What can the richly imagined, impressively adaptable fantasy world of these children tell us about childhood, development, education, and even life itself? For fifty years, teacher and writer Vivian Gussin Paley has been exploring the imagery, language, and lore of young children, asking the questions they ask of themselves.
In The Boy on the Beach she continues to do so, going deeper into the mystery of play as she follows Eli and Marianne through the kindergarten year, finding more answers and more questions. How does their teacher, Mrs. Olson, manage to honor and utilize the genius of play to create an all-inclusive community in which boys and girls like each other and listen to each other’s stories? Why is Paley’s fellow teacher Yu-ching in Taiwan certain that her children pretend to be kittens in order to become necessary to the group? And why do teachers in London see their childrens’ role-playing as the natural end to loneliness in the school community?
Rich with the words of children and teachers themselves, The Boy on the Beach is vintage Paley, a wise and provocative appreciation of the importance of play and enduring curiosity about the nature of childhood and the imagination.
"With a delightful, almost magical touch, Paley shares her observations and insights about three-year-olds. The use of a tape recorder in the classroom gives her a second chance to hear students' thoughts from the doll corner to the playground, and to reflect on the ways in which young children make sense of the experience of school. . . . Paley lets the children speak for themselves, and through their words we reenter the world of the child in all its fantasy and inventiveness."—Harvard Educational Review
"Paley's vivid and accurate descriptions depict both spontaneous and recurring incidents and outline increasingly complex interactions among the children. Included in the narrative are questions or ideas to challenge the reader to gain more insight and understanding into the motives and conceptualizations of Mollie and other children."—Karen L. Peterson, Young Children
Their play is filled with warnings. They invent chaos in order to show that everything is under control. They portray fear to prove that it can be conquered. No theme is too large or too small for their intense scrutiny. Fantasy play is their ever dependable pathway to knowledge and certainty.
" It . . . takes a special teacher to value the young child's communications sufficiently, enter into a meaningful dialogue with the youngster, and thereby stimulate more productivity without overwhelming the child with her own ideas. Vivian Paley is such a teacher."—Maria W. Piers, in the American Journal of Education
"[Mrs. Paley's books] should be required reading wherever children are growing. Mrs. Paley does not presume to understand preschool children, or to theorize. Her strength lies equally in knowing that she does not know and in trying to learn. When she cannot help children—because she can neither anticipate nor follow their thinking—she strives not to hinder them. She avoids the arrogance of adult to small child; of teacher to student; or writer to reader."—Penelope Leach, author of Your Baby & Child in the New York Times Book Review
"[Paley's] stories and interpretation argue for a new type of early childhood education . . . a form of teaching that builds upon the considerable knowledge children already have and grapple with daily in fantasy play."—Alex Raskin, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Through the 'intuitive language' of fantasy play, Paley believes, children express their deepest concerns. They act out different roles and invent imaginative scenarios to better understand the real world. Fantasy play helps them cope with uncomfortable feelings. . . . In fantasy, any device may be used to draw safe boundaries."—Ruth J. Moss, Psychology Today
A Child's Work goes inside classrooms around the globe to explore the stunningly original language of children in their role-playing and storytelling. Drawing from their own words, Paley examines how this natural mode of learning allows children to construct meaning in their worlds, meaning that carries through into their adult lives. Proof that play is the work of children, this compelling and enchanting book will inspire and instruct teachers and parents as well as point to a fundamental misdirection in today's educational programs and strategies.
"The Boy Who Would Be a Helicopter" focuses on the challenge posed by the isolated child to teachers and classmates alike in the unique community of the classroom. It is the dramatic story of Jason-the loner and outsider-and of his ultimate triumph and homecoming into the society of his classmates. As we follow Jason's struggle, we see that the classroom is indeed the crucible within which the young discover themselves and learn to confront new problems in their daily experience.
Vivian Paley recreates the stage upon which children emerge as natural and ingenious storytellers. She supplements these real-life vignettes with brilliant insights into the teaching process, offering detailed discussions about control, authority, and the misuse of punishment in the preschool classroom. She shows a more effective and natural dynamic of limit-setting that emerges in the control children exert over their own fantasies. And here for the first time the author introduces a triumvirate of teachers (Paley herself and two apprentices) who reflect on the meaning of events unfolding before them.
"Wally's Stories" is itself a story: the story of the evolution of a kindergarten classroom in which Vivian Paley learned to stop fighting childish fantasy and instead make use of it to stimulate the very best brand of thinking her five year-olds can muster. Stories also lie at the heart of her classroom: stories that are first told by one of the children, then transcribed by the teacher, and then acted out by the class in dramatic productions of their own design. Vivian Paley shows that in the course of creating their own dramatic world, five-year-olds are capable of thought and language far in advance of what they accomplish in traditional classroom exercises. The children's stories also become a vehicle that they can use to explain themselves to their teacher and to one another. Together, teacher and children develop an unusual environment, one that is logical and literate, based on rules of fairness, friendship, and fantasy.
Vivian Paley's book is as refreshing as her teaching method. A new kind of book about a new kind of classroom.