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June 19, 2009

Book Review: Good Morning, Children

Guest blogger Libby Doggett, Deputy Director of the Pew Center on the States, reviews "Good Morning, Children" by Sophia E. Pappas

Many people watch 3- and 4-year-olds at home or at school and dismiss what they are doing as "just play." The same folks wrongly believe that anyone can teach young children. Sophia Pappas's book, "Good Morning, Children," aptly addresses – and counters – these two, common myths about educating young children.

Pappas's book brings to life how, in a high-quality pre-kindergarten classroom, children learn through play; and how that learning is enhanced by a qualified teacher who cares deeply about his/her children and what they learn. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Georgetown University, She learned that controlling a classroom required more than just smarts, persistence and compassion.  Her book explains, through compelling anecdotes, how she learned to use her attributes to master her classroom.

One of my favorite stories is that of Aniyah, who, when challenged to find a solution for a small fish being eaten by a large fish (in Leo Lionni's classic, Swimmy), suggests that the small fish drive a water car out of the ocean away from the big fish.  Aniyah is so excited about her suggestion that she even writes "wtr car" on the solutions list without guidance.  But, this learning victory happens only after many months of effort by the teacher and Aniyah's mother helping the child learn to control her formerly disruptive behavior.

In this valuable book, the Pappas repeatedly describes the link between a child's social-emotional and cognitive development, and how that development in one area enhances the other. For example, Aniyah's improvements to her behavior facilitated her intellectual growth. As her disruptive outbursts subsided, she was better able to actively engage in discussions during story time and interact positively with other children in the learning centers. Pre-k is not just about learning the letters of the alphabet, learning to count and learning to write your name. It is about learning to share, take turns, work with a new adult, interact with other children and direct one’s own learning. 

This book is wonderful for anyone interested in early education. For the policy maker, it gives substance to the importance of a well-qualified teacher, a strong curriculum, able school leadership and small class sizes and ratios. It also points us in new directions: the importance of having strong mentorship programs for all new teachers; better tools for measuring children’s growth and development; and, more creative ways to engage families in their child’s learning.

For directors and administrators, this book will contribute to your vision of excellence and your efforts to eliminate educational inequality. It offers new ideas for supporting your staff's efforts to help students realize their potential.

For new teachers, the book reaffirms the importance and challenge of your chosen field and assures you that, if you are persistent, you too can succeed. The author's stories show her eagerness to accept mentorship; willingness to reflect honestly on her practice; progress in learning effective classroom management skills; ability to explore innovative learning approaches with individual children; and, her determination to focus on positive communication with parents. These stories contain a formula for your own success.

And, for former teachers like me, the book is simultaneously a walk down memory lane and a reminder of how much the field of early education has matured. For most of my students, my first-grade classroom was their first experience away from home and I was expected to teach children their letters, letter sounds and how to read in a short nine months. Today, many children have ample time to learn those important foundational skills, and with teachers like Sophia, they can enter kindergarten prepared and excited about learning.

Comments

I just finished reading this book and it was great. I have been teaching pre-k for over 5 years now and this book has something for every teacher.

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