used childhood memory activities to raise funds and design a play-
ground built for risk and adventure in her program. In meetings with
her staff, child care licensers, local businesspeople, and parents, she
asked them to recall their fondest memories of being outdoors. Their
memories included lots of sensory elements, such as water, dirt, and
even prickly bushes. With fondness, most of them recalled favorite
hiding places, taking risks, and doing things their parents might not
have allowed had they been around. After brainstorming lists like this,
the director suggested they compare their experiences with the lives of
children in full-time child care today. The contrast was striking enough
that she was able to mobilize the support and resources to build a play-
ground that simulates many elements of these childhood memories. It
is designed around nature and adventure, with more money put into
landscaping than plastic, immovable climbers. For a fuller account
of this inspirational story, see our book Reflecting Children’s Lives: A
Handbook for Planning Child-Centered Curriculum.

Represent childhood memories with
found objects or art materials
We’ve also found that caregivers and teachers respond well when
asked to use open-ended materials such as toilet-paper rolls, wire, and
blocks to represent their favorite memory or a favorite place they re-
member from their childhood. This often generates creative thinking
and playful interactions, reminding people of the spirit of childhood.

Strategy Use children’s books to unearth
childhood memories
If you have a group that is slow to participate in sharing memories
and stories, you might want to launch this activity by reading a chil-
dren’s book that captures some aspects of your vision. Some books
that work well in launching childhood memory activities are listed in
the strategy that follows.

Use children’s books regularly in staff
meetings There are a number of reasons to read children’s books in staff meet-
ings and workshops. One, of course, is to help unearth childhood
Chapter 1 Guiding Your Program with a Vision 31

memories, as described previously. Overall, we need to improve the
way we typically use picture books with children. Books are usually
given to children as a holding pattern, a way to keep them occupied
during transition times, with little support for any real interest in the
books. Often a requirement is to put them away when the teacher
is ready for the next activity. Story reading in many early childhood
programs often happens in large groups at circle time, with repeated
reminders to sit quietly and not interrupt. This habit is counter to
much of what we know about helping children become lifelong read-
ers and book lovers.

To explore a child’s perspective on books, ask the staff to share
their favorite childhood book memories. They most likely will share
stories about curling up with a book and a flashlight under the sheets
or in the closet, or sitting outside on the steps or under the trees. Or
they may remember being snuggled in the lap of a family member,
perhaps at bedtime, with few distractions and ample time to talk
about the pictures and share wonder and related experiences. Sharing
these memories and regularly using picture books in staff meetings
can alert you to changes you might want to make in using them with
children. If you model book reading or invite teachers who are expressive
to do this, reading books in staff meetings helps cultivate good story
reading voices and listening habits. Books are also a terrific way to jar
people’s memories of what things are like from a child’s perspective.

Stories told from a child’s eye not only are useful in consideration
of issues like child guidance, but often provide an opportunity to
dream a little and to remember the kind of environment and experi-
ences that create close relationships, a strong sense of identity, and
the wonder and magic of learning in the company of people who love
you. Choosing picture books with childhood themes nudges you to
explore their implications for your program. They are great vision-
building tools.

A good story to start with is On the Day I Was Born by Debbi
Chocolate (1995). The text of this book is simple but uses engaging
language to accompany the rich texture of the illustrations. The child
in this story talks about being wrapped in a soft cloth, being adored
by his family members, and making his father stand tall and proud.

Read the book with expression, as you would with children. You can
read the book all the way through or stop after a few pages. Use the
following questions for discussion of the themes in this beautiful
book: 32 The Visionary Director