Last week I proofread Children in the Way? by Carrie Kingston and Isobel MacDougall.
The cover blurb (from Amazon)
The first years are critical, a pivotal time when children have powerful curiosity, exuberance for learning, and make strong connections through their experiences. This is also when a child's attitudes, values and perceptions are formed: "Do I belong here?", "Am I good enough?" Our grasp of how children learn has developed sharply in recent years. Schools constantly review their approach, but churches frequently employ antiquated practices. Many alienate children because our methods don't meet their needs, and because we don't realise that some of the strongest messages are hidden. Without knowing it, we are inoculating our children against church. The intention is to challenge churches about their children's work; to inform children's workers about the latest research; and to provide practical ideas. The authors suggest ways of developing music and movement, creativity and touch, so that children's experience of church is positive, enriching and intriguing.'
A quick review
The authors are experts in childcare and education (Carrie Kingston is Senior Lecturer in Early Years at the School of Education, Bath Spa University, and Isobel MacDougall is a teacher and researcher, with an MA in early years education). They have a great writing style - never too technical, always child-centred, and there's a lovely warmth to the tone of the book, which gives it a satisfying sense of integrity and authenticity.
Schools are constantly revising their teaching techniques in light of new research, but do churches do likewise? The authors draw on lots of up-to-date research on what works, but not in a clinical way. Like all good books on caring for children, there's the almost-compulsory reference to Bowlby (of attachment theory fame), amongst others. There is also a sprinking of Bible references, but the text is mainly filled with stories and advice born of personal professional experience.
It's a very practical book. 'Do the cushions smell? Would you want to sit on them? If you wouldn't want to use them, get rid of them.' 'Make sure the pens work.' 'Have fewer resources, but make sure they're satisfying for the children to use.' These are basic things which help to convey the value the church places on children.
It's also sensitive to children as individuals, suggesting, for example, skipping mother's day celebrations entirely if there is a child in the group without a mum at home.
There's a lot of content on the (sometimes unintentional) messages we give to children about their value and their creativity which I found particularly interesting. Should we encourage creative projects which are about copying the leader's 'one I made earlier', or allow the children to create something unique? What about parents' expectations that the children will have something tangible to show for their time in the session? What is the value of play? All these topics are addressed intelligently and with enthusiasm.
I'd recommend Children in the Way? to anyone involved in children's work. You can pre-order it from your Christian bookshop or at Amazon. It's published by Monarch on 18 November.