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DOUBLE TAP TO ZOOM WITH PHONE OR TABLET PREFACE I hasten to add that I was neither a maverick nor a rebel in my approach. My bosses were my enthusiastic supporters, and many of my colleagues took much the same approach. There was then as there is now an opposing camp who were aghast at what we did. Children needed structure, they said, and they needed to learn the “fundamentals” like letters, numbers, colors, and shapes. Most of all, they needed to learn how to conform to the demands of institutional life. The kind of open-ended operation I was running might be fun, but it did children a disservice and would not pre- pare them for success in school. We had no way of proving in my early years of teaching whether what we were doing for children was best or even right. I could not say with any certainty if the children in my classrooms went on to perform any better in school or, as adults, if they were bet- ter able to compete in the global economy. But since then, our approach has been vindicated by a great deal of research. What is most fundamental during early childhood, we have learned, is not the alphabet—it is healthy brain development. The brain goes through an intense period of activity that will never be repeated in later years, and the extent and effectiveness of that activity is to a large degree a product of the experiences and conversations to which the child is exposed during the early years. So certain is our profession of this phenomena that programs are springing up all over the country that encourage parents, particularly low-income parents, to talk to their children much more and to give them a variety of experiences to talk about—which makes it all the more puzzling that in modern early childhood classrooms, children are barely spoken to at all. For the past two decades I have spent most of my time visit- ing early childhood programs all over the United States, observing x COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL