The Boy on the Beach: Building Community through Play

University of Chicago Press
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Four-year-old Eli plays alone at the shore, inventing dramas out of sand and water. He is Builder, Fireman, Protector, and Scout, overcoming waves and conquering monsters. Enter Marianne and doll, Mother and Baby, eager to redefine Eli as a good father and homesteader. Their separate visions intertwine in a search for a common ground on which howling wolves and butterfly sisters can learn to understand and need one another.

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.

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About the author

Vivian Gussin Paley worked for nearly forty years as a preschool and kindergarten teacher and is the author of thirteen books about young children, including, most recently, A Child’s Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play.

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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Apr 15, 2010
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Pages
104
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ISBN
9780226645056
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Language
English
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Genres
Education / Early Childhood (incl. Preschool & Kindergarten)
Education / Educational Psychology
Education / Elementary
Education / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Bad guys are not allowed to have birthdays, pick blueberries, or disturb the baby. So say the four-year-olds who announce life's risks and dangers as they play out the school year in Vivian Paley's classroom.

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
When we look beyond lesson planning and curricula—those explicit facets that comprise so much of our discussion about education—we remember that teaching is an inherently social activity, shaped by a rich array of implicit habits, comportments, and ways of communicating. This is as true in the United States as it is in Japan, where Akiko Hayashi and Joseph Tobin have long studied early education from a cross-cultural perspective. Taking readers inside the classrooms of Japanese preschools, Teaching Embodied explores the everyday, implicit behaviors that form a crucially important—but grossly understudied—aspect of educational practice.

Akiko Hayashi and Joseph Tobin embed themselves in the classrooms of three different teachers at three different schools to examine how teachers act, think, and talk. Drawing on extended interviews, their own real-time observations, and hours of video footage, they focus on how teachers embody their lessons: how they use their hands to gesture, comfort, or discipline; how they direct their posture, gaze, or physical location to indicate degrees of attention; and how they use the tone of their voice to communicate empathy, frustration, disapproval, or enthusiasm. Comparing teachers across schools and over time, they offer an illuminating analysis of the gestures that comprise a total body language, something that, while hardly ever explicitly discussed, the teachers all share to a remarkable degree. Showcasing the tremendous importance of—and dearth of attention to—this body language, they offer a powerful new inroad into educational study and practice, a deeper understanding of how teaching actually works, no matter what culture or country it is being practiced in.
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