Sound beginnings

This is Pam May et al’s book, and before I start, a personal note:

Pam is a good friend, and along with Lesley Grundy, a formative influence on our family. In the late 80’s, when Pam was the assistant teacher (I was to succeed her) at Grandpont and Lesley was the head, a small (and a bit tattered) family – mine – moved into the school’s catchment area in South Oxford. It was their care and genuine interest for us that in some ways set the tone for my work with children ever since. And having got that off my chest, I can “do” a proper review of the book:

May, P et al., (2006) Sound Beginnings: learning and development in the early years London: David Fulton

Sound beginnings

It is refreshing to find a book that credits its readers to the extent this one does with the ability to think beyond the next day’s provision, and to explore or revisit themes and theories as well as practical material. Well set out, with some clear photos, the book looks at the now familiar ground of the learning experiences of young children in England, but looks clearly at the theory as much as the practice: in the chapter ‘Building Confidence,’ the authors move through risk-taking to the issues of setting up an environment with real physical risk, to discussing play fighting and respectful behaviour. The thoughtfulness of the arguments means that this is done without any sense of the authors rambling. Thus, if the general chapters headings seem to tread familiar ground – ‘Learning about Self and Others,’ ‘What Children Known and Can Do,’ the authors are sure enough of their subjects to be able to take a more discursive approach, so that, for example, the reader is encouraged to think of record-keeping as going far beyond recording attainment; a chart (p89) presents one child’s temper outbursts, and suggests ways in which staff might use this to resolve difficulties with another child. It is this approach that must recommend Sound Beginnings to the new practitioner, inviting them to think of a variety of solutions.

In general the book is down-to-earth in its use of language, even when dealing with complex or abstract theory. Herein lies its greatest strength, and the thing that must commend it to a readership of early years practitioners and those training or assessing them; it never loses the balance between delivering practical advice (“Cardboard rolls and egg boxes need storing separately from square boxes so that children can plan what they will make by seeing the range of opportunities clearly…” p123), and representing theory (as in the discussion of Vygotsky, Bruner and the findings of the EPPE project, pp 73ff).

Too often new practitioner books in Early Years are a collection of essays loosely held together with some skilful editing. That they contain useful material is undeniable; but they frequently contain a chapter or two that somehow look as if they were misplaced from another volume. Pam May’s book avoids this by keeping strictly to its task of looking at a range of topics – Observation and Assessment, Inclusion, Ethos – from within everyday good practice in the Foundation Stage. The currency of the book is not really challenged by the plans to introduce a new version of the Foundation Stage Curriculum with its wider view of children from Birth to Five, but the authors have clearly set up their stall around good quality in the present Three to Five Foundation Stage, referring frequently to the present curriculum guidance, celebrating, as the authors state at the beginning, “ the spirit of the Foundation Stage (p1).” This spirit is enshrined, the authors believe, in the principles rather than the stepping stones of the Foundation Stage, that is, in what the Foundation Stage sees as issues that underpin quality rather than the assessment points that look like developmental milestones, and they seek to guide the reader through the complexities of the conflicting agendas by presenting theory and research lucidly and with passion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *