First-hand experience: what matters to children (2014)
An alphabet of learning from the real world

by Diane Rich, Mary Jane Drummond, Cathy Myer with Annabelle Dixon

The authors are experienced and respected education consultants. They have come together to work on a variety of projects for many years, and have always been committed to promoting what matters to children.

Diane Rich has been involved in children’s learning for many years, as play worker, teacher, advisory teacher, researcher, consultant, author, trustee for children’s charities. She co-ordinated the work of the What Matters to Children team from 2005-2013. Diane recently worked as a visiting lecturer at the University of Roehampton. She continues to work as a freelance consultant and runs Rich Learning Opportunities: keeping creativity, play and first-hand experience at the heart of children’s learning.

Mary Jane Drummond is a writer and researcher with an abiding interest in young children’s learning. Before retiring she worked for many years at the University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education.

Cathy Myer has been a teacher, advisory teacher, university lecturer and freelance education consultant. Although now retired, Cathy remains passionate about children and their capacity to learn from their experiences of the real world.

Annabelle Dixon (1940-2005) Annabelle’s classroom was, in the words of a friend, ‘a place of genuine intellectual search.’ As psychologist and teacher she is committed to offering first hand experiences to children as the essential basis for such a search.

Denise Casanova and Andrea Durrant were co-authors of the 2005 edition of First hand experience: what matters to children.



The authors dedicate the 2005 and 2014 editions of ‘First-hand experience: what matters to children’ to our dear friend and colleague

Annabelle Dixon

in memory of her work with children and adult educators

What is this book?
This new revised 2014 edition is for all teachers, and other educators of children from birth to 11, who seek to provide a curriculum, built on real, worthwhile experiences. It aims to support educators in thinking more deeply about children’s active learning, stimulated by high quality first-hand experiences. Each page has been developed as a springboard from which young and primary aged children, teachers and other educators can launch themselves into the mysterious and physical world in which we all live. With foreword by Sir Tim Smit.

Part one
• outlines the structure of the book
• explores the authors’ analysis of what matters to children
• examines the theoretical underpinnings of the work on which it is based
• describes how to use the book.

Part two has pages of different kinds:
• alphabet pages- which include the key elements: what matters to children, verbs and nouns as metaphors for children’s learning, big ideas, questions worth asking and books for children an adults
• learning stories- offered by educators who are committed to promoting first-hand experience with children
• alternative alphabet pages- which explore: active learning, important kinds of knowledge, the characteristics of worthwhile looking and listening, the characteristics of questions that stimulate children’s enquiries, important kinds of thinking that are stimulated by first-hand experience, and children as experts on the subject of their own learning.
• The book ends with an outline of the principles that are the basis of the authors’ work and gives warm encouragement for educators to build on their experiences of using the book to continue to act as critically aware, observant, reflective and inventive supporters of children’s learning offering them countless first-hand experiences to feed their insatiable appetite for the world.


About the authors
Foreword by Sir Tim Smit

PART ONE Introduction to the revised edition
The structure of the book
C, I, K, L, Q, T, X, Z: these pages are different
Encouraging voices old and new: theoretical underpinnings of our work
How to use this book
Focus on learning: bags and brushes
Why an alphabet? E is for everything!
What is a first-hand experience?

PART TWO An alphabet of learning from the real world
A is for alphabets
A is for apple
B is for bags
B is for brushes
C is for collections
C is for colourful curriculum
D is for doors (with K is for keys)
E is for enemies
F is for furniture
G is for goats, guinea pigs, gerbils, giant African snails, goldfish and other gorgeous animals
H is for homes
I is for Ithe active learner
J is for joining
K is for knowing
L is for listening and looking
M is for mixing
N is for night time
N is for night sky
O is for out and about
P is for pattern
Q is for questions
R is for rain
S is for surfaces
T is for thinking
U is for under my feet
V is for variety
W is for water
X the expert
Y is for yesterday
Z is for zigzag
…finding your way
through the book
Over to you


 National book reviews

Nursery World, 25 (January 2007)

ReFocus Journal (Summer 2006)

Early Years Educator (January 2006)

Nursery Education (November 2005)

Vivian Gussin Paley (July 2005)

Times Educational Supplement, Book of the Week (June 24 2005)

First-hand experience: what matters to children

Nursery World

25 January 2007

Our recommended choice…

First-hand experience: what matters to children
By Rich, D. Casanova, D. Dixon, A. Drummond, MJ. Durrant, A. Myer, C.
Reviewed by Wendy Scott, early years consultant

This thought-provoking book is described as an alphabet of real experiences. It offers a springboard rather than a prescription, designed to stimulate imagination as much as reflection. It would help parents as much as practitioners to understand the importance of direct experience for young children.

The A-Z headings cover a range of interconnected ideas, and it is easy to ‘zig-zag’ through them according to individual interests or priorities. For example, ‘I’ stands for ‘I’ the active learner at the centre, arguably including adults as much as children.

Learning stories link practice and principle through personal example of how adults have developed and expressed their educational philosophy through paying close attention to what matters to individual children. Insights gained through careful observation enable them to support, encourage and extend rather than direct or determine children’s enquiries. Sustained shared thinking from genuine questions demonstrably leads to higher achievement.

The authors quote Susan Isaacs’ view that children grow through their own efforts and real experiences, and show how and why this matters. They address complex issues with admirable directedness, simplicity and examples. Key points are supported by reference to earlier guidance as well as recent research, and include relevant reading for children too.

First-hand experience: what matters to children

ReFocus Journal
Issue three Summer 2006

Refocus is the UK network of early childhood educators, artists and others influenced in their practice by the preschools of Reggio Emilia.
I was attracted by the title

of this book which puts the child’s experiences firmly at the centre of their learning but was wary of the alphabetic framework used to present the real learning experiences recommended. Would there be a risk that they would become contrived to fit the model? I’m happy to say that the authors, all experienced educators, have not fallen into that trap. Instead the reader is taken on an exciting journey of reflective thinking using innovative approaches and suggesting several potential connections – all with many different possible pathways. They cover the many things, whether ideas or experiences, which help children to make sense of their world. The book resonates strongly with the philosophy of the pre schools of Reggio Emilia in which both child and educator are considered as co-researchers. Thinking and learning are ‘made visible’ through observation and listening and much, much more. For those educators who want to be part of a learning journey with children, this is your guide.

Each letter of the alphabet has its own section and I particularly liked the ‘Q is for questions’ section which gives the basis for all learning. My own trawl of finding any comprehensive literature on this subject had previously produced poor results. Here, guidance is given on adults questioning children as well as value to children’s own questions – even those awkward ones. Annabelle Dixon’s suggestions about keeping a question book are exciting and her comment, ‘There must be something for children to ask questions about. If there aren’t any things there won’t be any questions!’ says it all. The section, ‘E is for enemies’ offers us the basis for another investigative project. Questions such as ‘What makes an enemy?’ and ‘Do enemies have friends?’, with examples of children’s learning stories as starting points, are well worth reading to help access this complex subject.

Guidance on the best use of ‘First Hand Experience’ is clearly stated and all sections are well supported by lists of comprehensive references to stories, books and music in addition to the questions, connections and ideas. It is possible to use this book for dipping into for one-off practical (but not quick fix) ideas, which in turn can grow and develop into new pathways. Or for those inspired by the values and philosophy of Reggio Emilia, it can be used for longer, reflective projects to explore abstract concepts and experiences. The back cover describes the book as ‘a springboard from which children and educators can launch themselves into the mysterious and physical world in which we all live.’ I would thoroughly recommend it to all educators who want to do just that.

Solveig Morris is an independent consultant and ReFocus board member.

First-hand experience: what matters to children
A rich learning experience
Review by Jessica Waterhouse

Early Years Educator brings you another batch of the latest products and books on offer in the early years New Year marketplace

EYE Volume 7 No.9 January 2006

As we early years educators continue to advocate play against the formal, top down pressures of key stage 1, it is a breath of fresh air to come across a book like First-hand experience: what matters to children.

If you would like a boost of inspiration and nourishment for the soul from a book which asserts that children’s learning must come from their interests and that it is our jobs to facilitate this - then I wholeheartedly recommend this book!

The book sets out to help improve children’s opportunities to experience the world at first hand. Children are referred to as active learners. A motivating foreword from Tim Smit, chief executive of the Eden Project, introduces the mantra of ‘observation’ and states that observation is ‘both the foundation of all good science and also the basis for learning from your experience.’

The introduction also sets out the theoretical underpinning for the book and acts as a reminder of those who have gone before, both here and in other countries, such as the early years educators in Reggio Emilia, Italy.

These theories are related to the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage, which recommends that children should be offered experiences ‘mostly based on real life situations’. Within the book, first hand experiences are described as ‘handling and using authentic things, going to places and meeting people, and being out and about.’

The book is laid out in an alphabetic format. Starting from each given letter are lists, statements and thought provoking quotes relating to ’what matters to children, questions worth asking, big ideas, books and stories, things to do and investigate'.

The book suggests so many fabulous starting points - r for rain, w for windows, n for nothing, and y for yesterday. My favourite – b for bags – includes suggestions, such as precious bags (a doctor’s bag, a princess’s bag, money bags, a wallet) visits to a Royal Mail sorting office, a sleeping bag factory, a handbag shop – and key questions such as: ‘What makes a bag a bag?’ ‘What would a witch’s bag look like?’

The section includes great ‘making ideas’, such as making a sleeping bag for teddy, or making a bag for an umbrella.

The book creates excitement through being innovative and unusual. It does not have lesson plans (hooray!) and there is not a learning objective in sight.

It does have learning stories, which are accounts of how educators have helped children to learn from a first hand experience. Each starting point gives such a wealth of ideas across every area of the curriculum. Treat your early years team with this book!

First-hand experience: what matters to children

Nursery Education November 2005

Professional bookshelf…

First hand experience

First hand experience: what matters to children

sets out to reinstate real-world experiences at the centre of children’s learning. It takes the form of an A-Z exploration of real experiences, with the aim of helping young children to blossom into balanced, creative adults. Written by a team of experienced education researchers and consultants, this thought-provoking book offers an array of topics under each letter of the alphabet. The elements on each page include: what matters to children; things to do and investigate; big ideas; questions worth asking; suggested books and stories.

First-hand experience: what matters to children

Vivian Gussin Paley
Author, and former kindergarten and nursery school teacher, primarily at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. Winner of many awards including the MacArthur Award and John Dewey Society ‘s Outstanding Achievement Award.

Written shortly after the July 7 2005 bombings in London
‘Reading your new work, as filled with the optimism that goes along with a love of young children and what they are really like, it seems we are in a different world than the one depicted in the newspaper and on TV. But it is our job to concentrate on children and your 'First-hand experience ’ presents a fine and novel approach to the subject that will certainly capture the attention of educators, parents, and of all, people who enjoy being with children and are eager to explore new directions and old certainties.

I applaud you and your colleagues for daring to stop, look around, and begin at the beginning. Exactly what the children like to do. Your curiosity will lift all of us to a higher place from which to carry on our own observations.

First-hand experience: what matters to children

Times Educational Supplement 24.05.05

Sanity amid the madness

In a world distracted by targets and testing, Sue Palmer urges primary teachers to renew their faith in real and direct interaction with children.

First-hand experience: what matters to children
an alphabet of learning from the real world.
by Diane Rich, Denise Casanova, Annabelle Dixon, Mary Jane Drummond, Andrea Durrant and Cathy Myer.
Rich Learning Opportunities £25
"Read this book," writes Tim Smit in the foreword. "It may save lives."

When the creator of the Eden Project is that impressed by an educational tome, it must be worth a look, despite the rather chunky title.
Well, after a very good look, I’ll go further than Mr Smit. If you work in nursery or primary education, buy this book, read it, enjoy it and consult it daily until you’ve regained your professional identity. It’s aimed at those working with children aged between three and eight, but there are important issues for teachers of older children too. In a world where tests, targets and curricular objectives have driven us all into a sort of collective madness, it will at the very least remind you why you came into the job in the first place, And if enough of us rally to the cause it represents, it will save lives.

The authors, established authorities on early childhood education, remind us of the elemental importance for young children of real experiences and genuine human interaction. For children whose lives out of school are often spent largely in front of screens, this essential stage in development is too often neglected. When they come to school, our cock-eyed educational system forces us to rush them straight into the manipulation of symbolic information (reading, writing and numbers). God knows what long-term damage has already been done by this clash between contemporary culture outside school and our premature start to formal learning, but for the sake of coming generations we must redress the educational balance. This book is a wonderful starting point.

There’s an excellent introduction, explaining the theories that underpin the approach (theory which is almost daily being affirmed by neuroscientific research). I particularly liked the definition of the role of the educator ‘to provide the curricular food that will nourish and strengthen children’s powers… to organise children’s enquiries and experiences so that they are actively and emotionally engaged… and to value the learning that comes from these activities, using it to plan children’s next steps.’

I’m sure the many thousands of teachers I meet every year would agree this approach fits the needs of young children much better than the pursuit of fixed objectives, an over- academicised curriculum and an inflexible testing regime, which at present creates not only educational failure but countless behavioural problems. It’s certainly the message from the Effective Provision of Preschool Education project, which has found that ‘sustained shared thinking’ between children and informed early years practitioners is the most significant contributor to later educational success.

The main body of the book is an alphabet of powerful starting points for practice, from A is for Apples (grow them, cook them, eat them, investigate them, look at them in art, consider the "big ideas" they trigger; inner and outer; parts and wholes; classification; naming; growth; transformation and so on) to Z is for Zigzag, which sums up the book’s holistic – but nevertheless highly structured- approach to early learning. It all looks enormous fun. The alphabet pages are interspersed with "learning stories" – case studies by practitioners who have trialled the ideas with children – and the pleasure of reading them is considerably enhanced by their design; inspired use of colour, typeface and layout, creating instant accessibility.

Altogether a remarkable achievement and I can’t recommend First Hand Experience enough. However I do have one serious quibble. Nowhere does the book tackle the vexed question of how, alongside this child –centred approach, we deal with the teaching of literacy skills. There are many recommendations for good children’s picture books to share alongside investigations, but the teaching profession knows from bitter experience in the 1980s and 90s that literacy skills do not emerge from children’s joyous immersion in books and stories; they have to be carefully taught. In a TV –dominated culture where many children are no longer tuned into language through nursery rhymes and songs, the need for specific teaching of phonological and phonemic awareness is increasingly necessary. And without structured help in developing the physical skills that underpin handwriting, then refining the ability to get letters and words down on paper, many children (especially boys) are seriously disadvantaged.

Personally, I see no conflict between the authors’ holitic, interactive, child-centred approach to learning in general, and a systematic, teacher directed but child –friendly approach to the development of the skills required for reading and writing. The two approaches can run in parallel, as early years practitioners are well used to such balancing acts. There’s no reason to inflict a damaging testing regime on the under-eights, as is demonstrated in successful European countries such as Sweden, Finland and Switzerland, where the foundation of literacy skills are carefully laid during the early years. When formal literacy teaching begins in these countries ( at seven years old) the vast majority of children learn to read and write easily and painlessly by the time they’re eight.

This splendid alphabet of first-hand experience is essential if children are to grow into balanced, creative adults, but our pupils also need to learn how to use the alphabet themselves to decode and encode information symbolically. Literacy skills must be taught carefully and systematically during the first eight years. The fact that the book makes no reference to this leaves it open to attack or – even worse – to contemptuous dismissal by the powerful people who have locked us into our current, dangerously unbalanced, system.

A serious quibble then, but it doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm. I believe early years teachers are perfectly capable of sorting out the balancing act themselves, and all primary teachers are now ready for a more creative approach to their craft. Teachers just need the courage of their convictions and the justification to get on with it. So please buy this book: it can change your professional life.

Sue Palmer is an independent literacy consultant and co-author of The Foundations of Literacy (Network Press)

Learning: what matters to children (2008)
An alphabet of what learners do
by Diane Rich, Mary Jane Drummond and Cathy Myer


The authors are experienced and respected education consultants. They have come together to work on a variety of projects for many years, and have always been committed to promoting what matters to children.

Diane Rich has been involved in children’s learning for many years, as play worker, teacher, advisory teacher, researcher, consultant, author, trustee for children’s charities. She co-ordinated the work of the What Matters to Children team from 2005-2013. Diane recently worked as a visiting lecturer at the University of Roehampton. She continues to work as a freelance consultant and runs Rich Learning Opportunities: keeping creativity, play and first-hand experience at the heart of children’s learning.

Mary Jane Drummond is a writer and researcher with an abiding interest in young children’s learning. Before retiring she worked for many years at the University of Cambridge, Faculty of Education.

Cathy Myer has been a teacher, advisory teacher, university lecturer and freelance education consultant. Although now retired, Cathy remains passionate about children and their capacity to learn from their experiences of the real world.

What is this book?

This book explores the characteristics of effective learners, describing the internal processes of the play, exploration, enquiry, and talk of active learners, discussing their importance. With foreword by Gareth Malone, it is a continuation and development of the elements represented on the alphabet pages of its sister book, ‘First-hand experience: what matters to children’ (new edition 2014).
The book takes the form of an alphabet of what learners do, designed to help educators of children from birth to 11 see more clearly and more completely the richness of what learners do. It explores learning both from the child’s point of view, and from the educator’s in terms of the choices they might make in their provision. In every chapter a single verb of learning is considered, active children belonging, choosing, feeling and representing and so on, but each of these, stitched together with play, links with other verbs to make a joined-up, worthwhile whole.
This book encourages educators to think about the most appropriate curriculum for children, starting with the children themselves, the people who do the learning. The authors examine closely the characteristics of effective learners, describe the internal processes that accompany the play, exploration, enquiry, and talk of active learners and discuss their importance, drawing on their own work with children from birth to eleven, their work with educators, their reading, research, evaluation and development projects.
The text is enriched with a variety of ‘learning stories’, first-hand accounts of learners who, in spontaneous and purposeful activity, play, enquiry and interactions, illustrate the ideas examined, and underline the central purpose in this book: to demonstrate that looking at what learners do is a good way for educators to learn more about learning.
The ‘map of the book’ on page eight, shows it main elements- The main body of the alphabet book consists of 21 chapters about what learners do. There are four chapters (corresponding to the four letters D, G, N and P) which take the form of short essays on writers whose work seems especially relevant to a consideration of what learners do: John Dewey, Susan Isaacs, Nel Noddings and Lawrence Stenhouse, included as a way of opening doors onto ideas and approaches that may be unfamiliar, but which the authors believe merit a closer acquaintance.
At the end of chapters B to Y there is an outline of one relevant book for educators and one for children.
Chapters A and Z are different again: A contains a fairy tale (of sorts) for educators, and Z, the final chapter, is a review of the main themes of the book, which remain constant through the whole volume.
The authors hope that educators will use this book to think deeply with.
To think deeply about what precisely?
About children as learners, about what learners do, and about their own learning as educators.


About the authors
A note about terms
Foreword by Gareth Malone

Part one

What is this book?
The four domains of learning: what matters to children
Big ideas
Food and exercise
P is for play
A map of the book: the richness of what learners do
How can educators use this book?
Why should educators of children from birth to 11 use this book?

Part two
An alphabet of what learners do

A is for learners learn ALL THE TIME
B is for learners BELONG to a community of learners
C is for learners CHOOSE
D is for John DEWEY: experience and education
E is for learners learn EVERYWHERE
F is for learners FEEL
G is for learners need a GENEROUS ENVIRONMENT
H is for learners HOPE
I is for learners IMAGINE
J is for learners do JOINED UP LEARNING
K is for learners KNOW more than adults think they know
L is for learners need LIBRARIES of books
M is for learners MAKE MEANING
N is for NEL NODDINGS: learning to care
O is for OBEDIENCE V DESIRE in learning
P is for PRINCIPLES OF PROCEDURE: the work of Lawrence Stenhouse
Q is for learners QUESTION AND ANSWER
R is for learners REPRESENT their learning
S is for learners MAKE STORIES
T is for learners TAKE TIME
U is for learners thirst for UNDERSTANDING
V is for learners VOICE their learning
W is for WE learn with friends
X is for learners EXPECT the help and truthfulness of grown ups
Y is for YIPPEE! Learners love learning
ZZZZZ is for educators need time to sleep on it

Books for educators
Books for children

National book reviews

ReFocus Journal Issue eight Spring 2009 (April 2009)

Forum Journal for promoting 3-19 comprehensive eduvcation (April 2009)

ReFocus Journal Issue eight Spring 2009 (April 2009)

ReFocus is the UK network of early childhood educators, artists and others influenced in their practice by the preschools of Reggio Emilia.

Review by Solveig Morris of
‘Learning: what matters to children’ by Diane Rich, Mary Jane Drummond and Cathy Myer

Those readers who bought and valued the content of ‘First hand experience: what matters to children’ (reviewed ReFocus Journal issue three), will welcome this sequel, a continuation of the authors’ desire to develop the theme of a rich curriculum diet based on the principle of what really matters to children as active learners.

Using the metaphor of food and exercise, the new book is again arranged using the format of the alphabet to lead the reader through a wealth of knowledge, pedagogical thinking and learning stories, but this time the authors delve more deeply into what learners do, emphasising ‘exercise- the verbs of learning’ and their significance to help educators support both children’s and their own learning.

To benefit from using this book, I would strongly recommend that the reader reads and inwardly digests Part One, the introduction. Here the rationale of the book is clearly laid out but it also gives a conceptual framework by which an appropriate curriculum can be developed, whatever the age group. The authors have extended the age group from birth to eleven years (previously birth to 8 years) but their approach makes it fitting for all ages.

The book is based on sound key principles which are closely matched to those of Reggio Emilia who believe that:
• children are powerful and active learners;
• educators think for themselves;
• learners are more curious, ask questions and continue to explore their own learning.

Thus both children and educators (with parents and others) act as co-researchers, belonging to a community of learners. The expectation is that educators, to be effective, must think, question and be curious about life as well as having sound knowledge of children’s cognitive development and interests.

Part Two is a treasure box. The authors have drawn on their own research work with children and educators, using additional material from the What Matters to Children team – all respected consultants. I found myself being pulled in by new material and learning stories, reminded of the words of past great thinkers such as John Dewey and delighted by the connecting threads of the authors’ thinking. So a new learning journey begins with different paths followed with constant deviations and retracing of steps.

The book sits comfortably with the new Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum – and the National Curriculum, but past experience has proved that the interpretation of curriculum content can be extremely variable. For thinking educators this books is more than a guidance, it’s an invaluable resource.

We hope that educators of children from birth to 11 will use this book to think with.
To think about what precisely?
About children as learners.
About what learners do.
About their own learning as educators. p115

Forum Journal for promoting 3-19 comprehensive education (April 2009)

Volume 51 Number 1 2009

Review by Jenifer Smith
School of Education and Lifelong Learning, University of East Anglia

This spiral bound ‘alphabet of what learners do’ is an extraordinarily attractive book which invites the reader’s active involvement in issues that are of crucial importance to learners and educators. Its manageable format perhaps belies the seriousness of its content, because this is a book that excites the intellect, the imagination, and the desire to act. ‘Learning: what matters to children’ builds on the work of the first book written by this team, ‘First hand experience: what matters to children’ (2005) which is designed to help educators think more deeply about children’s active learning and the ways in which they might create the opportunities for ‘high quality first hand experiences’. ‘Learning: what matters to children’ builds on and extends that thinking by inviting the reader to look closely at the characteristics of children who are actively engaged in learning and as a part of that close examination to consider and reconsider the choices that they can make to ensure ‘worthwhile learning’ for the children with whom they work. The authors declare their commitment to the principle of educators who think for themselves and have conceived and presented the book, it would seem to me, in the same way that one might plan an inviting setting for learners from birth to 11. As a reader, I feel free to navigate my way around its pages, to pick and choose what I read and how I will work with that and so the experience is stimulating in many different ways.

The organisation of the book combines careful patterning with serendipity. The use of the alphabetic principle avoids a text which swells to a rhetorical conclusion, but rather offers many facets of the things which the authors openly declare to be important. Each chapter heading, shaped in part by the alphabet, makes an assertion about what learners do: learn all the time, hope, know more than adults think they do, make stories, take time. The authors present a clearly defined and principled viewpoint which firmly sets aside the view of a curriculum defined by subject areas and replaces that way of thinking with four domains of children’s learning, ‘what matters to children’. These are expressed in the open ended non-finite form: being, acting, exploring, thinking. The necessity of first hand experience as the basis for worthwhile learning is embodied in text which is redolent of a pleasure in the world that children share with us –its beauty, its physicality, its challenge. The text enacts ways of thinking. Verbs –actions- are emphasised; the metaphors of food and exercise act as a vehicle for considering a child’s diet and the opportunities to exercise their growing powers and ‘big ideas’ challenge readers to set all this in theoretical context.

The book begins with an adapted fairy story that reminds us that learners continue to learn whether the experiences they are offered are rich and challenging or meaningless and undemanding and ends with a review of the whole. Each chapter is a patchwork of stories, questions, quotations, introductions to reading, provocations and lists, defined by frames and shading. The resulting juxtapositions and white space on the page invites readers to make their own connections as they navigate an individual path through the pages and between pages. It is possible to dwell on a single section or to surf the pages in search of repeated elements in each chapter.

Twenty-one of the twenty-six chapters focus on what learners do and include ‘learning stories’; accounts of children’s activities which not only demonstrate how looking at what learners do is a good way for educators to learn more about learning but invite discussion and reflection. The stories often challenge common assumptions and insist on the value of observing, and noting, what might otherwise seem unremarkable. The setting of such stories alongside other stories and the ideas of educators reveals the depths and complexities of small moments. One of the things I particularly like is that each chapter includes two suggestions for reading: one is always a book for children and the other a book for educators. In this way, the authors point the reader beyond the boundaries of the book, not only towards further reading, but also in terms of thinking of other titles that, particularly in the case of books for children, might at least be as good if not better than those suggested! I was particularly pleased to find writers and thinkers mentioned whom I was unfamiliar with as well as those whom I am glad to see introduced to a new readership. Three of the chapters are devoted entirely to the work of three such thinkers: John Dewey, Nell Noddings and Lawrence Stenhouse. These chapters succinctly and enticingly introduce key ideas of those thinkers and certainly have prompted student teachers to find out more.

One of the strengths of the book is its combination of easy reading (you could start with a seventy word snippet) and uncompromising seriousness of ideas. It is a bit like a high quality Hello magazine for the staff room, because you can read a page or more quite quickly, but the snippets that you read provide you with much more to think about and the desire to find out more. I find that the format provokes thought in a very pleasurable way. I find myself impelled to go to the library, to try things out, to talk to others and to dream in the way I love to do when I am plotting and planning opportunities for learning. It acknowledges that the educator reader may continue to possess that ‘thirst for understanding….a veritable passion’ that Susan Isaacs attributes to young learners. In acknowledging the potential passion that all educators may possess the book provides an inspiration and encouragement to teachers who may feel tied down by the curriculum or who may have forgotten what is possible. This is an ambitious and generous book which includes a wide sweep of ideas within its 120 pages. The authors draw on contemporary thinkers as well as those writing at the beginning of the last century and it is instructive to observe how strong is the influence of early years educators; and how one might continue to hope that their influence will extend beyond the reception classroom and into the rest of the primary years. It is also an immensely serious book which rejects the word play for its frivolous connotations and embraces the activities of children who are ‘profound thinkers, grappling with challenging and complex ideas.’ Consequently it is an immensely exhilarating book. Every educator’s home should have one!

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