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examination of your organizational culture and sug-
gests a new approach to your professional develop-
ment. It isn’t appropriate to just require teachers to
start adopting some new practices. To support teacher
efforts and ongoing professional growth, organiza-
tional systems, policies, and distribution of resources
will likely need some realignment.

• problem •
Teachers and Programs Are Required to Adopt
Quantifiable “Research-based” Curricula
Teachers have a range of curriculum models to choose
from, many of which address current educational
thrusts and policies aimed at measurable learning
outcomes. Increasingly, programs find mandates re-
quiring them to adopt a quantifiable, scientific, “re-
search-based” curriculum. These mandates should
prompt us to ask questions such as these: Who are the
researchers? What is their cultural framework? What
research methodology and measurement tools were
used? Is there any one research methodology that is
reliable for all children (NAEYC 2007)?
Thanks to the work of the educators of Reggio
Emilia, many early childhood teachers in the United
States are being encouraged to see themselves as re-
searchers (Meier and Henderson 2007; Gallas 1994).

In light of this possibility, why would anyone adopt a
curriculum that gives a script for teachers to follow?
In contrast, Deborah Meier and Barbara Hender-
son (2007) suggest that teacher education involving
teacher research holds great promise for improving
reflective practices.

We find value in curriculum models that are en-
vironmentally based, see children as active learners,
offer children choices, encourage teachers to build
curriculum from children’s interests, and use ongo-
ing observations with a focus on strengths for as-
sessments. We believe curriculum should strengthen
children’s identities as thinkers and responsible citi-
zens as well as creators of a life-sustaining culture.

Curriculum should be developed in conjunction with
children’s families and communities and be respectful
of their culture and home language. Over the years we
have gained insights from the curriculum approaches
introduction 7
promoted by the British Infant Schools, Bank Street
College in New York, and Pacific Oaks College in Pasa-
dena, and our colleagues at the High/Scope Founda-
tion, Teaching Strategies, California Tomorrow, Reggio
Emilia, and Aotearoa/New Zealand. The early Alerta
curriculum (Williams and De Gaetano 1985) and the
more recent bilingual, bicultural curriculum approach
offered by Sharon Cronin and Carmen Masso (2003)
have offered us important insights into culturally rel-
evant programming for young children.

While we understand why a scope-and-sequence
curriculum model might appeal to those mandated to
adopt a formal curriculum, we encourage you to con-
sider whose interests are served by doing so. We have
seen far too many programs where more attention
is paid to scripts for outcomes than to what is most
significant from the children’s and teachers’ points of
view. It is also worrisome to see training focused on
how to deliver a curriculum instead of how to think
through the complexities of the teaching and learning
process. Again, who benefits and who loses with the
promotion of a “teacher-proof” curriculum? Teachers
who only focus on carrying out the curriculum and
completing their paperwork ultimately lose heart and
question whether they want to stay in the field. Defin-
ing your work around issues of compliance will lead
you to feel like a victim and deaden your spirit. And,
such a misguided focus could ultimately undermine
your ability to create a vibrant learning community in
your early childhood program. There are other, more
rewarding choices you could make.

A Learning Organization
Consider this story of a Head Start director who told
us of the hours and hours she spent researching a
curriculum to adopt for her program.

Teresa narrowed the curriculum choices down
to three, carefully studied all the materials, and met
extensively with each of the companies’ representa-
tives. Though all of the curriculum packages under
consideration were comprehensive in their scope-
and-sequence approach, she found pieces in each
that were problematic for the approach to curriculum
and assessments that she wanted to unfold in her
program. Teresa was devoting this part of her early
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8
Learning Together with Young Children
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A New Way
childhood education career to creating what Peter
Senge (2000) calls a “learning organization,” a Head
Start agency that nurtures the thinking abilities of
parents, staff, and children. She believed any lock-
step, sequenced, “teacher-proof” curriculum would
undermine this goal. Teresa agonized over how in
good conscience she could justify spending close to a
hundred thousand precious taxpayer dollars to adopt
this kind of curriculum for her large agency with
multiple sites, many human resource needs, and a
series of budget cuts coming down the pike. Finally,
though anxious about potential misinterpretations
and findings by her upcoming federal review, Teresa
made the brave choice not to adopt any commercial
curriculum. Her decision was guided by her vision for
her program and the values she couldn’t compromise.

And, in the end, her federal review team agreed with
her approach.

You might have a different story. You could be
saddled with a curriculum model that has already
been adopted for your program, all or some of which
seems counter to the approach you would like to
take. Perhaps you are a family provider or a teacher
in a program with no clear philosophy or curriculum
approach guiding your work, independently sorting
out how to structure your time with children. Have
you been inspired by the stories of the in-depth cur-
riculum work from the schools of Reggio Emilia but
can’t imagine how to implement such an approach in
your setting? As a family child care provider or an in-
fant and toddler caregiver, you might be struggling to
understand how to keep your home-like focus while
still embracing this notion of curriculum and ensur-
ing that children are learning during their time with
you. You could be a preschool teacher diligently try-
ing to integrate the new content-driven curriculum
resources addressing standards for math, science,
language, and literacy and losing heart trying to juggle
it all. Whoever you are, we want to address your con-
cerns, inspire you, and strengthen your ability to live
fully and teach well.

Our aim with this text is to put a spotlight on cur-
riculum practices that are meaningful for children,
as well as their teachers. We offer you a curriculum
framework with a repertoire of possibilities to engage
deeper learning. Our goal is to demystify some big
theoretical concepts and offer a way to think about
the teaching and learning process that is emotionally
and intellectually engaging for teachers and children.

During a recent seminar, a provider asked us, “Are you
talking about a way of teaching or a way of living your
life?” We could only smile and answer, “Yes.”
With all the demands and ups and downs of work-
ing in the early childhood field, how does one ap-
proach the job with a lively mind and spirit? What will
fuel your passion and your determination not to be
confined by a narrow understanding of who children
are and what they deserve from us? How can you rise
above constraining requirements, limited time, and
limited resources to develop more significant experi-
ences for the children and yourself? Whether you are
an early childhood student, family child care provider,
center-based teacher, administrator, or teacher edu-
cator, this book attempts to help you find your own
answers to these questions and to strengthen your
ability to think through the complex issues of the
teaching and learning process.

We want you to see yourself as an inventor who
can demonstrate a better way to meet desired learn-
ing outcomes and in the process, nourish the heart
of your teaching and the vision of what early child-
hood education could be. Whatever your context,
you can use these ideas to deepen your intellectual
and emotional engagement in your work. You and the
children will find living and learning together a more
joyful experience. You will contribute to a revitalized
democracy where people have the desire, skills, and
opportunity to make contributions, think critically,
negotiate conflicts, and invent equitable solutions
that respect our planet and all its inhabitants. Learn-
ing Together with Young Children invites you to take
back the joy and meaning of the teaching and learn-
ing process. Consider it a call to action.

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