chapter, they are presented in an accessible and manageable way that is useful to all.

The third chapter considers approaches to early learning, considering both pedagogy and curriculum. It highlights how the curriculum is strongly influenced by perceived purposes of early childhood provision. It recognises that some countries see this as a preparation time for school, others as an extension of home life. McDowall Clark highlights the value in supporting children to develop executive functions such as self-regulation and inhibitory control, best supported through a child-centred pedagogy.

The fourth chapter considers children from diverse backgrounds, concentrating on children from Traveller communities, children with English as an Additional Language, and those who grow up in poverty. Within this chapter, McDowall Clark argues for sensitive adult engagement drawing on children’s interests, developing positive and supportive relationships with parents and the value of supporting a high quality home-learning environment. However she sensibly notes the limits to the research cited, and that whilst some interventions are attractive, they may not seek to redress the key issue. Whilst this chapter was interesting, and I recognise that not all groups can be covered, it would have been valuable to consider children with special educational needs and disability. Concepts of school readiness can disadvantage these children (and their parents) from the start, with some schools struggling to invite, support and include children, particularly those with more complex needs.

The penultimate chapter looks at transitions and starting school, reflects on the diversity of the intake in age, and how schools systems such as curriculum, teaching methods and assessment tools favour some groups of children above others. This helpfully revisited material from previous chapters, helping readers draw out key ideas from across the book.

The final chapter introduces a dynamic model of school readiness that I have used in my work within research, and with parents and schools to help them reflect on the processes and mechanisms in place. It has been a very helpful model to reflect on how children with special educational needs and disabilities can be viewed as having a positive contribution to make to the schools they may attend, with early childhood provision playing a key role to support readiness for all.

This book contains much useful material and I found chapters one and six particularly helpful. The book is supportive as a resource for policy makers, practitioners, students, academics and researchers to reflect on the complexity of the seemingly simple concept of ‘school readiness’. It is definitely a book I will return to again and again!

Dr Anita Soni, Educational Psychologist, Early Years Solutions, Birmingham


Rory McDowall Clark reviews: E. Jayne White and Carmen Dalli (eds) (2017) Policy and Pedagogy with Under-three Year Olds: Cross-disciplinary Insights and Innovations  Springer: Dordrecht, Heidelberg, London, New York , 224pp., ISBN: 978-981-10-2274-6

The lives of very young children have undergone profound change in recent years. Traditionally underestimated as mere recipients of physical care, under 3s are now recognised as skilled communicators and powerful social beings in their own right. But the transformation of infants from a health investment to an educational one makes them subject to a variety of competing and conflicting discourses (McDowall Clark & Baylis, 2012). This pertinent and timely book is the first of a series that sets out to explore the implications of policy and practice for the lived experiences of under 3s.

Informed professional engagement with young children draws on many disciplines and the series as a whole promises border crossing in a number of senses. The range of perspectives here is broad; contributing authors from Australia, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK and USA draw on international research demonstrating how much we might learn from sharing perspectives on practice. This initial volume is presented in two parts – the first foregrounds pedagogy and the second the policy that underpins practice. Both are necessarily interwoven in what Dalli and White refer to as a ‘relational encounter’ between the macro and microlevel influences on young children in group settings.

In the initial chapter Trevarthen and Delafield-Butt provide a comprehensive overview of babies’ ‘intuitively sociable’ interactions with others. From photographs of a Greek baby echoing the adult’s mouth movements within twenty minutes of birth to a five month Swedish infant intuitively anticipating the cadences of her mother’s singing, it is evident that for babies everywhere, purposive social interaction is fundamental to the drive to make meaning. This is a powerful corrective to limiting views of passive objects of ‘socialisation’ who merely soak up their surroundings. Trevarthen and Delafield-Butt argue that the underlying principles of effective pedagogy are no less true for infants and that this evidence should inform and guide educational practice.

Positioning infants as active, interconnected and complex beings is at the heart of the following chapters. Gibbons and colleagues critique philosophical and theoretical conceptions of well-being and their different political, social and educational implications. The authors challenge positivist approaches that seek to reduce well-being to discrete variables or checklists, demonstrating the complexity of well-being and its interconnections with pedagogical experiences. Similar recognition of the dynamic interplay between young children’s learning and well-being underlies Rutanen and Hännikäinen’s examination of Finnish day-care groups. Focusing on horizontal transitions, the authors demonstrate how care, upbringing and teaching come together into an integrated whole. Attention to upbringing is particularly interesting since, as they point out, many English-speaking countries understand this as relating to parents’ activities rather than something early years practitioners engage in. Group care outside the home is increasingly the norm for young children and is also the focus of Musatti and colleagues’ investigation of social development. The authors argue the importance of ECEC experience in providing a ‘participation unit’ (Goffman, 1971) where peer interaction enables social and cognitive processes to converge in children’s sociality.

Like notions of well-being, the concept of care is often taken for granted but Mitchelmore and colleagues bring visibility to the qualities of care within pedagogical spaces drawing draw on the French term ‘le quotidien’ to focus attention on overlooked aspects of everyday practices. Le quotidien might be roughly translated as ‘the everyday’ and the authors argue that orienting the lens on the richness of daily practice can reveal the epistemological nature of care as a form of knowledge. Through telling examples, such as choosing a bib or helping to fold washing, the situational and contextual potentiality of everyday moments are highlighted. Finally Marwick echoes threads from earlier chapters – such as the need for attentive adults who participate in early communicative attempts and infants’ developing sense of self – to examine how effective interactions in group care enable young children to experience concordant intersubjectivity and support a sense of belonging.

Part one of the book having established the crucial role of practitioners who are able to operate emotionally at a mindful level (Moyles, 2001), the second part addresses concomitant policy issues. In a thoughtful contribution to debates about early childhood professionalism, Carmen Dalli suggests this should be viewed as a systemic and ecological phenomenon rather than a characteristic that resides in individuals and their actions. As such, she examines two different case studies to argue that possibilities will remain limited without a supportive policy infrastructure. The tensions and challenges studied by Dalli are, of course, not exclusive to New Zealand and subsequent chapters explore related concerns across a variety of contexts. Jools Page uses the concept of professional love to raise questions of how practitioners, conscious of the importance of intimate and affectionate relationships for healthy attachment, negotiate a climate of wariness around adults’ professional relationships with young children. The performance of care is also central to Goouch and Powell’s exploration of values and beliefs behind caring for babies. In a role frequently undertaken by the least experienced and least qualified practitioners it is evident that routine physical care predominates, with limited attention paid to active engagement and conversation with babies. Goouch and Powell deplore the implications of baby room practitioners’ lowly status strongly advocating opportunities for professional development and greater valuing of those who work with the youngest children.

All authors in this book, whether explicitly or implicitly, make a case for specialist professional training for practitioners’ working with under 3s. Chazan-Cohen and colleagues focus on US Higher Education programmes against a background of needing to balance ‘care’ and ‘education’ and the proliferation of professional roles. Their account of collaboration across colleges and universities draws attention to ‘diversity … as well as our common struggles’. Part of that diversity is home care, often viewed with ambivalence as Vandenbroeck and Bauters demonstrate in their account of childminders in Flanders, France and Germany. They examine tensions between quality, sustainability and fairness, considering how recent economic forces have undermined provision of services and making suggestions for a much needed ‘upgrade’. A similar repositioning of childcare from public good to private enterprise has occurred in countries of the former communist bloc since the dismantling of state-financed public services. Tankersley and Ionescu discuss how concerns about limited provision and poor quality led the International Step by Step Association (ISSA) to develop a Quality Framework for Early Childhood Practices specifically for under 3s. The authors share lessons learned in piloting the framework in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovenia to explore how it could be used to support policies, governance and practices with young children in different countries.

In the final chapter Jennifer Sumsion takes two instances of how the concept of under 3s has been interpreted in recent Australian policy. She uses the metaphor of a canary in a coal mine to raise questions about the robustness of governmental commitment to quality provision – a thought-provoking finale that should serve as a call to arms to all those concerned with provision for very young children.

For too long children under 3 and those who work with them have been been largely invisible, subsumed into a general category of ‘early years’ that failed to acknowledge the distinctive nature of the age group. This important book fills a significant gap. It highlights shared issues whilst respecting diversity of practice across different contexts and provides much food for thought. As such it will be welcomed by academics, tutors and students across a range of professions that work with very young children; I look forward to further publications in the series.


Goffman, E. (1971). Relations in public. New York: Harper & Row.

McDowall Clark, R and Baylis, S (2012) ‘Wasted down there’: Policy and practice with under-threes. Early Years: An International Journal of Research and Development, 32(2): 229-242.

Moyles, J (2001) Passion, paradox and professionalism in early years education, Early Years: An International Journal of Research and Development, 21 (2): 81-95.


Ulrike Hohmann reviews: Laura Gilliam and Eva Gulløv (2017) Children of the Welfare State: Civilising practices in schools, childcare and families London: Pluto, 304pp (pbk), £24.99, ISBN: 9780745336046.

Inspired by Norbert Elias’ theory of civilising, this book explores the civilising intentions of the Danish welfare state and the planned interventions of social children’s institutions. The authors present and analyse a number of ethnographical studies undertaken in Danish child raising institutions between 1995 and 2011.

Laura Gilliam and Eva Gulløv develop the theoretical and institutional context in the first two chapters. Chapter 1 introduces Elias’ concept of civilising, which is based on the premise that state and society are not distinct from individuals, because they are made up of individuals who act upon and reproduce social order. In countries with high population density and long ‘chains of interdependence’ the state monopolises taxation and the use of violence and punishment. It requires codes of conducts which are internalised as self-restrain. Consequently transgressions by oneself and others trigger feelings of shame and disgust. What counts as civilised conduct changes over time and reflects hierarchies of humans and human behaviour. Childrearing engages with key elements of civilising, the control of bodily functions, the exercise of emotional self-control and the mastery of social conventions and manners. As societal norms are inculcated in children, boundaries of civilised behaviour are contested and negotiated and civilising of parents takes place, too.

Danish children spend a large amount of time in public children’s institutions. Chapter 2 describes the changing concept of children and childhood in Denmark over the course of the past 150 years and traces enhanced expectations on children’s institutions to engage in the civilising project of future citizens. Changing social constellations, power relations and conflicts result in shifting ideals of childrearers and educators. In contemporary Denmark the civilising projects in children’s intuitions aim to contribute to national integration and have moved towards more democratic relationship between adults and children. The ethnographic approach centres on how practices of the everyday life in these civilising institutions reflect and reshape contemporary configurations.

The following six chapters move through a sequential range of children’s institutions and the family. Eva Gulløv analyses the civilising endeavours of nurseries and kindergartens in Chapter 3. Young children are gently introduced to social norms in an environment with the aim of ‘being social’ the leading civilising ideal in Denmark. This requires children to control bodily expressions, to use language as defence against violence and aims to develop the well-balanced, resilient child. Because instructions are often more tacit, some children cannot decode expectations and the civilising project may produce less civilised behaviour, also as protest.

In Chapter 4 Karen Fog Olwig examines how kindergarten is remembered by older children and adults. The children’s ability to negotiate the civilising process emerges strongly. Negotiating spaces open up due to the tensions between the civilising efforts to inculcate dominant social values and the approach to children as competent and able to determine their own lives. Also, the perception of children as not-yet-civilised entails that they have a larger pallet of behaviour to choose from. Meals, hygiene, expressions of emotions are arenas in which children negotiate hierarchical relationships and in which they try out and at times mock, adults’ civilised and uncivilised behaviour.

In the following three chapters Laura Gilliam reports on ethnographic studies undertaken in schools. Chapter 5 explores the civilising project in the first year of school and how teachers strive to mould the ‘good class’ serving two purposes, that of a well ordered, teachable group of children and that of raising productive and culturally acceptable citizens. Children are positioned and position themselves as civilised or less civilised and resistance and the transgression of boundaries can inform their identity. Further insights into the discourse of civilised behaviour by focussing on children from ethnic minorities are presented in Chapter 6. Assumptions about economic, social and cultural resources and stereotypical ideas of child raising practices in ethnic minority families are employed by teachers to explain behaviour contradicting the ideal of the civilised child. Children themselves are active in this discourse and this impacts on how children do gender, ethnicity, religion, etc. at school. Fascinating is the description how teachers struggle to regulate uncivilised behaviour of children without falling back on uncivilised behaviour themselves. Chapter 7 shifts the location of ethnographic research to a school with a large proportion of children from affluent families. For older pupils the social space is broader than the school class and academic content serves to consolidate the pupils’ position, by othering the uncivilised and distance oneself from the ‘amoral rich’. Young people explain their own privileged position by virtue of their mastery of the civilised code of conduct.

Despite extensive use of children’s welfare institutions parents continue to be obliged to rear the ‘good’ child, the one that is courteous, smart and social, but also cheeky. Dil Bach (Chapter 8) researched childraising in affluent families. Mothers place much importance on the calm but stimulating home that allows children to internalise boundaries and their check points. Food, sleep, play and educational are the daily activities and arenas of negotiation and demarcations, establishing the respectability of parents, able withstand the evaluating gaze of professionals, teachers and the future judgement by their children.

In the last chapter Laura Gilliam and Eva Gulløv analyse civilising ideals and practice across the children’s institutions and the family. They demonstrate how the focus on childraising contributes to the Eliasian approach, “as it shows how moralities are formed, challenged and transmitted intergenerationally” (p. 235). The focus on markers of the civilised and the definition of civilised behaviour as expressed through civilising project in public children’s institutions prove to be valuable in mapping out moral hierarchies in the Danish society.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Children of the Welfare State and will return to it. Firstly, it is based in an abundance of ethnographic data and, secondly, the authors achieve to show the usefulness of Elias’ theory on the civilising process. They also include theories of other well-known sociologists, like Bourdieu, Foucault, Goffman and Skeggs. It offers new ways to analyse childraising and the relationship between state, society and individuals in their various figurations. Childhood can be understood as a social project of transformation from the not-yet-civilised to the civilised and the research shows how the vicious circle of marginalisation potentially begins during early childhood. This book is about Denmark, but general ideas and insight are suitable to inform the analysis of other nation states. I would have liked a glossary setting out some specifics of the structure of children’s institutions. For example, do children move through nursery and kindergarten as a group and do pedagogues move with them? Is a class always taught together and does the class teacher move with them through their school career? How are meals organised in these institutions? Details like this reflect the nature of boundaries and markers and, at times, indicate changes in expectations and power relationships.

Gina Houston reviews:  Kerry Maddock (2017) British Values and the Prevent Duty in the Early Years: A Practitioner’s Guide. London: Jessica Kingsley, 112pp (pbk), £11.68, ISBN-13: 978-1785920486.

Early years practitioners may need support to understand the implications and put into practice requirements of the 2015 Prevent strategy and duty to promote British values. This short book attempts to do this through practical guidance and clear explanations of the legislation. Interpretations of British values throughout the book counteract common stereotypes, such as ‘Fish and Chip Fridays’ and ‘Tea with the Queen’ activities (p.10). In her introduction Maddock contextualises the change in legislation through a factual account of the ‘Trojan Horse’ disclosure in 2014, which encouraged marginalisation of staff and governors in Birmingham schools to promote an Islamist curriculum and ethos. Ensuing chapters give guidance on meeting demands of the legislation while emphasising the need to promote and value differences in multicultural British society.

British values are clearly outlined through Ofsted inspection themes of Democracy, Rule of Law, Individual Liberty and Mutual Respect and Tolerance, related by Maddock to the Early Years Foundation Stage framework and practice already in place in many early years settings. Suggestions of good practice confirm that existing effective practice is sufficient to meet the legislation. For example, the section on democracy gives ideas to include children and families in curriculum planning through meetings, questionnaires and the internet. The importance of acting on comments and ideas to promote true democracy can be shown through displays of ‘you said, we did’ such as changes to school meals (p.16).

The section on mutual respect and tolerance in relation to existing legal duties in the Equality Act 2010 (p.21) enables settings to revisit equality policies. Chapter 2 shows how policies and procedures can ensure high quality practice and tables are provided to aid policy review, incorporating promotion of British values to meet Ofsted inspection requirements. Chapters 3 and 5 focus on specific curriculum areas of Personal, Social and Emotional Development and Understanding of the World. EYFS outcomes from birth to 60 months are listed alongside suggestions of activities and ideas for best practice. Tables indicate how good practice already meets the requirement to promote British values. Ideas more directly relating to children’s ideas of difference might usefully have been included here because, as Maddock points out, they are often exposed to negative attitudes from a young age (p41). All tables in the book are usefully accessible through a website saving administration time and allowing opportunities for discussion of planning and strategy implementation.

Chapter 4 introduces the Prevent Duty, a requirement through the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015. The chapter outlines the duty for all registered providers, including childminders, to prevent young children being exposed to radicalisation and extremism. Definitions of extremism and radicalisation are quoted directly, followed by the responsibilities of settings regarding identification; reporting concerns; building self-confidence and self-esteem; training, coaching and mentoring and risk assessment. This chapter differs in style as it necessarily outlines legal responsibility as required in the Act. Read in isolation to other sections of the book this could give an impression of practitioners’ roles as policing radicalisation rather than supporting children and families, possibly the reason for placing it between more practical chapters that promote good early years practice. Practitioners are expected to be alert to changes such as not eating certain meats, altered friendship groups, change in dress from hijab to niqab or burka among others. Changes in character and behaviour of children and families should not necessarily be identified as signs of radicalisation but must be seen in context with other factors. Viewed in isolation there is a danger of stereotyping individuals and communities as ‘terrorists’ contrary to good inclusion practice previously discussed. The chapter clearly outlines the seriousness of reporting concerns and consequent government action under Contest, the counter-terrorism strategy and the Channel initiative (the strategy to further assess those identified under safeguarding concerns). The importance of practitioner training so as to be confident in valid identification of at risk factors is emphasised and training opportunities are listed at the end of the book alongside resources. A table is provided for action planning regarding risk assessment.

Chapter 6 provides examples of good practice and practitioners’ comments on interpretation and promotion of British values within diverse settings. The childminder group in particular was critical of the term, feeling the values were common to all communities and that the term was ‘divisive rather than inclusive’ (p.73). Chapter 7 gives ‘external viewpoints’ from an academic and local authority advisor regarding their roles in the early years sector. Ofsted requirements are clearly listed with a table for settings to check levels of compliance.

The book ends with an appendix of planning tables for a diverse range of festivals and celebrations. Out of context this could become tokenistic if not used with other good practice suggestions throughout the book. This book lacks any discussion or guidance for directly challenging racism, responding to issues that may arise from promotion of British values and the Prevent strategy or of effects on personal attitudes of practitioners, however, it provides a useful practical support for implementation of a controversial strategy. Maddock suggests that good early years practice to promote British values will ‘see a society that is as inclusive as it is diverse’ (p.85).

Rory McDowall Clark reviews: Melanie Nind, Alicia Curtin and Kathy Hall (2016) Research Methods for Pedagogy, London: Bloomsbury (2016) 274pp. (pbk), ISBN: 978-1-4742-4281-3.

Pedagogy is a complex and multifaceted activity, open to diverse interpretations – so much so that Murray suggests it may be more appropriate to talk about early childhood pedagogies (2015: 1715). Melanie Nind and colleagues point out the challenges this creates for researchers seeking to capture subtleties and nuances as dynamic, indeterminate features manifest within different settings. In this book they examine research methods and approaches to capture intricacies and implicit workings of pedagogy in practice.

The book begins with three chapters interrogating pedagogy to explore how implicitly value-laden perspectives must be acknowledged before research design can be considered. Dimensions of pedagogy as specified, enacted and experienced form a framework for exploring policy and practice and Nind et al. examine the assumptions that arise from each. Chapter 2 develops these ideas in relation to different pedagogies and where these lead methodologically. The third chapter probes metaphors of pedagogy as science, art or craft to expose how such perspectives translate into practice and affect methodological decisions. The authors’ broadly sociocultural stance means emphasis is largely on qualitative approaches but the many examples, plus detailed tables of implications for research design, are equally important in helping readers evaluate the technical, ‘evidence-based’ approaches favoured in many large scale studies.

Case examples throughout the book usefully illustrate how methodological considerations operate in practice. Research from the UK, Europe, Australia and the US is examined and the authors also draw on their own experiences giving access to their thinking and decision-making. In this way examples offer both breadth and depth highlighting differing perspectives and values. Part Two focuses on how context affects selection and application of research methods through three exemplary sites: early childhood settings, pedagogy in schools and informal, out-of-school settings. These chapters enable in-situ consideration of child-centred learning, pedagogical culture and researcher identity through ethnographic or phenomenological approaches and multimodal methods to explore children’s meaning-making.

Many will argue that the key aspect of pedagogy is in the moment-by-moment decision-making by practitioners – invisible to an observer and frequently lost in the rush of ongoing demands. The final section of the book concentrates on these tacit aspects, examining ways to render ‘fluid, transactional and contingent’ features of pedagogy visible and the particular ethical considerations raised. These include methods to stimulate recall, reflection and dialogue to address ‘difficulties practitioners [experience] in surfacing and articulating pedagogical values and beliefs’ (Moyles et al. 2002:470). I particularly enjoyed Chapter 8 on the embodied nature of pedagogy where consideration of teacher’s and learners’ bodies in context made me reflect on past experiences with fresh insight. This chapter also examines sensory ethnography (Pink, 2009), of particular relevance within early years contexts as is pedagogy as spatial practice, discussed in Chapter 9. Researching spatialised pedagogical practices brings to the fore the complex relationship between learner and environment, making visible the power contained within pedagogical spaces and how this can constrain agency and learning opportunities.

This is not a research methods book, nor does it set out to be. Rather it explores and interrogates contextually situated research. Consequently there may sometimes be less detail about particular techniques than some readers may wish. For instance Chapter 7 discusses ecological momentary assessment, evaluating its value but without sufficient detail for those unfamiliar with EMA. Numerous methodological texts exist however where one may seek such information. Instead Nind et al. enable readers to select research methods with greater care and give thought to the appropriateness of their chosen lens for pedagogical investigation. It will be of particular value to postgraduate and doctoral students seeking to bridge pedagogy and research, but undergraduates, who can rush into designing a research study without sufficient attention to underlying philosophies will also benefit. In addition tutors supporting student research (at any level) will find it of great value in helping them clarify the implications of different approaches. Methods of researching pedagogy must necessarily align with what we think pedagogy is and this engaging and thought-provoking book, will help readers navigate social, historical and political contexts of pedagogy to build a strong foundation for their own research.


Moyles, J., Adams, S. and Musgrove, A. (2002) Using reflective dialogues as a tool for engaging with challenges of defining effective pedagogy, Early Child Development and Care, Vol 172 (5): 463-78.

Murray, J (2015) Early childhood pedagogies: spaces for young children to flourish, Early Child Development and Care, Vol. 185 (11–12): 1715–1732.

Pink, S. (2009) Doing sensory ethnography, London: Sage.


Rory McDowall Clark reviews Loris Malaguzzi and the Schools of Reggio Emilia, Paola Cagliari, Marina Castagnetti, Claudia Giudici, Carlina Rinaldi, Vea Vecchi and Peter Moss (eds), Maidenhead, England, Routledge, 2016, 449pp., £29.69 (paperback), ISBN: 978-1-138-01982-9.

Loris Malaguzzi was one of the most important figures in twentieth-century early childhood education, achieving world-wide recognition for his educational ideas and his role in the creation of municipal schools for young children in the Italian city of Reggio Emilia – a renowned example of progressive, democratic and public education. Part of the Contesting Early Childhood series (and sadly the last of the series to be edited by Peter Moss and Gunilla Dahlberg) this book presents for the first time in English many of the writings and speeches of Malaguzzi and provides rich insights into his life and work. Documents have been selected by his colleagues from an archive established in Reggio Emilia. They range from short poems, letters and newspaper articles to memoires of his early life, extended pieces about the origins of municipal schools and his ideas about children, pedagogy and schools.

The book is organised into five chronological chapters, starting with Malaguzzi’s first teaching experiences amid the chaos of World War Two and proceeding through various stages of establishing and developing a network of communal schools that share the same democratic pedagogical principles. By the 1980s a travelling exhibition, ‘The Hundred Languages of Children’, had brought the educational work of Reggio schools to a wide international audience and this growing reputation led to many requests for study visits and collaborative projects. After the American magazine Newsweek named a Reggio school as the most advanced in the world for early childhood, global interest expanded significantly and at the time of his death in January 1994 Malaguzzi was engaged in developing plans for an international study centre. The last document in the book shows his notes outlining thoughts for this organisation – to be known as Reggio Children – in which he describes the Reggio philosophy as ‘an experience that has flown and is flying in the world’ (pg 424). Reggio Children was formally inaugurated in March 1994 and in the past twenty years has done much to spread the Reggio approach. As a result it is the latter period of Malaguzzi’s life and the later development of Reggio provision that is most widely known through publications previously available in English (eg Edwards et al. 2012; Rinaldi, 2006). This book has deliberately precluded existing translations and much of its fascination lies in the discovery of other items that throw light on Malaguzzi’s early life, his influences and how his ideas evolved. As someone who shares Malaguzzi’s strong commitment to democracy as a fundamental value and practice, Peter Moss is ideally placed to guide the reader through such a large amount of material; he supplies a thorough historical and contextual introduction to each chapter with helpful editorial notes and explanatory footnotes for those of us whose knowledge of the Italian education system is limited. In addition the Reggio Emilia Working Group provide a rationale for each collection of documents; these sections have been written by Malaguzzi’s colleagues and recall the times and circumstances behind the specific pieces chosen. These different perspectives help ‘triangulate’ the primary data of Malaguzzi’s writings, bringing additional value to the book.

Though it is the scuole dell’infanzia (catering for 3-6 year olds) and nidi (centres for children under 3) for which Malaguzzi is best known, his interests spread across the whole field of education; he taught in primary and middle schools, worked in summer camps, in adult education with young men whose education had been disrupted by the war and with children suffering psychological problems. This gave him a wide-ranging understanding of the holistic nature of good educational practice that enables children to flourish. In 1951, co-founding the Centro Medico Psico-Pedagogica, he declared that ‘[t]he idea of health must be applied to the physical, affective and mental wholeness of the child’ suggesting that education should be seen in its ‘true role of preventative medicine for the individual and society’ (pg 41). This is indicative of Malaguzzi’s lifelong commitment to community and the view of children as citizens that underpinned his philosophy and integrated approach. Although literacy, numeracy, even ICT (Seymour Papert was an early visitor to Reggio), all feature in this book, these arise naturally as by-products of children’s own interests. Malaguzzi viewed children as active agents in the processes of self-construction, an orientation requiring interaction with peers and educators prepared to listen to children’s ‘hundred languages’, investigate the world alongside them and be prepared to welcome the unpredictable. He contrasts this with what he termed ‘prophetic pedagogy’ that ‘knows everything beforehand: it knows everything that will happen…to the point that it is capable of giving recipes for the parts of an action, minute by minute, hour by hour, objective by objective…’. This, Malaguzzi argued, ‘is a coarse and cowardly thing, humiliating to teachers’ ingenuity and a complete and visible humiliation of children’s ingenuity and potential’ (pg 421-22). How true this is in the current climate of predetermined outcomes, targets and learning objectives!

Throughout his life Malaguzzi demonstrated relentless energy taking on many different roles and these documents give an insight into aspects of his life as an educator, administrator, researcher and campaigner showing how democratic values, theory and practice were always aligned in his work. He had a broad range of interests crossing different disciplines and subjects so his references range from Alice in Wonderland to Kafka, from Lenin to Bertolt Brecht taking in Heidegger, Gramsci, Weber and Chagall along the way. Carefully considered critiques of Piaget, Bruner, feminism and marxism feature amongst the writings and interviews. The result is a dizzying profusion of ideas and thinking that provoke and energise. The book has stayed by my side throughout the summer as bedside reading, even accompanying me to the beach, and I continue to return to it again and again. It can be read in many different ways – dipped into at random, perhaps following particular themes or more systematically to understand the historical development of the Reggio Emilia project. Every reader will find something different in these documents, something that resonates with their own values and experience that they will take from the Reggio philosophy to interpret in their own way. This is as it should be; Malaguzzi’s work and his legacy of the Reggio Emilia schools evolved in a very particular political context, they are important, not as a model to try to reproduce, but for the example he set us of an enquiring mind and willingness to question, challenge and be challenged. At a time when early years education is too often understood in narrow instrumental terms it is more important than ever to be reminded of its message that education is first and foremost a political practice.


Edwards, C., Gandini, L. and Forman, G. (eds) (2012) The Hundred Languages of Children (3rd ed) Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.

Rinaldi, C. (2006) In dialogue with Reggio Emilia: listening, researching and learning. London: Routledge.


Rory McDowall Clark reviews Success with your Early Years Research Project, by Rosie Walker and Carla Solvason, London: Sage Publications, 2014, 147pp., £20.99 (paperback), ISBN: 9781-446-25626-8.

The remarkable growth of early childhood degrees since the 1990s has changed the nature of the sector, significantly raising the profile of practitioners as professionals. One consequence of this expansion is increased focus on research and proliferation of small-scale research studies as hopeful undergraduates complete dissertations or independent studies as part of their degrees; another is the emergence of subject-specific texts to guide students through this rite of passage. But despite all this activity, research remains a mysterious and esoteric process for many, so after two decades of supervising dissertations and reading several hundred research studies as an external examiner this book really resonated for me. One of the authors argues elsewhere (Solvason, 2012) against presenting research methods as a rarefied academic field so that undergraduates feel disempowered and intimidated. This philosophy permeates the book which values and celebrates small-scale research of individuals’ own practice. Rather than ‘having a go’ at research as part of learning about research methods, the authors stress the importance of practitioner-based research as a way of life, not just to pass a course.

Walker and Solvason are both experienced tutors so instead of focusing on methods and tools they draw effectively from a selection of student research to illustrate different approaches to engaging in practitioner research. The first chapter, ‘Considering your research question’, should be mandatory reading for any novice researcher. Eager to get started on what they see as the proper matter of research (namely gathering data), students frequently make over-hasty decisions in the beginning, creating difficulties for themselves that emerge too late to backtrack. This chapter considers the purpose of one’s research – a fundamental starting point but often overlooked in favour of extrinsic, academic goals. It discusses potential areas of enquiry to highlight the pitfalls and ethical quagmires that may trip up the inexperienced. Having determined a research focus, Chapter 2 builds on this to consider personal values, subjectivity and transparency. The commentary on extracts from student research helps bring these issues to life, illustrating students’ own predispositions, theoretical leanings and conceptual approaches – what Roberts-Holmes (2011) refers to as ‘personal research stories’. Without clear reflection on the points raised in these initial chapters it is unlikely that students’ research will be personally meaningful beyond the instrumental purpose of gaining a qualification.

The complexity of ethics when children are involved in research means it is often dealt with unsatisfactorily – either unjustly sidestepped by assuming consent from parents will suffice or avoided altogether by conducting questionnaires and interviews with adults. As the focus of early years practice is clearly on young children, the robust, value-based rather than procedural approach to ethics taken up in Chapter 3 supports practitioners’ decision-making in helping assess when and how to include children’s voices. Each subsequent chapter contributes useful perspectives on the elements that anyone starting an inquiry must take into account but the research process is always driven by practitioners’ own concerns and contexts. In particular the methodology chapter benefits from this treatment, analysing two different examples to illustrate how the writers have created their own individual approach. Too often students’ methodology section in dissertations stands separate from their study. Strong emphasis during teaching sessions on research methods, even a ‘slavish attachment’ amounting to ‘methodolatory’ (Janesick, 1994:215), intimidates many so they do not ‘own’ their methodology; as a result this section is not integrated into the whole. A large proportion of the methodologies I read as an external amount to little more than essays on everything-I-know-about-methodology, with terms such as ‘epistemology’ and ‘ontology’ thrown in for extra marks. Walker and Solvason’s focus on research design from a starting point of personal values and motivation may help counter this tendency.

Further chapters on gathering data, analysing findings and drawing conclusions follow the same practitioner studies to show how ideas crystallise. Many students struggle with analysing qualitative data, resorting to quantitative methods such as graphs and statistics – an approach akin to providing a knife and fork for eating jelly. The authors encourage ‘playing’ with the data stressing the importance of submerging oneself in findings to fully process them. This supports triangulation rather than just reporting findings from each separate research method consecutively.

Although the authors stress the need to be transparent about motivations and decisions I would have liked to see a more explicit treatment of reflexivity. Reference is made to a reflexive approach but this becomes conflated with reflection as the concept is not explored or explained; I think this was probably necessary for the intended audience who are so accustomed to exhortations to reflect that they may not recognise the subtle difference. But Walker and Solvason make it clear that their intention is not to produce a ‘how-to’ manual so they deliberately steer clear of jargon and specialised language. Instead they hope to encourage practitioners to engage in purposeful research to enhance practice and develop a research culture. Nonetheless those looking for ‘how-to’ advice will not be disappointed. This book is an important resource that helps democratise research and I would recommend it to any student undertaking undergraduate or postgraduate qualifications as well as tutors and supervisors.

References :

Janesick V.J. (1994) The Dance of Qualitative Research Design, in Denzin, and Lincoln (eds) Handbook of Qualitative Research, California: Sage.

Roberts-Holmes, G (2011) Doing your Early Years Research Project, London: Sage.

Solvason, C (2013) Research and the Early Years Practitioner-Researcher, Early Years: An International Journal, Vol 33 (1): 90-97.


Rory McDowall Clark reviews Interacting or Interfering? Improving interactions in the early years, by Julie Fisher, Maidenhead, England, Open University Press, 2016, 208pp., £21.99 (paperback), ISBN: 978-0-33-526256-4

In her new book on improving interactions with young children, Julie Fisher asks us to consider the difference between interaction and interference – an important distinction when all too often talk with young children is dominated by early years educators, to the extent that Fisher suggests they get more practice in speech, language and communication than children do. Frequently practitioners talk too much and ask too many questions, leaving no room for children’s own thinking – but here, as always, Fisher starts from the child’s perspective, urging us always to ask ourselves the question ‘what does the child gain from this interaction?’ The answer to this straightforward question is not a matter of ‘something’, or else ‘nothing’. Children will always derive something from interactions with adults, but what that is may be confusing or demotivating when adults are tuned into their own agendas rather than those of the children. Fisher explores how effective practitioners can enhance children’s learning so that they always gain something positive (whether that is cognitive, social, emotional, dispositional or metacognitive) through their interactions with adults.

This is no mere ‘how-to’ book; based on four years action research with the Oxfordshire Adult-Child Interaction Project it draws on data from baby-rooms to Year Two classes. Participants were filmed every term over a couple of years and used the digital video footage to jointly reflect on aspects of their practice with a practitioner buddy. Individual logs and group analysis helped build up a broad picture of effective practice and useful strategies to support young children in thinking, expressing their thoughts and becoming skilled communicators. Extensive transcripts illustrate particular points as well as capturing how what is intended as interaction can easily become interference and get in the way of children’s learning.

The first chapter sets out the background for the rest of the book by considering the importance of interactions for young children’s learning and how we might come to some understanding of what constitutes ‘effective’ interaction. Fisher draws on influential work from the past (such as Tizard and Hughes, 1984; Wells, 1985) to show what we can learn from parents’ effective communication with their children, pointing out that in the home, children ask the questions and adults are there to supply the answers whereas in nursery and school it is usually the other way round. The chapter considers the place of language in the curriculum and how practitioners can consolidate learning, emphasising the importance of practising, repeating, revisiting and rehearsing rather than always trying to hurry children on to their ‘next steps’.

A particular strength of this book is its clear recognition of babies and toddlers as effective communicators from birth and Chapter 2 focuses specifically on the first twenty four months. The importance of adults’ sensitive responses are emphasised here and then picked up within subsequent chapters to establish the particular needs of very young children. Other chapters cover themes and topics emerging from research participants’ reflections on their own interactions with children, such as what features make the environment conducive to conversation, strategies to sustain meaningful talk, ways to engage reluctant talkers, children with speech and language difficulties and those with an alternative home language. Along the way Fisher touches on pedagogy, curriculum, policy, the balance between adult- and child-led learning, literacy and assessment, making explicit how interaction is integral to all good early years practice. Each chapter provides transcripts with analysis as well as useful prompts for analysing one’s own practice, encouraging deeper thinking and critical reflection.

I particularly enjoyed Chapter 9 on questions that work and questions that don’t. Practitioners often rely on questioning as a means to engage children in conversation but, as the participants in the Oxfordshire Project came to realise, this is often an unhelpful strategy. Adults’ questions risk taking control of learning away from children themselves and ‘breaking the threads’ of their thinking. Fisher explores many different types of questions, demonstrating why some are more effective than others and provides alternative strategies such as making statements. Practitioners who were able to ‘retrain’ themselves to avoid posing questions found that their interactions became richer as a result with longer and more intricate contributions from the children.

There is a tendency for adult talk to dominate nurseries and schools in an attempt to manage, organise and interrogate children’s learning; this closes down children’s own investigation and capacity for thought. Fisher points out how ‘the very act of “being an educator” can sometimes distort the nature of an interaction so much that it inhibits the very learning it is trying to promote’. In this timely, thought-provoking and very readable book she prompts us to think more deeply about interactions and adapt new strategies to encourage all young children to engage in meaningful and enriching talk.



Parker-Rees, R. and Leeson, C. (2015) Early Childhood Studies: an introduction to the study of children’s lives and children’s worldsLondon: Sage

Rod Parker-Rees is co-editor with Caroline Leeson of this fourth edition of this popular book which is a comprehensive, up-to-date, challenging and accessible core text for the Early Childhood Studies courses. Throughout, key theories and research findings are highlighted and explored to help link theory and practice. It covers the important themes of child development, communication, wellbeing, observation, working with parents, inclusive practice, leadership and research. Altogether there are eight new chapters. (If you click on the title, it will take you to the publisher’s page.)

Gramling, M. (2015) The Great Disconnect in Early Childhood Education: What We Know vs. What We Do. St Paul, MN: Redleaf Press. This book examines the disconnect between public policy and classroom practice – and what educators need to change in order to teach children well. The authors argue that early childhood educators need to be cognizant of the disconnect between public policy and classroom practice – and they say that the success of children they teach depends on it. This book analyzes how ineffective practices are driven by unexamined public policies and why educators need to challenge their thinking in order to make a difference in children’s lives. A very complex story about public policy and the importance of teaching is told while entertaining and engaging the reader throughout.

Stacey, S. (2015) Pedagogical Documentation in Early Childhood: Sharing Children’s Learning and Teachers’ Thinking. St Paul, MN: Redleaf Press. This book provides a step-by-step guide to documenting children’s ideas, questions, and learning. Pedagogical Documentation in Early Childhood is an inspiring step-by-step guide to documenting children’s ideas, questions, play, and learning in a way that enhances teachers’ thinking and understanding at the same time. This book supports teachers on their journey to tell the stories behind children’s work and inquiry.

Edwards, M. and Davison, C. (2015) Global Childhoods (Critical Approaches to the Early Years). St Albans: Critical Publishing Ltd. Taking an ecological approach, this book examines how culture and society shape childhoods through considering the lived experiences of children internationally. It begins by questioning the meaning of childhood and explores the historical, cultural and social views of childhood and children, including the roles of race, class and gender. It considers families and parenting from a global perspective and progresses to examine the relationship between the state and children by evaluating international approaches to education, health and welfare and the ways inequalities between the minority and majority world impact on children. The role of research on and with children in informing these debates is fully explored. Most importantly the reader is challenged to reflect on how global perspectives can be used to support an understanding of inclusion and diversity in their practice.

Medwell, J. (2015) Training to Teach in primary schools: A practical guide to School-based training and placements. (3rd edition). London: Learning Matters. For student teachers, the experience of school-based training is exciting but also challenging – this book supports them throughout and prepares them for the journey ahead. This book begins by helping trainees to plan their own journey through training and beyond.  Taking control of their own training in this way supports student teachers to approach the course with confidence, and secure their first teaching job.   The book provides guidance on:

  • adapting to working in school
  • observing, planning and evaluating in school
  • teaching on placement
  • assessing, monitoring and reporting on children’s progress
  • self-evaluation and how to pre-empt and resolve issues
  • securing the first teaching job and succeeding in the NQT year

Pacini-Ketchabaw, V. and Taylor, A. (eds) Unsettling the Colonial Places and Spaces of Early Childhood Education (Changing Images of Early Childhood). New York: Routledge. This book uncovers and interrogates some of the inherent colonialist tensions that are rarely acknowledged and often unwittingly rehearsed within contemporary early childhood education. Through building upon the prior postcolonial interventions of prominent early childhood scholars, Unsettling the Colonial Places and Spaces of Early Childhood Education reveals how early childhood education is implicated in the colonialist project of predominantly immigrant (post)colonial settler societies. By politicizing the silences around these specifically settler colonialist tensions, it seeks to further unsettle the innocence presumptions of early childhood education and to offer some decolonizing strategies for early childhood practitioners and scholars. Grounding their inquiries in early childhood education, the authors variously engage with postcolonial theory, place theory, feminist philosophy, the ecological humanities and indigenous onto-epistemologies.

Alanen, L., Brooker, L. and Mayall, B. (eds) (2015) Childhood with Bordieu. London: Palgrave Macmillan. This book theorizes childhood within sociological concepts. Over the course of nine chapters, authors give detailed accounts of the lives of children in a range of societies, including England, sub-Saharan Africa, Northern Ireland, France, Andhra Pradesh and Finland. They describe their studies in the light of Bourdieu’s key concepts – field, habitus and capital – to consider the social status of childhood, the tensions between schooling and work in the lives of children, children’s relations with adults, and the pressures on childhood resulting from globalization and from the professional discourse of those adults who aim to help them.

Ephgrave, A. (2015) The Nursery Year in Action: Following children’s interests through the year. Abingdon: Routledge / David Fulton. Demonstrating how a child-led approach supports the development of purposeful, calm, confident and independent children, The Nursery Year in Action offers a unique month-by-month overview of the workings of an outstanding Nursery setting. The book covers all aspects of practice from the organisation of the classroom and garden and the rationale behind this to the routines and boundaries that ensure children are safe, happy and therefore able to explore and learn. It tracks the events of each month in the year paying particular attention to the environment, the role of the adult, links with parents, children’s individual needs and the key areas of learning and development. Throughout the book Anna Ephgrave gives the reason behind each decision and shows what the outcomes have been for the children, emphasising that a child-led approach, with planning in the moment can meet the requirements of the revised Early Years Foundation Stage and the individual needs of the children.

Moyles, J. (ed.) (2015) The Excellence of Play (4e). Maidenhead: Open University Press. Play as a powerful learning and teaching experience remains key to effective early childhood education. Retaining its popular approach and style, this new edition reflects the contemporary context of early childhood education and care as well emerging research on young children’s development. The emphasis remains firmly on demonstrating the excellence of play and its contribution to children’s overall learning and development in the early years, and the role of adults in promoting inspirational playful pedagogies. It offers new coverage on topics such as brain development, gender, babies’ play, cultural diversity and inclusion, children as researchers, new technologies, outdoor play and international dimensions. (A range of TACTYC members and Exec have contributed to this new edition.)

Wharton, P. and Kinney, L. (2015) Reggio Emilia Encounters: Children and adults in collaboration. London: David Fulton. This inspiring book is based upon a documentary approach successfully implemented by Stirling Council in Scotland, whose pre-school educators experienced dramatic improvements in their understandings about young children, how they learn and the potential unleashed in successfully engaging families in the learning process. This approach; which is based on careful listening to children and observation of their interests and concerns, centres around recording and commentating on children’s learning through photos, wall displays, videos and a variety of different media.

Sayre, R., Devercelli, A. Neuman, M. and Wodon, Q. (2015) Investing in Early Childhood Development: Review of the World Bank’s Recent Experience (World Bank Studies). World Bank publications. Kindle edition. This study provides an overview of Bank investments in Early Childhood Development (ECD) from 2000-2013 within the Education, Health, Nutrition and Population, and Social Protection and Labour practices. The study summarizes trends in operational and analytical investments in early childhood, including lending and trust funded operations at the country, regional, and global levels. Findings are presented on the overall level of finance during this thirteen-year period, the number of ECD investments, and regional and sectoral trends. A series of case studies are presented to highlight lessons learned to inform future Bank support to ECD and to promote better planning across sectors and regions. Trends in analytical and advisory activities are also discussed, including economic sector work, technical assistance, partnership activities, impact evaluations, programmatic approaches, and knowledge products. Finally, the study discusses recent new approaches to support ECD within the World Bank and in client countries.

Smidt, S. (2014) An ABC of Early Childhood Education: A guide to some of the key issues. London: Routledge. This unique and engaging resource describes, critiques and analyses the significance of a wide range of contemporary and classic ideas about how young children learn. Organised in a handy A-Z format, Sandra Smidt: traces back each idea to the roots of how it was first conceived; explores its implications for the early years classroom in accessible terms; makes connections where relevant to other strands in the field of early childhood education; provides examples from her extensive classroom experience and international literature; draws on a range of ideas from both developing and developed countries giving the material a truly global focus; and uses a sociocultural view of learning to underpin the choice or analysis of each idea.

David, J. and Elliott, S. (eds) (2014) Research in Early Childhood Education for Sustainability: International perspectives and provocations. London: Routledge.  Sustainability is a global issue that urgently needs addressing and for which the most serious consequences are for children and future generations. This insightful research text tackles one of the most significant contemporary issues of our times – the nexus between society and environment – and how early childhood education can contribute to sustainable living. This research text is designed to be provocative and challenging.

Davies, B. (2014) Listening to Children: Being and becoming. London: Routledge.  Through a series of exquisite encounters with children the author opens up new ways of thinking about, and intra-acting with, children.  The book carefully guides the reader through a wave of thought that turns the known into the unknown, and then slowly, carefully, makes new forms of thought comprehensible, opening, through all the senses, a deep understanding of our embeddedness in encounters with each other and with the material world.

Brodie, K. (2014) Sustained Shared Thinking in the Early Years: Linking theory to practice. London: Routledge.  Used as a measure of quality in the ground-breaking Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) project, Sustained Shared Thinking is fundamental to good early years practice. The book explores the attitudes, knowledge and understanding that a practitioner must adopt in order to start or develop successful Sustained Shared Thinking.

Charles, M. and Boyle, B. (2014) Using Multiliteracies and Multimodalities to Support Young Children’s Learning. London: Sage. Grounded in classroom practice, this practical book shows trainees and current teachers how to scaffold children’s literacy using a creative and supportive approach. It offers teaching strategies for Multiliteracies (fiction, expository/instructions, poetry, recount) and Multimodalities (reading, writing, speaking, listening, performing, illustrating) and helps to develop a relationship between teacher and learner.

Follarie, L. (2014) Foundations and Best Practices in Early Childhood Education: History, Theories, and Approaches to Learning with Enhanced Pearson (e-text). London: Rowman and Littlefield.  Reading to your children has been recommended to parents of young children for decades by literacy experts and recently the Chief OfSTED inspector. The act of shared book reading can promote academic, language, and literacy development; this is grounded in research. Not all shared book reading, however, is equally effective. While this book was written as an invitation to parents, teachers will also find it to be informative in guiding them to establish a supportive climate for sound, developmentally appropriate literacy teaching practices.

Professor Margaret Clark – whom many of you will know from our Conferences – has produced a new and exciting book entitled ‘Learning to be Literate – she documents and critically analyses literacy education over a period of fifty years, drawing attention to the complexity of the orthographic, syntactic and semantic processes a young reader must master in order to make sense of written text. You can find information here.

Brock, A., Dodds, S., Jarvis, P. and Olusoga, Y. (eds) (2014) Perspectives on Play: Learning for Life. London: Routledge.  This book examines current research and theoretical knowledge with regards to play as a medium of learning.  It presents a review and critical analysis of research in the field whilst exploring development in the early childhood years from a broad range of multi-disciplinary perspectives.  The approach offers a dynamic perspective on the practice of play. See: here.

Harrison, L. and Sumsion, J. (eds) (2014) Lived Spaces of Infant-Toddler Education and Care: Exploring Diverse Perspectives on Theory, Research and Practice. Springer. This is a really good compilation of work on infants and toddlers, the result of a week spent working together in Australia and years of reading, revising and discussing each other’s’ work. See Liz Brooker’s Chapter 3, particularly. Download information about the book here.

Brooker, E., Blaise, M. and Edwards, S. (2014) Sage Handbook of Play and Learning. London: Sage. Included in this wide-ranging book is an excellent chapter by Rod Parker-Rees. Download information here.

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